The 13th Superstition at Phan Rang
The 13th mission of the 13th day of December, 1968
by Marquis Witt, Lt.Col, USAF (Ret)
On the night of Friday, December 13th, 1968, I was on duty as tower officer at Phan Rang Airbase, Vietnam. My friend of ten years in the Air Force, Major Tom Dugan, and navigator Major Jay McGouldrick had a maintenance delay for the night’s 13th and final B-57 mission. After the eventual launch, I sat back to relax until their return.
As each mission returned, I checked them off then sat in a corner of the tower waiting for Tom and Jay. A phone call from our squadron operations duty officer came. "Dugan and McGouldrick are reported down", he said. "They won't be back". At daylight rescue aircraft looked in the area of the reported crash. The report was that the B-57 had hit the C-123 “Candlestick” Forward Air Controller (FAC). Both aircraft were down. Was the B-57 hit by ground fire? Had the crew misunderstood the location of the FAC? Had the maintenance problem resurfaced during the dive on the target? No one knew nor would they ever know. The one recovered crew member could add nothing to the investigation. He was pulled from the area in the midst of ground fire.
On January 13, 1968 – one month later - another crew did not pull out of the dive and impacted in the target area. Were they hit? Was there a mechanical malfunction? Was the altimeter misread or did the pilot press the dive to save a bad target run? With 2000 ft. altitude needed to pull out of a dive run at 250 knots, there was no room for error.
When February arrived, there was no talk of the two crashes which occurred on the 13th day of the two past months, but superstition among otherwise logical men had to have been felt as the date approached--all aircraft returned. We were only spared a week. On George Washington’s birthday (February 22), another crew crashed into the top of a mountain on dive pullout in the often mis-charted, black night target terrain. Again, why? Each of the six men had families. All were carried as missing in action for years---their names engraved on the Vietnam Wall.
Do we live today as Americans who honor their sacrifice in the name of what they believed to be their duty? The bodies were never recovered nor were they ever seen again. But they do live with many of us in the recurring dreams of their return from Vietnam---alive, but changed. Only the pilot of the C-123 survived. His more complete story is available at http://taskforceomegainc.org/d041.htm