Cadet E's grandfather was a FAC (Forward Air Controller) over Northern Vietnam. These men flew O-1's, pretty typical looking propellor planes. They had an 80% shootdown rate.
"It was really bad until we got smart," he said, "and started flying in formation, two planes at a time, one below and one above. That way, if they shot down the one below, they knew the one above would call in fighters."
He said one of his favorite men was Karl W. Richter, an Air Force legend - he's the youngest man to shoot down a MiG in combat, completed 100 missions, and signed up for another tour. He was shot down on his 198th mission.
"Instead of going home on his leave, he'd come down and fly with us," said Mr. E.
There was also a Medal of Honor winner at the memorial - he commanded the fast FACs, I believe. He was shot down, with his arm broken in three places during ejection. He was captured immediately, but escaped five days later. Without boots or flight suit, he made it back into the DMZ on a bamboo raft. Delirious, he wandered around for several days, within two miles of a Marine position. He was recaptured, and sent to Hanoi. He never gave up - he said today that his faith saved him; he knew nothing would separate him from the love of Christ.
I talked to him briefly - he was entirely humble. It was honor to salute him, although I made a blunder and forgot to at first. He was entirely gracious.
At the end of the ceremony, four F-16's flew over. As they came across the memorial park, a wingman split from teh group and went straight up, symbolizing the men who have died in the skies, leaving their wingmen behind to fly solo.
O, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth...