|Thanks to Joni's Patriotic Graphics
Page Is Dedicated To
James A. Magnusson JR.
|Thanks to Joni's Patriotic Graphics.
- Name: James A. Magnusson, Jr.
- Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
- Date of Birth: 15 November 9134
- Home City of Record: Nahant MA
- Date of Loss: 04 April 1965
- Country of Loss: North
- Loss Coordinates: 192800N
- Status (in 1973): Missing in
- Category: 3
- Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F105D
- Other Personnel in Incident:
April 3 1965: Herschel S. Morgan; Raymond A. Vohden (released POWs); George C. Smith
April 4, 1965: Walter F. Draeger; James A. Magnusson (missing); Carlyle S. Harris
September 16, 1965: J. Robinson Risner (released POW);
May 31, 1966: Bobbie J. Alberton; William R. Edmondson; Emmett McDonald; Armon
Shingledecker; Philip J. Stickney; (missing from the C-130E); Thomas Case; Harold J. Zook;
Elroy Harworth (remains returned from the C130E). Dayton Ragland; Ned Herrold (missing on
|Source: Compiled from one or more
of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources,
correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews.
Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK in 1998.
|REMARKS: CRASH OW
- SRCH NEGAT - J
Thanh Hoa Railroad and Highway Bridge, spanning the Song Ma River, is located three miles
north of Thanh Hoa, the capital of Annam Province, North Vietnam. It is a replacement for
the original French-built bridge destroyed by the Viet Minh in 1945 - they simply loaded
two locomotives with explosives and ran them together in the middle of the bridge.
In 1957, the North Vietnamese rebuilt the bridge. The new bridge, completed in 1964, was
540 feet long, 56 feet wide, and about 50 feet above the river. The Vietnamese called it
Ham Rong (the Dragon's Jaw), and Ho Chi Minh himself attended its dedication. The bridge
had two steel thru-truss spans which rested in the center on a massive reinforced concrete
pier 16 feet in diameter, and on concrete abutments at the other ends. Hills on both sides
of the river provided solid bracing for the structure. Between 1965 and 1972, eight
concrete piers were added near the approaches to give additional resistance to bomb
damage. A one-meter guage single railway track ran down the 12 foot wide center and 22
foot wide concrete highways were cantilevered on each side. This giant would prove to be
one of the single most challenging targets for American air power in Veitnam. 104 American
pilots were shot down over a 75 square mile area around the Dragon during the war. (Only
the accounts of those specifically known to be involved in major strikes against the
bridge are given here. Some losses were aircraft involved in operations against other
targets. Note also, that because aircraft came in on this target from a wide geographic
area, some personnel lost outside the 75 mile range may have been inadvertently overlooked
in this study.)
In March 1965 the decision to interdict the North Vietnamese rail system south of the 20th
parallel led immediately to the April 3, 1965 strike against the Thanh Hoa Bridge. Lt.Col.
Robinson Risner was designated overall mission coordinator for the attack. He assembled a
force consisting of 79 aircraft - 46 F105's, 21 F100's, 2 RF101's and 10 KC135 tankers.
The F100's came from bases in South Vietnam, while the rest of the aircraft were from
squadrons TDY at various Thailand bases.
Sixteen of the 46 "Thuds" (F105) were loaded with pairs of Bullpup missiles, and
each of the remaining 30 carried eight 750 lb. general purpose bombs. The aircraft that
carried the missiles and half of the bombers were scheduled to strike the bridge; the
remaining 15 would provide flak suppression. The plan called for individual flights of
four F105's from Koran and Takhli which would be air refueled over the Mekong River before
tracking across Laos to an initial point (IP) three minutes south of the bridge. After
weapon release, the plan called for all aircraft to continue east until over the Gulf of
Tonkin where rejoin would take place and a Navy destroyer would be available to recover
anyone who had to eject due to battle damage or other causes. After rejoin, all aircraft
would return to their bases, hopefully to the tune of "The Ham Rong Bridge if falling
Shortly after noon on April 3, aircraft of Rolling Thunder Mission 9-Alpha climbed into
Southeast Asia skies on their journey to the Thanh Hoa Bridge. The sun glinting through
the haze was making the target somewhat difficult to acquire, but Risner led the way
"down the chute" and 250 pound missiles were soon exploding on the target. Since
only one Bullpup missile could be fired at a time, each pilot had to make two firing
On his second pass, LtCol. Risner's aircraft took a hit just as the Bullpup hit the
bridge. Fighting a serious fuel leak and a smoke-filled cockpit in addition to
anti-aircraft fire from the enemy, he nursed his crippled aircraft to Da Nang and to
safety. The Dragon would not be so kind on another day.
The first two flights had already left the target when Capt. Bill Meyerholt, number three
man in the third flight, rolled his Thunderchief into a dive and sqeezed off a Bullpup.
The missile streaked toward the bridge, and as smoke cleared from the previous attacks,
Capt. Meyerholt was shocked to see no visible damage to the bridge. The Bullpups were
merely charring the heavy steel and concrete structure. The remaining missile attacks
confirmed that firing Bullpups at the Dragon was about as effective as shooting BB pellets
at a Sherman tank.
