The U S Air Force museum continues to honor pilots from throughout history. The Vietnam War era is of most interest to me, the events that took place during my service to the country. I served in the US Air Force from 1958 through 1962. Two of those years were spent at Misawa Air Base in northern Japan. In November and December 1961 we were sent on a temporary duty assignment to Thailand. It was a secret mission with the name Able Mabel Project. The pilot in this story Capt. Jack Weatherby flew my aircraft when I was the crew chief on RF-101 C 56-080. I strapped him into my aircraft many times in 1962. He was shot down and killed over North Vietnam in 1965. I hope to honor his memory and the memory of all the other pilots who served in the Vietnam era.
All of the pilots in this picture flew my plane so I got to know them well. I recall one day when Lt. Weatherby landed, he said, “I was flying low over a clearing in the jungle, I saw all these people, I thought they were waving at me, he said hell they were all shooting.” We found a few small caliber bullet holes in the wings. We had to come up with a special putty to close small bullet holes with. That became routine but created a lot of work removing panels to inspect for other damage. One day after we’d been flying out of there about a month a 50 caliber round went through the canopy right behind Major Harbst. A piece of plexiglass cut his neck. He was possibly the first US Air Force pilot to be injured by enemy fire. I don’t recall ever hearing anything about it later. I did communicate with his wife, she wrote to me after he passed away. The Major got through Vietnam and retired from the Air Force. I have lots of fond memories of those days but also sad memories as more information comes out.
Able Mable Crew after 1000 Sorties South Vietnam
I was in the U.S. Air Force from 1958 through 1962. I was stationed at Misawa AB, Japan from 1960 through 1962. The biggest secret I ever had to keep was when twenty-four of us received orders at Misawa, Air Base that we were supposed to ship out for an unknown area for two months starting on 1 November 1961.
Our orders read hand carry weapons as required, personnel will have in their possession all necessary field equipment including two blankets, shelter-half, and mess gear. Personal copy of immunization record, medical clearance, and personal
identification tags. Security clearance for this mission is secret and top-secret. We left Misawa Air Base in two C-130 cargo planes. They were both loaded with aircraft maintenance equipment. We all wondered where we were headed, maybe a camping trip, huh? I didn’t think much of the tent idea.
We refueled at Okinawa and then proceeded to Clark Air Force Base, Philippine Islands. One day was spent there for processing. We still didn’t know our destination when we left there. A short time after takeoff we found out we were the members of the first Able Mable Reconnaissance Task Force. We landed at Don Muang RTAFB, Bangkok Thailand on November 6, 1961. Everything we needed to get four RF-101C’s ready for flying was packed with us on two C-130 cargo planes.
When our planes rolled to a stop and the rear of the planes opened. We were surrounded by Thai Army Soldier with weapons in their hands. They knew we were hand carrying weapons on the planes and they wanted us to turn everything over to them before we got off. So they took our guns and ammo. This was supposed to be a secret mission but the Thai Government sure had a copy of our orders. If we wrote letters home we were told not to give our location. Stay out of trouble, don’t embarrass the USA while you are here, wear civilian cloths if your off duty.
We immediately began unloading and setting up our maintenance area to get the planes ready to start flying the next morning. We found out the next day we would be eating from a tent field kitchen and using the old G.I. Mess Kits while we were there. Three big garbage cans full of boiling water to dip your mess kit into after chow. Our quarters was an old building the Japanese used for prisoners in the 1940’s but it served as a roof over our heads. We set up cots with mosquito nets over them. It sure beat sleeping in a tent! We had outside latrines and showers, there were boardwalks to get there. Often times there were snakes underneath the boards, I traveled quickly to shower or latrine. Our photo lab crew had a portable lab tent set up processing photos as soon as the first planes landed. “Able Mable Reconnaissance Task Force”. The aircraft were ready on 7 November and began reconnaissance sorties over Laos the next day.
I kept the secret of the Able Mable Task Force to myself but it soon became well known to the world that the U.S. Air Force was flying sorties and out of the Royal Thai Airport. This was an international airport with planes coming and going day and night. The Thai government set us up on the far south end of the runway. We used a big old hanger that was partly in the jungle. The U.S. flying reconnaissance missions over Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam continued for many years out of Thailand. In the years soon to follow there were different airports built in Thailand and South Vietnam.