On the afternoon of 6 February 1970, Grumman A6A Intruder Milestone 516 of Attack Squadron 196 launched off the aircraft carrier USS Ranger. The pilot was Lieutenant Commander Evan “Pee Wee” Reese and the bombardier navigator was Lieutenant Junior Grade Don “Frodo” Fraser. Our mission was to interdict movement along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos.
After contacting a forward air controller, we were directed to targets of trucks in a heavily defended area near Tchepone, Laos. The targets were marked, a visual dive bombing run from around 12,000 feet was initiated. Just after the release of the first stick of bombs around 7000 feet, the pilot side wing was ripped off by anti-aircraft fire. I was first to eject through the A6A canopy with the aircraft spinning toward the ground in excess of 450 knots. I remember only about one swing in the parachute and then was worried I would land into the burning wreckage of our plane just below me.
I had no idea if my pilot had safely ejected until I heard him come up on his survival radio. We remained separated for the 17 hours we spent on the ground evading the enemy. We were rescued the following day by United States Air Force search and rescue components based in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. The leader of the SAR (search and rescue) effort was Air Force Captain Richard S. Drury, and he received the Silver Star for this evolution. Captain Drury’s book “My Secret War” details our rescue in one of the chapters.
The Martin-Baker GRU5 seat saved our lives.