Dethlefsen, despite being attacked by two MiG fighters and sustaining damage from anti-aircraft fire, flew repeated close-range strikes and silenced North Vietnamese defenses with bombs and cannon fire. Because of Dethlefsen’s actions the flight completed its mission, destroying the SAM site.
When asked whether it was instinct that made him complete the mission despite the heavy odds against him, Dethlefsen said “No, it was really a definite decision. The weather was unusually good for a change and, besides, I knew I’d have to come back the next day for if I’d gone back to base then.”
Dethlefsen went on to complete 100 combat missions in Vietnam, before opting to return to Vance, where he received his basic pilot training, as an instructor.
During their time at Vance, Dethlefsen and his family lived on a farm near Lahoma and he was an active member of Lahoma Road Church of Christ.
After leaving Vance, Dethlefsen went to the Air War College at Maxwell AFB, Ala. From there he became an instructor at Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pa. In 1974 he was assigned to Beale AFB, Calif., where he was assistant director of operations for the SR-71 “Blackbird” spy plane wing. In 1975 he was assigned to Dyess AFB, Texas, as director of operations for the B-52 wing. He retired from there in 1977 as a colonel.
He then settled with his family in Fort Worth, Texas, where he ran a small business, Home Medical Equipment Co. He died of natural causes in 1987 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Dethlefsen wasn’t the only celebrity on the grounds of Vance in 1968. That year saw the base play host to a pair of future astronauts. Two scientists, Karl Henize and Joseph Allen, were part of the latest class of astronauts chosen in 1967 by NASA. Both men were assigned to Vance for undergraduate pilot training.