The American Legion of Middleburg celebrates this Memorial Day by honoring one of our prisoners of war, Colonel Joseph E. Milligan

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Col. Joseph E. Milligan

This day marks the 55and anniversary of the fateful day Joe’s F4 was shot down in North Vietnam.

You are cordially invited to the unveiling of the commemorative print, MiG encounter at Middleburg American Legion Post 295, 111 The Plains Road (VA-626), Middleburg, Virginia.

Joe will tell his story and tell the story of his girlfriend, Skippy, and the role she played.

Food and filming sponsored by Hormel Foods Corporation.

In September 1966, when 44-year-old former World War II ace Colonel Robin Olds arrived to take command of the USAF 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon, a Royal Air Force base Thai Air Force near the border with Laos, the war in Southeast Asia was rapidly escalating. There were now about 385,000 American forces stationed in Vietnam, plus another 60,000 sailors offshore and the numbers were growing. But so are the victims. Olds arrived at Ubon to find that many of the pilots in his new command were accomplished and experienced airmen, but morale was low – what they needed was inspiring leadership. It only took a few weeks for Olds to prove he was the best leader they ever had.

While he had found some of his pilots discouraged, he had found nothing wrong with their planes: the iconic McDonnell Douglas F4-C Phantom II, belonging to the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Olds, would soon be involved in many of the largest and most successful aerial battles. of the war.

On 20 May 1967, the 433rd TFS scored four confirmed MiG kills: two by Colonel Robin Olds/1st Lt. Stephen Crocker (aircraft #64-0829, foreground pictured), one by Major John Pardo/1st Lt. Stephen Wayne , & one by Major Phil Combies/1st Lt Daniel Lafferty.

Unfortunately, the 433rd also lost two pilots that day. Phantom #63-7669 (top Phantom pictured), with the crew of Major Jack Van Loan and 1st Lt. Joesph Milligan was shot down, both were captured and held as prisoners of war. Both men were released and returned to the United States in 1973.

This does not give the full and/or accurate account of the event. Joseph E. Milligan DVM PhD and USAF Colonel (retired) tells the following story:

“I was the pilot in the back of Phantom #63-7669 (the best Phantom in the “MiG Encounter” print). I was flying on the wing of Robin Olds (call sign Tampa 02) protecting his tail Moments after the scene depicted in the print, our 2 Phantoms attacked a formation of 16 MIG-17s and immediately engaged 10 of these MIGs in a vicious dogfight circling in what Robin described as a “hairball”, a “good ol’ WWII fashion”, and “the most intense dogfight” he’s ever been in (that statement coming from a Triple Ace!). Robin attacked two of the MIGs, while 2 other MIGs rolled over her tail. Major Jack Van Loan, my aircraft commander, and I came in on the tail of these 2 MIGs, 2 other MIGs rolled over our tail, plus 2 MIGs dove on us from “2 o’clock” and 2 more MIG dove on us from “10 o’clock”. At this point we lost our radio and were unable to warn Robin of his imminent danger of being shot. We engaged in a very close air combat with an enemy armed with cannons (23mm and 37mm) when we had none. We were armed only with radar-guided Sparrow missiles and heat-seeking Sidewinder missiles that require a minimum of a mile of separation to destroy enemy aircraft. Our only choice was to slide, tilt, and fire a sparrow through the bow of the 2 MIGs onto Robin’s tail to chase them away. The tactic worked and we saved Robin from certain destruction, but we immediately came under fire from the 2 MIGs behind us, first by a Russian Atoll heat-seeking missile and then by 23mm guns. The Atoll, instead of coming up our exhaust pipe and killing us, broke the lock and headed for our Sparrow. It was an amazing and unexpected sight to see “one missile chasing another” as they followed a ballistic trajectory (curvature of the earth) on the horizon!

But I digress, we managed to evade these 2 MIGs but were still attacked by four other MIGs, one of which hit our rear fuselage with two 37mm cannon shells. Our Ghost exploded into a ball of fire, but Jack and I successfully ejected and spent the next 6 years in the Hanoi Hilton and other prisons in North Vietnam.

