By Jeff Mullin
The Vietnam War dominated life at Vance Air Force Base in 1968, just as it did in the rest of the nation.
In 1968 many of Vance’s instructor pilots were combat veterans. In fact, Vance’s 1968 instructor pilots had flown a total of 12,270 combat missions in Vietnam.
One of those combat veteran instructors, however, stood out above the rest.
In February 1968, Vance instructor pilot Maj. Merlyn Dethlefsen, was awarded the nation’s highest military honor by President Lyndon Johnson.
Dethlefsen, a native of Derby, Kan., received the Medal of Honor for his part in helping destroy a surface-to-air missile site in North Vietnam in March of 1967.
He thus became the only assigned member at Vance to ever receive the Medal of Honor, the same award earned posthumously by the base’s namesake, Lt. Col. Leon R. Vance Jr., for his heroism during World War II.
Dethlefsen, a 33-year-old father of two, was the 26th person to receive the Medal of Honor for service in the Vietnam War.
“My first reaction (to winning the Medal of Honor) was one of amazement,” he told the Enid Morning News. “I am certain there are other individuals who have performed heroic deeds who deserve the medal more than I, but due to the nature of our work I had the advantage of being noticed.”
Dethlefsen was one of four Air Force pilots assigned to destroy a key surface-to-air missile site protecting the Thai Nguyen steel works about 50 miles north of Hanoi. Dethlefsen was flying one of four F-105s involved in the operation.
The two leading aircraft sustained flak damage on the initial attack. The flight leader was shot down, while his wingman was so severely crippled it was forced to withdraw. Dethlefsen assumed command of the flight and, with his wingman, attacked the site while under fire.
By Jeff Mullin
- Summer of '68
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- Enid man wore many different hats in 1968 Nay was an Oklahoma Army National guardsman. He was a full-time worker: a professional photographer. And he was a musician with a popular traveling rhythm and blues group called The Preachers, “Enid’s premier rhythm and blues show band,” Nay remembers.
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- Enid man learned from conflict with his father To Frank Baker, a 17-year-old senior to be at Enid High School during the summer of 1968, the tension which developed between he and his father over the protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, were a microcosm of the tensions developing within the U.S. as a whole — mostly between the older and younger generations, but also between hawks and doves, peaceniks and patriots.
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