On February 2nd of 1966, US Navy Lieutenant Dieter Dengler was flying his first combat mission over North Vietnam from the carrier U.S.S. Ranger. The Ranger and its warplanes, including the Skyraiders of VA-145, had just repositioned from Dixie to Yankee Station following a short workup off the waters of South Vietnam in the South China Sea. Missions from Yankee Station in the Tonkin Gulf would be much more demanding and dangerous than those flown in the relatively benign South Vietnamese environment.
The book, "Escape from Laos," is Dengler's account of the events of that day, and of the seemingly endless days and nights following his shootdown, imprisonment, and ultimately, his rescue from the remote jungles of Laos. This excerpt tells of this first (and last) abbreviated mission in the A-1 Skyraider:
On February 1, 1966, our skipper took the first flight in and returned with several panels shot out of his wing, and other pilots, also stationed on the carrier, were shot down. I was glad that I was duty officer and did not have to fly a sortie that first day.
The next day I was scheduled for the 0900 launch. There were four of us-the flight leader and myself, the section leader named "Spook," and his wingman. We spent a nearly sleepless night, and about three hours before the flight we had a thorough briefing. I went up to the flight deck and checked my aircraft to make sure everything was in order. The fuel tanks were full and the safety wires on the bombs were properly installed.
We finally manned our Skyraiders-the Douglas single-engine, propeller-driven bomber usually called the "Spad," but also christened with nicknames such as "Dauntless II," "BT2D-l," "AD," "A-1," or "Able Dog."
I switched my radio to Gray Eagle Approach. "This is Skyraider 04," I said. "Up and ready." By this time the jets had been launched and the four of us taxied forward. I revved up my engine on number three catapult, checked the gauges, put on full power, and saluted. With a jolt the catapult slung me off the carrier toward North Vietnam.Heavily loaded with bombs and fuel, we flew northwest.
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Dengler after being rescued