1st Special Operations Squadron - History - Combat Operations During The Vietnam War

Combat Operations During The Vietnam War

The 1st Special Operations Squadron was originally constituted as the 1st Air Commando Squadron, Composite (1st ACS), and activated on 17 June 1963 under Pacific Air Forces. It organized on 8 July 1963 at Bien Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam, and was assigned to the 34th Tactical Group. It was reassigned the following year, on 8 July, to the 6251st Tactical Fighter Wing (although attached to the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing, from 21 November 1965–8 March 1966). Relocating to Pleiku Air Base, South Vietnam, it was reassigned to the 2nd Air Division on 18 February 1966, and reassigned again to the 14th Air Commando Wing on 8 March 1966. Redesignated the 1st Air Commando Squadron, Fighter, on 15 August 1967, it was reassigned on 20 December 1967 to the 56th Air Commando Wing (redesignated the 56th Special Operation Wing in August 1968), and moved to Nakhon Phanom RTAFB (Royal Thai Navy Base), Thailand. On 1 August 1968 the 1st ACS was redesignated as the 1st Special Operations Squadron (1st SOS).

The 1st saw extensive combat in Southeast Asia, from 8 July 1963–7 November 1972 and from 15 December 1972–28 January 1973. In its early years in Southeast Asia, the squadron flew a variety of aircraft, beginning with the B-26 Invader and T-28 Trojan in 1963 and 1964, both aircraft used for close air support. While at its initial home base at Bien Hoa AB, aircrews of the 1st Air Commando Squadron performed the first combat tests of the famous FC-47 gunship, beginning in December 1964. In 1964 the 1st began flying the A-1 Skyraider, the aircraft with which it is most closely associated, but continued to fly other types into 1966. Its primary mission after the move to Nakhon Phanom RTAFB was interdiction along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but its pilots and planes also flew cover for pilot rescue missions, and it continued to fly close air support missions for U.S. and Vietnamese ground forces. It also trained Vietnamese Air Force pilots in counterinsurgency operations, from July 1963 – November 1972. Aircraft flown by the 1st SOS were the B–26 (1963–1964); T–28 (1963–1964); U–10 Super Courier (1963–1966); C–47 (1963–1966); RB–26 (1963–1964); A–1 (1964–1972); FC–47 (1964–1965); AC–47 (1965); and the C (later, MC)–130 beginning in 1972.

Among its pilots was Major Bernard Francis Fisher, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on 10 March 1966 over South Vietnam. In the first action of the Vietnam War that merited the award of the Air Force Cross, Captain Howard Rudolph Cody] and his navigator First Lieutenant Atis Karlis Lielmanis both received the award posthumously for extraordinary heroism on 24 November 1963 while flying a B-26 out of Bien Hoa AB on a close air support mission. Two other early recipients of the Air Force Cross were Maj. Carl Berg Mitchell and his navigator, Capt. Vincent Joseph Hickman. Maj. Mitchell and Capt. Hickman were awarded the medal posthumously for a B-26 mission over Dong Nai Province on 14 January 1964. Capt. John Edgar Lackey received the award for extraordinary heroism during a search and rescue mission over Laos on 18 and 19 March 1972. The last pilot of the 1st to be awarded the Air Force Cross was Maj. James C. Harding, for extraordinary heroism in action near Tchepone, Laos from 10 to 13 April 1972.

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