September 9, 1972, "Ace Day", MiG Kills 5 and 6
During Linebacker strikes on September 9, 1972, a flight of four F-4Ds on MiGCAP west of Hanoi shot down three MiGs. Two were MiG-19s downed by Capt John A. Madden, Jr. and his WSO Capt DeBellevue. For Madden, the victories constituted his first and second MiG kills, but for DeBellevue they were numbers five and six, moving him up as the leading MiG destroyer of the war and elevating him to "Ace" status. When DeBellevue acquired the MiGs on radar, the flight maneuvered to attack. Madden and DeBellevue made the first move. They got a visual on the MiG about 5 miles out on final approach with his gear and flaps down. Getting a lock on him, they fired missiles but they missed. They were coming in from the side-rear and slipped up next to that MiG no more than 500 feet apart. "He got a visual on us, snatched up his flaps and hit afterburner, accelerating out. It became obvious we weren't going to get another shot at the MiG", says DeBellevue.
DeBellevue describes the next two engagements as follows: "We acquired the MiG's on radar and positioned as we picked them up visually. We used a slicing low-speed yo-yo to position behind the MiG-19's and started turning hard with them. We fired one AIM-9 missile which detonated 25 feet from one of the MiG-19's. We switched the attack to the other MiG-19 and one turn later we fired an AIM-9 at him. I observed the missile impact the tail of the MiG. The MiG continued normally for the next few seconds, then began a slow roll and spiraled downward, impacting the ground with a large fireball."
Madden and DeBellevue returned to their base thinking they had destroyed only the second MiG-19. Only later did investigation reveal that they were the only aircrew to shoot at a MiG-19 which crashed and burned on the runway at Phuc Yen that day. That gave them two MiG-19 kills for the day and brought DeBellevue's total to six MiG kills, the most earned during the war.
During his combat tour, DeBellevue logged 550 combat hours while flying 220 combat missions, 96 of which were over North Vietnam. His skill as a weapon systems officer was recognized when he and the other two Air Force "Aces", Ritchie and Feinstein, received the 1972 Mackay Trophy. He also received the Veterans of Foreign Wars' Armed Forces Award and the Eugene M. Zuckert Achievement Award.
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