The Guns of Tchepone
A story of heroism and skill 

Hit by gunfire, a wounded navigator, loss of power, no radio,
Larry Mason and Jere Joyner bring it home.

As told by: Larry Mason, and Jere Joyner, Bob Mikesh, and Joe Rup, Jr.
Photos courtesy of Joe Rup, Jr.

[On 15 March 1966, near the infamous Tchepone, Laos] (Map of the area)

"… Capt Larry Mason [of the 8th TBS] was on a strafing run on enemy trucks when his Canberra was hit by anti-aircraft fire. The damage was so severe that the aircraft rolled almost inverted but held together. After regaining control of his aircraft, Larry's first thought was that he and his navigator Capt Jere Joyner, would have to eject. His cockpit indications showed loss of power on one engine and a fire warning light on the other. Struggling as he reached forward, Jere passed him a blood-stained message which read, 'Hit badly arm and leg   losing blood."'

Realizing that Jere possibly would not survive bailing out, Larry passed him a tourniquet and gingerly headed his crippled and radio-less B-57 to DaNang. He was successful in reaching the base, but the landing gear indicators showed the left main and nose gear in the intermediate position and the right main gear down. Unknown to Larry was that one of the shell hits caused all three gear to drop down and lock, while the cockpit indication was erroneous. Pressed with getting his navigator to medical aid, yet unable to get a safe gear down indication, Larry placed the gear handle in the up position on this third pass at the field and made what he thought would be a gear-up landing. To his amazement, the aircraft landed smoothly on the extended gear and made a normal rollout. For this heroic outcome that saved the life of his navigator, Capt Mason received the Thirteenth Air Force "Well Done" Award, the USAF "Well Done" Award, the Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy for 1966, the Order of the Able Aeronaut, and more important - the Air Force Cross, the only AFC connected with B-57 operations.

A postscript to this harrowing story is that the Canberra, tail number 906 also survived this encounter, thanks to the crew, and the ground maintenance personnel that healed its wounds. After nearly three more years of combat, it was modified as a B-7G and was again returned to combat.
From Robert Mikesh’s description in Martin B-57 Canberra, the Complete Record.

From Colonel Joe Rup, Jr.

"When Larry got back he was make the first and only (that I know of) single-engine go-around since he had no wing to speak of on the good engine side and a full wing but no power on the other. Quite a feat!"

Pilot Larry Mason adds this:

"From my letter to my wife, Nancy, dated 19 March 1966:
"'Target intelligence has confirmed that there were 16 mm, 37 mm and 57 mm anti-aircraft gun batteries and six 12.7 mm anti-aircraft gun batteries in the flack trap that got us. The truck on the road was used as bait to lure us into that trap. They had us point blank, but we got away. That same day, after we got hit, there was an all-out effort to knock out those guns. But, it cost. They shot down one Army Mohawk, one A1E and damaged another, plus my FAC (and Art Kono's damage). It cost four lives. But, with God's help, I'm still here . . . '"

And from Jere's letter, written 19 May 1966 to Larry Mason:

"Yes, I did see the ground fire. Just as we made our turn I saw the target clearly and we had well over 300 KIAS (knots indicated airspeed) and  [were] 2000' AGL (above ground level).
Of course, that would have been a good time for about 600 knots. Well, I was a little puzzled at seeing the target, but now I'm sure it was a mobile radar van. I looked at the altimeter and saw a flash -- much like a couple of 50 cal. make-- at times. I knew what it was and called to you. When I looked back out I could see the tracers coming at us. I must have seen 50 or more and each looked like it would be a direct hit. It's hard to believe we were hit only three times. I could see them popping on the right wing, then one came through the fuselage. Guess you know the rest." 

Larry continues:
"The only things passed between Jere and I was the bloody note written on the back of a target photo, 'Hit badly arm  leg losing blood,' and the tourniquet that I handed back. That, and his looks of encouragement -- and the 'thumbs up.'  Jere, a tall man, was in very good shape -- lifted weights and worked out. That fact, helped him survive that day."

"Fuel leaks caused the loss of Bud Chambers and crew. Seems that with a fuel leak, the lowering of gear -- or flaps in the case of Chambers -- caused streaming fuel to be sucked into the engine. I had determined that, if I ever took battle damage, I would activate MINIMUM systems to get the airplane on the ground. Our right flap actuator was no longer connected. The left flap actuator was connected. On the last final approach, I started to deploy the flaps -- but stopped. If I had done so, the left flap might have deployed -- the right flap would not. It would not have been a good time for a roll!" 


Right wing of B-57B 53-5906 from the cockpit.

 


Right side from rear of aircraft

 


From left rear of rear cockpit.
The navigator's instrument panel
is at left upper portion of the
photo. The reddish stain is blood.

 

Captain Art Kono in Yellowbird 21 made a pass on the same area and seeing another aircraft that had been destroyed mistakenly reported on his return that Mason and Joyner had been shot down. The photo shows his reward for the intrusion against  the guns



The Doom Pussy
(Danang Officer's Open Mess) 
The "Tale" Behind the Doom Pussy

 


8th Tactical Bomb Squadron

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