F-4 Ejection over 'Nam

It was my 45th mission of the 226 that I flew in Vietnam. It was kind of a "good news - bad news" day, a beautiful day. We were flying in the early afternoon over North Vietnam, I guess that was the bad news.

We went in and the target was a supply area north of a river and we had knocked out the bridge the previous day so the supplies were stacking up. We knew they had 88, 37& 57mm guns in a four square mile area, so we knew that it probably wasn't going to be a milk run. We went in on the first run and dropped CBU's which were supposed to keep the gunners down. Our wingman went in and dropped his bombs, it was uneventful and they didn't shoot at him. But they were pretty smart up there and after a while they knew, they realized, when the last pass was going to be made. And, of course, the gunners would jump out of their trenches and jump on their guns for the last pass because they knew there was nobody behind you to shoot at them after you made your pass. That was the dangerous part.

We made a pass and got hit several times and pulled off the target knowing things weren't looking too good. Any F4, as most fighters, they had a tele-lite panel which tells what is going wrong. An electronic panel that tells you if you have electrical problems or hydraulic or any other type of problem and you can start to fix it. This panel has about 50 lights on it and they started to light up, one right after the other. After a while there were about 40 of the 50 lights lit up. Things didn't look very good at that moment.

So that was the bad news, so we headed out for the water. The good news is I was raised in a Christian family as a young man. I was saved so I was ready to meet death and the first thing I said when I saw the lights light up was "Lord be with me". I can't express to you how much peace I had from that point on. It was like "okay, this is it". 

I've got one shot and that was the ejection seat. I was counting on the guy that packed my parachute and whoever set up the ejection seat to do it right. I knew we were not going to fly very long. We got a few miles off the coast and lost control because all the hydraulics had burned out. I knew it was time to get out and walk!

I ejected. I don't know if you know anything about the Martin/Baker ejection seats but it goes from 0 to 60 in 4/10ths of a second. What happens if you don't hurt your back very seriously, which the other pilot did and he went home the next day for several months. And my luck was that I had several muscles in my back, that protected my backbone, knot up and it took a day to work those knots out of my back and two days later I was rolling on the same target!

The airplane was totalled so I decided to get out and walk it. So I ejected. The first thing I did, I looked down and saw my airplane hit the water and it floated for about half a second and the oil slick there started burning and that was about it. I was glad I got out. I was floating down, singing a hymn, feeling pretty good and they told us in training be careful because when you punch it out in one of those things you might go into shock. You know all these things are so traumatic. I didn't go into shock, I was feeling good. I was happy to be there!

Well, I hit the water and that was the good news. As soon as my feet hit the water I released my shroud line from the parachute and floated around in the water. The bad news was I had two radios, carried two in case one didn't work, neither of them worked! So I just tossed those away, I guess the salt water got into them. And then my raft didn't inflate, so that was bad news, it wasn't looking too good. My Mae West worked, that was the thing that inflated under your arms, so that was a good deal anyway. 

So I'm floating around in the water, then the bad news. The helicopter flew right over me, he was looking for a raft. There was no big orange raft so he didn't see me. All that was above the water was my helmet and not too much of it showing. Then the shroud lines wrapped around my G-suit, the parachute opened up under water and it started pulling me down. I remembered a story the week before of a pilot that had gotten shot down and drowned by his parachute. And so, it happens that two weeks before that I happened to be on R&R in Hong Kong and I saw this vendor that is selling pocket knives for 45 cents, so I bought one. I put it in my flight suit pocket just that morning. By happenstance, I don't know why. I used the knife to cut the parachute loose.

I had a .38 pistol under my arm and it didn't rip in ejection. I had tracers in it. I carried tracers for the express purpose of getting rescued. I wasn't going to shoot anybody unless they were standing between me and the rescue chopper. If I could get rescued I would certainly use tracers. I did, I'm not sure whether they were seen or not.

But, anyway this destroyer, and I believe God guided that thing towards me - I thanked him. I'm not sure if I didn't have mixed emotions about that because I was sitting in the water thinking "this is great, this destroyer is coming right for me and another thing - they know I'm here". And he got about 50 yards away and I thought "man he's going fast". About 30 yards away I said "I don't believe this, I lived through an ejection and I'm gonna get run over by my own ship!" And now things aren't looking too good. I'm starting to worry. It's coming fast! I realized why a while later. Because we weren't too far off the shore line. I am sure there was some danger from shore batteries firing at them and myself.

I'm sure I have to call the Captain and thank him. But he wasn't very far away, maybe as far as that window over there (20 feet) and all of a sudden the ship started bouncing up and down and waves were going everywhere and I thought "Oh Man, this is really getting exciting now!" Believe it or not he came right up to me. I mean a foot away and I just slid off the front of the bow, by then he was doing maybe one mile an hour. So know I'm sitting by the front part of the ship. I can see sailors looking down at me. They threw me a harness with a rope attached to it. I was feeling good! I was okay and climbed into the harness. They pulled me up to the top of the ship and took me to the Captain's Quarters and gave me a cup of coffee. It tasted like it might have a little Brandy in it but I knew it didn't because there is no such thing as alcohol on a Naval warship. I took a couple of sips of it and burned my lips it was so hot.

Somebody tapped on the door and said "Hey there is a helicopter up top waiting for you!" I said I can't believe this, I thought I was going to get a good meal and get some rest. Sure enough, I went up and they had a Jungle Penetrator lowered. I climbed on that thing on the end of the cable and they hauled me up to the helicopter and "BOOM" we were gone!

So that was it and I looked back and said "what was the name of that ship?" It wasn't until about a month ago, I had never even heard of the Allen M. Sumner !