Thomas W. “Tom” Floyd, Major, U.S. Air Force, Vietnam
Author: John Vick
Captain Tom Floyd, U.S. Air Force, in the black flight suit of the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron, beside the cockpit of the F4E he flew while deployed to Da Nang Air Base, Vietnam.
[Photo: Tom Floyd]
On the morning of December 20, 1972, Brigadier General Robert Titus, Commander of the 15th Tactical Air Wing at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, sat quietly reading his morning report. The report from the 67th Wild Weasel detachment at Korat Air Base in Thailand immediately grabbed his attention. The report noted that pilots under his command had engaged MIG fighters.
In an earlier combat tour in southeast Asia, General Titus had shot down two MIGS himself, and he was excited to see that some of his pilots had engaged MIGS. He immediately ordered transportation to Korat Air Base.
That afternoon, Captain Tom Floyd found himself debriefing General Titus on the details of the previous night’s mission which included three MIG engagements and two SAM [surface to air missile] kills. The General told Floyd, “That was a hell of a mission,” to which Floyd replied, “Yes sir, all of the excitement and none of the glory.” The General replied, “We’ll see about that.” Floyd recalled, “The next time I saw the General, he was pinning the Silver Star to my uniform.”
Thomas William “Tom” Floyd was born May 23, 1942, in Atlanta, Georgia. His parents were Andrew and Edith Floyd. The family moved to Andalusia, Alabama, in 1950, where Andrew took a job with the Chamber of Commerce. Andy, as Andrew was known, was instrumental in getting the Gulf Naval Stores of Gulfport, Mississippi, to build a new plant in Andalusia.
The new Gulf Naval Stores plant offered Andy a job distributing all their products that were less than a freight car load. Andy Floyd opened the new Floyd Pine Products in Andalusia.
Tom Floyd attended Andalusia schools and graduated from Andalusia High School in 1960. He entered The University of the South [Sewanee] and graduated in 1964 with a degree in pre-law. Tom was enrolled in ROTC and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force upon graduation.
Immediately after graduation, Tom drove to the University of Alabama and entered law school. After a year, he began active duty with the Air Force and was accepted for flight training. Tom finished flight training at Craig Air Force Base in Selma, Alabama, and received his pilot’s wings in 1966. His original orders were to Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Vietnam but were changed to Castle Air Force Base in California.
At Castle, Tom was assigned to a KC-135 [air force refueling tanker] squadron where he spent the next 18 months trying to get assigned to a fighter squadron. He finally succeeded and was sent to George Air Force Base in California for training in the F-4 Phantom fighter. While at George, Tom met and married Lois MacKintosh.
When Tom graduated from F-4 training, he was one of four 1st Lieutenants to qualify as a front seat pilot. He was assigned to the 16th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
In April 1969, the squadron became the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron and was deployed to Da Nang Air Base in Vietnam. Tom deployed with the squadron that were now flying 20 new F4E fighters. Tom recalled, “Our missions at Da Nang were primarily close air support for the Army’s II Corps as well as bombing and interdiction of the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos…By February 1970, I had completed 100 combat missions and was transferred to Yokota Air Base in Japan.”
A flight of the 16th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base just prior to deployment to Vietnam. The colors of their new squadron [the 421st] were red and black. The squadron dyed their uniforms black before deployment. Captain Tom Floyd is at the bottom, far right.[Photo: Tom Floyd]
Tom Floyd still remembers one of those 100 combat missions, “The very best combat missions are when you save someone’s life…Gerry Salvo, my Wingman, and I were scrambled from Da Nang Airbase and vectored 300 degrees which was different than our normal 230 degrees to support the U.S. Army’s Americal Division in the II Corps area.
“We were being sent across the border into Laos along the Ho Chi Minh trail to hold off a Viet Cong force that was threatening to overrun a ‘Road Watch Team’ of nine men… Rescue helicopters and A-1 ground support aircraft were still too far away to help.
We were being directed by our Forward Air Controller [call sign, Nail 51] who marked
the Team’s position with rockets. We proceeded to drop napalm on the enemy positions but were told that they were still closing in…We told Nail 51 to have the Team take deep cover because we were going to drop ‘Danger Close.’
“We ‘walked’ the 500 lb. bombs closer and closer right up to the Team until we had expended our load. After that, we started walking 20 mm rounds right up to the Team until we were Winchester [out of ammunition]. Nail 51 told us the rescue team was still five minutes away so we made two low altitude, full afterburner passes to keep the Viet Cong’s heads down. Just as we finished our last pass, the A-1’s rolled in and took over the rescue.
“We returned to Da Nang and were told that the rescue was successful…The next day we were told that my flight had been recommended for the Distinguished Flying Cross [DFC].
Two days later, we were told that the awards had been disapproved because we had violated the Laos Rules of Engagement for F-4’s, which limited engagements to 7,500 feet over targets. We had thought those rules applied only to F-4’s based in Thailand, not Vietnam…So, we were scrambled by someone in Saigon who wanted to give us a DFC and someone else in Saigon wanted us court martialed for violating Rules of Engagement…That seemed to be the way the war was being run. For our part, we felt damn good because the Team had been rescued.”