Col Milligan added:

“Different accounts indicate that Tampa 01 and 02 were ‘engaged by’ MIGs at 6,000 to 8,000 feet and one account indicates the dogfight ranged from 100 feet to 10,000 feet, but none of these accounts specifically state- Above Ground Level (AGL) or Mean Sea Level (MSL) So to bring some clarity to the fight: the mountainous terrain in the area was about 8,000 ft. Tampa 01 and 02 attacked 16 MIG- 17 flying in a Luftberry circle (as eight 2-ship formations) at 14,000 ft MSL or 6,000 ft AGL If you look closely at the “MiG Encounter” printout, you can see 2 F-4s in the distance in the upper right corner of print. This is Tampa 03 and 04, the other two members of our 4-ship formation. They split off from us to attack 16 more MIG-17s in a similar Luftberry Circle below us at 100 feet AGL Talk about being outnumbered, four F-4s against 32 MiG-17s!

But our job was to protect the bombers! Although officially our flight of four was credited with shooting down 4 MIGs, we know for certain that 6 MIGs were destroyed that day (and probably a seventh) without the loss of a single bomber. One of these MIGs was shot down by Ballot 01, Phil Combies, leader of the other four-ship F-4 forward of the Thud group. (“Thud” is the nickname for the F-105 Thunderchief, the USAF fighter/bomber that performed the bulk of the bombing mission in Vietnam early in the war. The F-105 was affectionately referred to as the Thud by the pilots because that’s the sound the plane makes if it hits the ground, a bit of pilot humor).) The only F-4 lost was mine. A kill advantage of 6 or 7 to one is a good day (if you weren’t me!).

By the way, I was “Hoss” and Jack Van Loan was “Buns”. I was 5’10” and 188 pounds at the time (the AF maximum weight limit for that size). Jack was 5ft 11in tall and weighed around 195lbs (also his maximum allowed). Robin Olds gave us a lot of grief about it and called us “the heaviest fighter crew in TAC” (Tactical Air Command). Jack once asked Robin, “Who would you rather have under your wing, a fighter pilot or an athletic star?” That was the last time Robin mentioned our weight!

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the popular TV show “Bonanza” in the 60s. Hoss Cartwright was one of the characters and he was wearing a big cowboy hat aptly called “Hoss Hat”. I always wore one with my rank insignia when I was flying. I stuffed it under my ejection seat before takeoff. I don’t know if the hat crashed and burned with my plane or popped out when I ejected. Losing my Hoss Hat was my only regret.

Later in the fight, Col Olds shot down one of the MiG-17s while other Phantom crews shot down five more to make it one of the Air Force’s most successful days of the war. .

By the time Robin Olds left command later that year, his 8th TFW, nicknamed the “Wolfpack”, had become the USAF’s top MiG killer wing in Southeast Asia. He had flown 152 combat missions during this time, claiming four more aerial victories to add to his World War II tally – now a ‘triple ace’, his final tally was an impressive seventeen victories. He retired in 1973 with the rank of brigadier general. He died at age 85 on June 14, 2007, and is buried in the United States Air Force Academy Cemetery.

Stephen B. Croker, a native of Evanston, Illinois, graduated from Dubuque High School in 1960, the Air Force Academy in 1964, and a master’s degree from Georgetown in 1965. He retired from the Air Force in 1996 with the rank of lieutenant general and lives in Chestertown, Maryland.

Jack Van Loan, a native of Eugene, Oregon, and a 1954 graduate of Oregon State University, was released from captivity on March 4, 1973. He then served thirty years in the USAF, retiring in 1984 as a as a colonel and lived in Columbia, South Carolina. He died at age 87 on October 20, 2014.

Joseph E. Milligan, a native of Grandin, New Jersey, a 1959 graduate of North Hunterdon Regional High School and a 1963 graduate of Rutgers University, was released from captivity on February 18, 1973. 1Lt Milligan was in his 113th mission when he was shot down. down. After returning to the United States, he obtained a master’s degree and a doctorate. from Rutgers University and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from the Cornell School of Veterinary Medicine. He continued his Air Force service by retiring as a Colonel and lives in San Antonio, Texas. On December 7, 2021, Joe lost his late wife, Air Force Flight Nurse Mary Ann Milligan, who also served in Vietnam. May she rest in peace.

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