Saturday, August 27, 2011

Great Story!!!!



Midair rescue mystery solved 43 years later

By Jeff Jardine, Modesto Bee

Published: Monday, Mar. 7, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 3A

MODESTO - Wayne Hague always wondered whatever happened to the pilot
whose crippled plane he refueled and escorted to safety over North
Vietnam ..

Ron Catton always wondered about that pilot who kept him from having to
bail out of his F-4C Phantom fighter and right into a suite at the Hanoi
Hilton.

More than 43 years have passed since they were linked by their meeting
in the skies over Southeast As ia, even though they never knew each
other's names. But fate has a way of working things out.

This head-spinner happened because two men who live more than 900 miles
apart told their versions of same story to the same people who helped
them finally connect.

Here's the gist of it: Hague, 76, retired from the Air Force, spent 20
years teaching and now is a volunteer counselor at the Merced County
Rescue Mission in Merced . Catton, 78, owns a financial services business
in Spokane , Wash.

In December, Catton spoke to a group of students at a high school that
his  grandchildren attend in Yakima , Wash. Among his flying stories was
his near catastrophe during the Vietnam War and how a pilot and crew of
a KC -135 refueling plane disobeyed orders by flying about 100 miles into
North Vietnam to get him.

That story sounded very familiar to Rick Van Beek, the school's
principal. Van Beek had heard it from his wife, Lolly, who heard it from
the tanker pilot during a medical missionary trip to Ken ya .

"The bells started going off in my head," Van Beek said. "How can  these
be separate stories?"

After seeing Catton again a couple of weeks later, Van Beek went to his
office and called his daughter, who also had gone on the Africa trip.
She knew the tanker pilot's name. Van Beek then did a Google search
http://topics.sacbee.com/Google+search/ on Wayne Hague. He printed out
the info, returned to the gym and handed it to Catton.

"I said, 'Here's another pilot who seems to have the other half of your
story,'" Van Beek told him.

The story had its roots in the fall of 1967 as the Vietnam War was
heating up.

Catton served in the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing. On this particular day,
he fl ew the lead plane among Phantoms providing cover for bombers on a
mission over Hanoi .

Once the bombers emptied their loads, they returned to their bases.
Then the Phantoms zoomed down and dropped their bombs as well.

As Catton bombed a railroad bridge, enemy rounds ripped into the intake
of his right engine.

As he maneuvered his crippled plane, Catton said, enemy fighter jets
appeared. "I looked over my shoulder and there were three MiGs on me."

After another pilot flew in to run off the MiGs, that threat subsided.

Catton faced another: a plane with one blown-out engine and other major
problems, including the fact that he was still above North Vietnamese
real estate.

"I was heading back toward Laos , all shot up and leaking fuel," Catton
said. "I wanted to bail out over Laos . If I bailed (over North Vietnam ),
I would have ended up in the Hanoi Hilton."

He put out what amounted to a "Mayday" call, and Hague - flying over L
aos in his KC -135 - answered.

"When I heard his voice," Catton said, "it was like the voice of God. I
told him I was heading west toward Laos .  He said, 'Negative, Cadillac
Lead (Catton's code name). I'll come and get you.'" Just one problem:
Hague had strict orders not to cross over the border into North Vietnam .

With a pilot in trouble, though, he didn't hesitate. Hague hooked up
with Catton over the Black River, roughly 100 miles from Laos .

"I just went in and got him," Hague said.

As they positioned their respective planes to connect the refueling
boom, Catton radioed: "Understand I've got a fire warning and smoke in
the cockpit. You don't have to take me on."

Hague's response? "Cadillac Lead, get your sorry ass in position for a
hookup before I change my mind!"

Catton's plane leaked the fuel as quickly as the tanker could pump it
in. So they stayed connected for more than 200 miles until Catton
detached to land at an air ba se in Thailand while Hague returned to his
own at Takhli. Just as Catton touched down, his left engine quit, too.

Hague never told anyone at Takhli about the incident. Someone must have.
His superiors knew, and the rumor mill soon began to churn.

A day or so later, on the ground at Udon, Catton heard that the tanker
pilot likely would be court-martialed for going over into North Vietnam ,
putting his crew and plane at severe risk.

So Catton went to his commanding officer, who had a solution: He'd
recommend the tanker pilot for a Silver Star.

Neither Hague nor Catton can say this for certain, but both heard that
the Silver Star http://topics.sacbee.com/Silver+Star/ recommendation
arrived at headquarters the same day as the court-martial pap ers,
leaving the brass to weigh an act of heroism that saved a pilot's life
against the military crime of blatantly disobeying orders.

Hague never got his Silver Star, but he didn't get court-martialed,
either.

Through all of this, neither Hague nor Catton learned each other's
identity.

It stayed that way until Feb. 6, 2011, when Hague got a phone call that
went something like this:

"Are you Wayne Hague?"

"Yes, I am," he answered.

"Were you in Vietnam in 1967?" the caller continued.

"Yes, I was.."

"Did you enter North Vietnam to pick up a fighter pilot, shot up and
going down?"

"Yes, I did."

"I'm the pilot."

Only then did Hague learn the name of the man he'd rescued more than 43
years ago.

They met a few days later. Hague already planned on traveling to
Lewiston , Idaho , to watch grandson Jason Hague play baseball at
Lewis-Clark State College. So he drove two more hours to Spokane , and
the two pilots saw each other face to face for the first time.

Indeed, Hague always wondered about the fighter pilot whose life he
saved so long ago.
Likewise with Catton.

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