Richard John Cowell

Lemoore, California

March 10, 1970

Sometimes a man’s desires turns into his own demise. Captain Dick Cowell was in the Air Force, stationed in Germany, as a fuel Officer. Save and sound, and a million miles away from the danger that was acting out in Vietnam. But…he always wanted to fly jet fighters. As the war raged on, Dick volunteered for flight school. The need for professionals was high and Capt Cowell was accepted.

Dick was transferred back to Cannon AFB, NM and went through Combat Crew Training and learned to fly the F-100 jet. He was then assigned to the 522TFS, a combat ready Tactical Fighter Squadron. He arrived in Vietnam on September 11, 1969 andwas attached to the 35th TFW. Based out of Phan Rang near Cam Rahn Bay, the airstrip was home to multiple fighter squadrons.

The F-100D is a deadly piece of hardware. Over 50 feet long, it would reach speeds of just under 900 mph. These Super Sabres were nicknamed “Huns” a shortened version of Hundred. For infantry support, they would carry (2) 750lb napalm bombs, anti-personnel bombs, and had 4-20mm cannons to do cleanup afterwards. These jets saved thousands of US lives over there and the enemy felt the reign of terror it delivered.

For months, Dicks Unit had been doing runs into Laos. On March 10th, he was the 3rd man in a flight of four F-100’s on an interdiction mission in a jet named the ‘Miss Marie”. Unlike close combat missions these were strictly a “one pass and haul ass” to drop the bombs and get out. On his jet were 6-500lb general purpose bombs with short fuses. They were to fly north, then head west to Laos, drop the bombs on identified trail areas, and get out.

But fate would raise its fickle finger on Capt Cowell. For some unknown (and uneducated) reason, Dick’s flight leader decided to make multiple passes in flights of two. This was rarely, if ever, done on these types of raids. On either the 3rd or 4th pass, his jet was hit. He immediately ejected out, got tangled in some trees, and fell to the ground. He had apparently lost his helmet during the ejection and something had hit him in the head.

A Search and Rescue effort was launched out of Danang. He was contacted on his survival radio, but his voice was thick and slurred. The SAR was able to identify his location and got there to extract him out. Dick was awarded the Distinguished FlyingCross for his heroic efforts that day. Capt. Cowell had sustained head injuries, but was successfully pulled out of the jungle and transported to the Naval Hospital in Danang. Sadly, he would die later that day from those injuries

Editors Note: Many of the men that served with Dick Cowell still remember this day and are still bitter that it happened. A change of command had just occurred within the unit and the new flight leader had a lack of experience in these missions. Laos was dotted with anti-aircraft guns and jets were sitting ducks at 500’. It was standard protocol to make the single pass, get out, and be able to make another run tomorrow. No one was ever able to understand why this flight leader changed tactics and they feel it resulted in a senseless and unwarranted death this day.

Richard John Cowell’s name is on the Vietnam Wall at Panel 13W, line 102.

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