The bombers, undaunted, came in for their attack, only to see their payload drift to the
far bank because of a very strong southwest wind. 1Lt. George C. Smith's F100D was shot
down near the target point as he suppressed flak. The anti-aircraft resistance was much
stronger than anticipated. No radio contact could be made with Smith, nor could other
aircraft locate him. 1Lt. Smith was listed Missing In Action, and no further word has been
heard of him.
The last flight of the day, led by Capt. Carlyle S. "Smitty" Harris, adjusted
their aiming points and scored several good hits on the roadway and super structure.
Smitty tried to assess bomb damage, but could not because of the smoke coming from the
Dragon's Jaw. The smoke would prove to be an ominous warning of things to come.
LtCdr. Raymond A. Vohden was north of the Dragon when his A4C bomber was shot down. Ray
was captured by the North Vietnamese and held in various POW camps in and near Hanoi until
his release in February 1973. (It is not entirely clear that this U.S. Navy Lt.Cdr. had a
direct role in the attack on the bridge, but was probably "knocked out" by the
same anti-aircraft fire.)
Capt. Herschel S. Morgan's RF101 was hit and went down some 75 miles southwest of the
target area, seriously injuring the pilot. Capt. Morgan was captured and held in and
around Hanoi until his release in February 1973.
When the smoke cleared, observer aircraft found that the bridge still spanned the river.
Thirty-two Bullpups and ten dozen 750 pound bombs had been aimed at the bridge and
numerous hits had charred every part of the structure, yet it showed no sign of going
down. A restrike was ordered for the next day.
The following day, flights with call signs "Steel", "Iron",
"Copper", "Moon", "Carbon", "Zinc",
"Argon", "Graphite", "Esso", "Mobil",
"Shell", "Petrol", and the "Cadillac" BDA (bomb damage
assessment) flight, assembled at IP to try once again to knock out the Dragon. On this
day, Capt. Carlyle "Smitty" Harris was flying as call sign "Steel 3".
Steel 3 took the lead and oriented himself for his run on a 300 degree heading. He
reported that his bombs had impacted on the target on the eastern end of the bridge. Steel
3 was on fire as soon as he left the target. Radio contact was garbled, and Steel Lead,
Steel 2 and Steel 4 watched helplessly as Smitty's aircraft, emitting flame for 20 feet
behind, headed due west of the target. All flight members had him in sight until the fire
died out, but observed no parachute, nor did they see the aircraft impact the ground.
Smitty's aircraft had been hit by a MiG whose pilot later recounted the incident in
"Vietnam Courier" on April 15, 1965. It was not until much later that it would
be learned that Smitty had been captured by the North Vietnamese. Smitty was held prisoner
for 8 years and released in 1973. Fellow POWs credit Smitty with introducing the "tap
code" which enabled them to communicate with each other.
MiG's had been seen on previous missions, but for the first time in the war, the
Russian-made MiGs attacked American aircraft. Zinc 2, an F105D flown by Capt. James A.
Magnusson, had its flight bounced by MiG 17's. As Zinc Lead was breaking to shake a MiG on
his tail, Zinc 2 was hit and radioed that he was heading for the Gulf if he could maintain
control of his aircraft. The other aircraft were busy evading the MiGs, and Magnusson
radioed several times before Steel Lead responded and instructed him to tune his radio to
rescue frequency. Magnusson's aircraft finally ditched over the Gulf of Tonkin near the
island of Hon Me, and he was not seen or heard from again. He was listed Missing In
Capt. Walter F. Draeger's A1H (probably an escort for rescue teams) was shot down over the
Gulf of Tonkin just northeast of the Dragon that day. Draeger's aircraft was seen to crash
in flames, but no parachute was observed. Draeger was listed Missing In Action.
The remaining aircraft returned to their bases, discouraged. Although over 300 bombs
scored hits on this second strike, the bridge still stood.
From April to September 1965, 19 more pilots were shot down in the general vicinity of the
Dragon, including many who were captured and released, including Howie Rutledge, Gerald
Coffee, Paul Galanti, Jeremiah Denton, Bill Tschudy and James Stockdale. Then on September
16, 1965, Col. Robbie Risner's F105D was shot down a few miles north of the bridge he had
tried to destroy the previous April. As he landed, Risner tore his knee painfully, a
condition which contributed to his ultimate capture by the North Vietnamese. Risner was
held in and around Hanoi until his release in 1973, but while a POW, he was held in
solitary confinement for 4 1/2 years. Besides the normal malaise and illnesses common to
POWs, Risner also suffered from kidney stones, which severely debilitated him in the
spring and summer of 1967.
By September 1965, an innovative concept had taken shape - mass-focusing the energy of
certain high explosive weapons. The Air Force quickly saw its application against the old
Dragon and devised a plan to destroy the bridge using the new weapon. They would call the
operation "Carolina Moon".
