The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Summer of '68

July 13, 2008

Vietnam dominated life at Vance

By Jeff Mullin

Senior Writer

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.

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Summer of '68