Letters from the War – Thailand 7

John Norvell F4 Backseat

The following excerpts are from  letters that were written to my wife and others during the Vietnam War, while I was stationed in Thailand. Because of the nature of the events, the letters seldom told the entire story to loved ones.  Some things were best left unsaid.  In some instances, I have added to the story to make events clearer than they were in the letters.

4 July 1973: To celebrate today I went again to Cambodia to drop some firecrackers and sparklers.  That is the only thing we did to celebrate, otherwise it was pretty much another day with the usual routine. I will be glad when the war ends, but it appears that they will be stepping things up now that we have to be out of Cambodia in August.   At night, we did go to the outdoor movie theatre.  You sit on benches and watch the film under the stars.  I had to get out of the room, my roommate Ed likes to have long discussions with his friends and after a while, I need to escape.  Still he means well, I just wish he would not do it every night.  13th TFS patch

9 July 1973: Another week has begun–I know because it’s my day to take a quinine pill for malaria prophylaxis, as they say in the Malaria biz. I continue to fly daily and haven’t had a day off in a couple of weeks. I already have 29 hours this month and don’t know what they’ll do in a couple of weeks as you are only allowed 60 hours in a month flying time. This week I go under a milestone–under 300 days to go.

15 July 1973: Well how do you like my new stationary. The little guy with the machine gun is the Phantom II, for whom the plane is named.


Last night I spent the night at Ubon . We had to divert into there because we were getting low on gas and the weather was bad. I am actually getting the day off tomorrow. Today I went over two months – 10 to go. I had my 25th combat mission and have 70 hours in combat. I imagine I ‘ll probably get about 100 hours before the war ends.

16 July 1973: It appears we are now really in the midst of the monsoons. It pours all day.
22 July 1973: We had to make an emergency landing. We took off fully loaded with 18 Mark 82 500 lb. bombs and started to get erroneous flight inputs. The plane lurched toward the ground and I thought that we were going to have to eject, but the pilot was able to bring it under control. So we went up to 5,000 feet and did a controllability check to make sure that we could land. We were too heavy and had to fly around for about 40 minutes before we were able to put it on the ground. I have been shot at in combat, but I really didn’t want to buy the farm on takeoff.  See below for a similar bomb load to the one we were carrying, when we nearly bought the farm. 1

500 pound Mark 82 bomb load on F4

500 pound Mark 82 bomb load on F4

27 July 1973: I now have 83 hours in combat and it looks like I’ll hit at maybe 45 missions before the war ends, I have 30 now.

Had to talk to Ed– he uses up all my coffee, which he gives to his friends.   He is a Lt and I guess he figures I am rich because I am a captain.   We worked it out and he bought coffee.  He is ok, but tends to obsess on things.  His wife writes him about things at home like a car problem and he goes crazy.  I am glad I told you not to tell me about things like that, I have enough on my mind without worrying about things I cannot deal with or even handle.  So many men over here think that they can still solve things from 12,000 miles away, well guess what.  They can’t.

To be continued



1 Later flying in Alaska, I would have one other serious situation with a fuel flow to the engines that almost required ejection, but that is a story for another day.

About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in 13 TFS, Air Force, American History, Combat, F4 Phantom II, Fighter Aircraft, Udorn RTAFB, Vietnam War and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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