Fifty three years ago today, Bob Pardo earned his place among the pantheon of aviation legends. I love heroism, courage and ingenuity — all wrapped into one. Bob Pardo exhibited all three that day. This is his story.
The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom was the backbone of the Air Force inventory in Vietnam. Pardo and his backseater, Steve Wayne, took off from Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand on March 10, 1967. Their assignment was to bomb the steel mill just north of Hanoi Vietnam.
It was a clear, sunny day. While executing the bombing run they took on heavy anti-aircraft fire. Pardo’s wingman, Earl Aman took even heavier damage. After completing their bombing run they turned towards Laos where they were scheduled to hit the refueling tanker, The Mighty KC-135, in order to have enough fuel to return to Ubon.
Aman correctly determined that his fuel tank had been hit and he was leaking fuel. It was impossible to get back to the KC-135. Pardo learned of the situation and lived true to the mantra, “Never abandon your wingman”. Pardo did not want Aman and his backseater to bail out over North Vietnam, where capture and years of torture at the “Hanoi Hilton” POW camp almost certainly awaited.
Pardo decided to try and push Aman’s plane back to Laos. He initially tried flying right behind Aman and pushing on the drag chute compartment, but this procedure failed. The F-4 had been fitted with a tail hook for naval duty. Pardo directed Aman to lower his tail hook. Pardo then flew his F-4 so that his windscreen was touching the tail hook.
Aman shut down his engines and Pardo commenced “a push” that lasted over 80 miles. Pardo had to reposition several times as the tail hook slipped off of the windscreen. To add insult to injury, Pardo got an engine fire and had to shut down one of this two engines while still pushing Aman.
Mercifully, they reached Laotian airspace and bailed out of their aircraft. All four crewmembers evaded enemy capture and were thereafter picked up by friendly search and rescue. For his gallantry, Bob Pardo (and his backseater Steve Wayne) were awarded the Silver Star.
If you would really like a treat, watch these interviews with Pardo.