354th Tactical Fighter Squadron
335th Tactical Fighter Wing
Over North Viet Nam
10 March 1967

Piloting his F-105 on a fire suppression mission over North Viet Nam. Dethlefsen’s was to destroy a key antiaircraft defensive complex containing surface-to-air missiles. The site was heavily defended by Anti-aircraft artillery, surface to air missiles and heavy machineguns.

Dethlefsen’s flight was intended to punch a hole in enemy defense allowing a second flight of bombers to proceed deeper into enemy territory to destroy an even more significant target.

The lead aircraft was crippled at the onset of the engagement and Maj. Dethlefsen’s bird badly damaged. By groundfire. Understanding the impending fighter bomber attack depended on his flight’s suppression of enemy defensive fire, Maj. Dethlefsen paid no mind to the fact he was outnumbered and outgunned, with a severely damaged aircraft, Dethlefsen pressed on the attack.

Despite heavy antiaircraft fire, he dodged several surface-to-air missiles, in between counterattacks by MIG interceptors, Maj. Dethlefsen flew repeated close-range attacks silencing enemy defensive positions.

Rendering the SAM and antiaircraft artillery sites ineffective enabled the fighter bombers to strike successfully destroying the main target without loss or damage to any aircraft.  If Maj. Dethlefsen had chosen to fly his crippled aircraft home no one would have thought less of him, but several of his fellow aviators would likely never have made it back.

Merlyn Hand Dethlefsen remained in the Airforce after Viet Nam, retiring at the rank of Colonel. He made that last Preflight on December 14, 1987, at the age of 53.


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