The plan necessitated two C130 aircraft dropping the weapon, a rather large pancake-shaped
affair 8 feet in diameter and 2 1/2 feet thick and weighing 5,000 pounds. The C130's would
fly below 500 feet to evade radar along a 43 mile route (which meant the C130 would be
vulnerable to enemy attack for about 17 minutes), and drop the bombs, which would float
down the Song Ma River where it would pass under the Dragon's Jaw, and detonate when
sensors in the bomb detected the metal of the bridge structure.
Because the slow-moving C130's would need protection, F4 Phantoms would fly diversionary
attack to the south, using flares and bombs on the highway just before the C130 was to
drop its ordnance. The F4s were to enter their target area at 300', attack at 50' and pull
off the target back to 300' for subsequent attacks. Additionally, an EB66 was tasked to
jam the radar in the area during the attack period. Since Risner had been shot down in
September, 15 more pilots had been downed in the bridge region. Everyone knew it was hot.
The first C130 was to be flown by Maj. Richard T. Remers and the second by Maj. Thomas F.
Case, both of whom had been through extensive training for this mission at Elgin AFB,
Florida and had been deployed to Vietnam only 2 weeks before. Ten mass-focus weapons were
provided, allowing for a second mission should the first fail to accomplish the desired
Last minute changes to coincide with up-to-date intelligence included one that would be
very significant in the next days. Maj. Remers felt that the aircraft was tough enough to
survive moderate anti-aircraft artillery hits and gain enough altitude should bail-out be
necessary. Maj. Case agreed that the aircraft could take the hits, but the low-level
flight would preclude a controlled bail-out situation. With these conflicting
philosophies, and the fact that either parachutes or flak vests could be worn - but not
both - Maj. Remers decided that his crew would wear parachutes and stack their flak vests
on the floor of the aircraft. Maj. Case decided that his crew would wear only flak vests
and store the parachutes.
On the night of May 30, Maj. Remers and his crew, including navigators Capt. Norman G.
Clanton and 1Lt. William "Rocky" Edmondson, departed Da Nang at 25 minutes past
midnight and headed north under radio silence. Although the "Herky-bird"
encountered no resistance at the beginning of its approach, heavy, (although luckily,
inaccurate) ground fire was encountered after it was too late to turn back. The 5 weapons
were dropped successfully in the river and Maj. Remers made for the safety of the Gulf of
Tonkin. The operation had gone flawlessly, and the C130 was safe. Although the
diversionary attack had drawn fire, both F-4's returned to Thailand unscathed.
Unfortunately, the excitement of the crew was shortlived, because recon photos taken at
dawn showed that there was no noticeable damage to the bridge, nor was any trace of the
bombs found. A second mission was planned for the night of May 31. The plan for Maj.
Case's crew was basically the same with the exception of a minor time change and slight
modification to the flight route. A crew change was made when Maj. Case asked 1Lt.
Edmondson, the navigator from the previous night's mission, to go along on this one
because of his experience from the night before. The rest of the crew included Capt.
Emmett R. McDonald, 1Lt. Armon D. Shingledecker, 1Lt. Harold J. Zook, SSgt. Bobby J.
Alberton, AM1 Elroy E. Harworth and AM1 Philip J. Stickney. The C130 departed DaNang at
The crew aboard one of the F4's to fly diversionary included Col. Dayton Ragland. Ragland
was no stranger to conflict when he went to Vietnam. He had been shot down over Korea in
November 1951 and had served two years as a prisoner of war. Having flown 97 combat
missions on his tour in Vietnam, Ragland was packed and ready to go home. He would fly as
"backseater" to 1Lt. Ned R. Herrold on the mission to give the younger man more
combat flight time while he operated the sophisticated technical navigational and bombing
equipment. The F4's left Thailand and headed for the area south of the Dragon.
At about two minutes prior to the scheduled C130 drop time, the F4's were making their
diversionary attack when crew members saw anti-aircraft fire and a large ground flash in
the bridge vicinity. Maj. Case and his crew were never seen or heard from again. During
the F4 attack, Herrold and Ragland's aircraft was hit. On its final pass, the aircraft did
not pull up, but went out to sea, and reported that the aircraft had taken heavy weapons
fire. A ball of fire was seen as the plane went into the sea.
Reconnaissance crews and search and rescue scoured the target area and the Gulf of Tonkin
the next morning, finding no sign at all of the C130 or its crew. Rescue planes spotted a
dinghy in the area in which Herrold and Ragland's aircraft had gone down, but saw no signs
of life. The dinghy was sunk to prevent it falling into enemy hands. The bridge still
In March 1967, the U.S. Navy attacked the Thanh Hoa Bridge using the new
"Walleye" missiles, but failed to knock out the bridge. Before the war ended, 54
more Americans fell in the Dragon's Jaw area.
In late 1986 the remains of Harworth, Zook and Case were returned and buried with the
honor befitting an American fighting man who has died for his country. Ragland, Herrold,
Alberton, McDonald, Edmondson, Shingledecker, Stickney, Smith, Draeger and Magnussen are
still Missing in Action.
Biographical and loss information on POWs provided by Operation Just Cause have been
supplied by Chuck and Mary Schantag of POWNET. Please check with
regularly for updates."
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