At Yokota, Tom was temporarily deployed to Osan Air Base in South Korea, as part of the nuclear alert team for the better part of a year. While at Yokota, Tom learned that he could volunteer for Wild Weasel training. He recalled, “I found out that I could apply for Wild Weasel training because I had completed a combat tour and had more than 1,000 hours flight time. After I was accepted, I was sent to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada for training.”
The Wild Weasels program originated in 1965 as an anti-SAM [surface to air missile] effort to take out radar sites before they could lock onto U.S. bombers. The idea was to send in aircraft that would jam the SAM radar, then fire an anti-radiation, air-to-ground missile to destroy the missile sight. The pilots were all volunteer and the first aircraft used were the F-100’s. After losing five of the first six aircraft, the F-100 was replaced by the F-105, then later by the F-4C, which Tom Floyd would fly.
Emblem of the Wild Weasels. The YGBSM at the bottom stands for "You gotta to be s------- me." The exclamation was supposedly made by the first Wild Weasel Electronic Warfare Officer after his mission was assigned to him. [Photo: Wikipedia]
After completing Wild Weasel training, Tom was sent back to Yokota Air Base. The Pacific Air Force had organized all the Wild Weasels into the 80th Tactical Fighter Squadron which Tom joined. Shortly after he arrived, the entire squadron was deployed to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa and designated as the 67th TFS.
In the spring of 1972, the U.S. had begun “Linebacker I,” a renewal of large-scale bombing of North Vietnam. Since the “Rolling Thunder” bombing of 1968, North Vietnam had developed a much more sophisticated early warning radar system and had added more than 200 SA-2 [SAM] launchers. The early use of Wild Weasel aircraft was now more desperately needed.
In September 1972, Tom was part of nine crews, along with six F-4C Wild Weasels sent to Korate Air Base in Thailand to augment the F-105 Wild Weasels already there. That would be the first combat test of the F4CWW.
Captain Tom Floyd, newly assigned to 80th TFS [Wild Weasel] after completing WW training at Nellis AFB Nevada.[Photo: Tom Floyd]
On September 25, 1972, Captain Tom Floyd and his Electronic Warfare Officer [EWO], Captain Al Palmer, flew the first combat mission of a F4CWW over Vien, N. Vietnam. They flew wing on an F-105WW. For the next six months, the six aircraft and nine air crews of the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron [TFS], flew more than 470 combat missions over N. Vietnam. During that time, none of the aircraft would take a single hit from anti-aircraft fire, Sam missiles nor MIG fighters. Floyd and the 67th TFS had proved the combat worthiness of the F4CWW.
Linebacker I was halted for peace talks in October 1972. After the peace talks stalled, Linebacker 2 was begun on December 18. During the ceasefire period, the morale of the fighter crews was at a low point. Many felt that the war might be over soon and weren’t eager to be one of the last casualties.
Floyd recalled, “My Operations Officer called me aside on December 17 and told me that ‘I can’t tell you what is about to happen but you and Al need to make maps of downtown Hanoi.’ The next day we were told that Linebacker 2 would begin that night…Flight restrictions for engaging the enemy had been removed by President Nixon.”
The Wild Weasels were faced with the problem of covering 27 known SAM sights with 35 aircraft. Floyd recalled, “We decided to attack single-ship instead of our normal two-ship formation…The weather was undercast, with the top of the clouds at 8,000 feet, clear above with a full moon and unlimited visibility…The F-105’s would work from the cloud-tops to 15,000 feet and the F4’s would work between 15,000 – 25,000 feet to avoid conflict.
“There was an added problem of having the 130 B-52s fly in a line that took about 90 minutes to clear the target area…It was decided that four-ship Weasel formations would take off 20 minutes apart and be responsible for suppressing 16-18 SAM sights…We developed the ‘Code of the West’ where the flight leader took the hottest four or five SAM sights to suppress with 2 AGM-45 radar-homing missiles…The rest of the flight members were assigned four or five SAM sights in the same area, giving about eight AGM-45 missiles to cover 16-18 Sam sites for about 20 minutes – a seemingly impossible task, but for the most part, we did it.
The underside of Captain Tom Floyd’s F4CWW showing a typical Wild Weasel load of missiles.[Photo: Tom Floyd]
“After we landed, the Weasels sent an eight-page, electronic message [TWIX] to SAC headquarters, recommending that they do away with WWII tactics. That first night we had seen six B-52s shot down by SAMs.”
Floyd led a four-ship flight off Weasels the next night. He recalled, “We took off around 10:30 pm and rendezvoused with the pre-strike KC-135 tanker. Our flight was preceded by a four-ship flight of F-105WWs…I was informed that one of the 105s had to abort and that a chase plane had left to follow him back in case he had to bail out. I immediately changed our refueling order so that two of us could refuel first and follow-up behind the 105s. After refueling, we contacted Red Crown [the Navy cruiser that provided radar coverage for the Hanoi area] and told them we were inbound…Red Crown informed me that an F4D ‘chaff flight’ [sent in first to drop tiny bits of aluminum foil to confuse the SAMs] was under attack by two MIG-21s. The F4Es that were to protect the chaff flight had not arrived…I confirmed that there were no friendly aircraft in the area and launched an AIM7E [air-to-air missile]. The attacking MIG broke off his attack and dove into the clouds…His wingman trailing behind him suddenly attacked me…He was in full-afterburner, diving down from above. I immediately turned off my external lights and managed to get above him without using my afterburner…I rolled inverted so that my dark camouflage blended in with the dark sky… He was silhouetted below with his afterburner visible against the bright moonlit undercast clouds."
“There I was, canopy to canopy, about 2,000 feet above him and out of bullets…I had decided to launch an AGM-45 missile [air to ground] at him to scare him away when he suddenly broke off the attack, rolled inverted and dove into the clouds.
“I confirmed with Red Crown that we were clear of MIGs and then we proceeded to our assigned area over Hanoi…We were on the northern side of the train of B-52s, facing Hanoi, where we were able to intercept strong radar signals from SAM sites…We were able to get two confirmed kills with our AGM-45s. After that, Red Crown informed us that a MIG-19 was initiating an attack on us from the north…I turned hard into him and Al got a full radar system lock on him which caused him to break off the attack.”
By now, Floyd was out of bullets and low on fuel. He recalled, “We left the area and joined the tanker to refuel. We had been 40 minutes from tanker to tanker…We had probably saved four F4Ds, eight guys’ lives, negated three MIG attacks, killed two SAM sites but unfortunately had seen five more B-52s shot down. For that night’s work, Al and I were each awarded a Silver Star.”
Captain Tom Floyd [L] and Captain Al Palmer [R] beside their F4CWW after the intense mission over N. Vietnam which earned them both, the Silver Star. [Photo: Tom Floyd]
In the meantime, the B-52s changed their attack plans over N. Vietnam. The new attack plan hit numerous targets from different directions and different altitudes. The new shortened time over target cut B-52 losses significantly. Even with the new attack plans, there were 15 B-52 bombers lost during Linebacker 2. Captain Tom Floyd and his EWO, Captain Al Palmer, flew another 16 more WW missions over N. Vietnam before being transferred to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa in February 1973.
The Wild Weasel concept had proven its worth during Linebacker 1 and Linebacker 2 in 1972. Flying into some of the densest air defenses imaginable, the U.S. lost 49 aircraft, none of which were Wild Weasels. N. Vietnam launched more than 4,000 SA-2s missiles during the entire year giving them a ratio of 80 missiles required to bring down one plane.
After Vietnam, the U.S. kept improving the Wild Weasel program. F4GWWs were very successful during the first Gulf War. The new F-16WWs were successful during the second Gulf War.
Captain Tom Floyd’s F4CWW, tail number 474. Photo taken by his Wingman. [Photo: Tom Floyd]
In June 1973, Floyd was transferred to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. He was the Project Officer for Air-to-Air Missiles for the next five years. After that, he was assigned to Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, for one year as the Wing Flying Safety Officer. Floyd was promoted to Major in 1976.
Major Floyd was assigned to Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas, as Wing Flying Safety Officer for two years before being sent to Williams Air Force Base, Arizona, as ranking instructor pilot for the F-5 trainer. Among the pilots that Floyd instructed at Williams were the King of Thailand, and a Squadron Commander for the Mexican Air Force. He also instructed the Wing Commander of the Egyptian Air Force which was transitioning from Russian MIG-21s to U.S. F-16 fighters.
Major Tom Floyd retired from the Air Force in 1985. His awards included the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with five Oak Leaf Clusters, the Meritorious Service Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Air Medal with 19 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Combat Readiness Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters, the Air Force Longevity Service Ribbon with four Oak Leaf Clusters, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Valor with four Oak Leaf Clusters, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon with four Oak Leaf Clusters.
He worked for the General Electric simulator division for five years as an F-5 instructor for foreign pilots. With 26 countries having bought the F-5 from Northrop, things were busy until General Electric closed down their simulator operation.
Tom Floyd’s wife, Lois, worked for the Barnett, Dulaney Eye Clinic in Phoenix. Tom began work for the clinic, driving patients all over Arizona. He retired in 2001 and the family moved to Prescott, Arizona, where they now reside. Tom and Lois are the parents of Bonnie Goodwin [Jim] and Jennifer Johnson [Quinn]. They have seven grandchildren.
The author knew Tom Floyd during their time at Andalusia High School. It has been a distinct pleasure to recount his service in the U.S. Air Force and to share his pioneering work with the Wild Weasels in Vietnam.
[Sources: Wikipedia; “First In, Last Out – the Wild Weasels Story”, YouTube; sofrep.com; warhistoryonline.com]