Jacksonville Daily Progress
Dan George was unable to produce his grandson Thursday to discuss the military situation in Afghanistan with his Jacksonville Kiwanis Club lunchtime group.
Instead, George, 78, took over the presentation himself and shared with them the classic true military story, “The Rescue of Roger Locher.”
Thematically, George's presentation was in the same ballpark as that of his grandson – Warrant Officer 2nd Grade Josh McSwain. McSwain originally was slated to provide modern military insight during his presentation. Unfortunately, he was called away by the death of his maternal grandmother.
The group of 20 Kiwanis members sympathized with the reasons for McSwain's absence but lamented it nonetheless. After all, George's grandson flies awesome armed reconnaissance helicopters. And McSwain had only recently returned from a year tour in January. He is currently on leave from duty stationed in Hawaii.
Improvising with a more classic approach, George relayed Locher's story because, he said, it embodies the power of the fighting American spirit.
George would certainly know about that. He's a retired lieutenant colonel who served two terms in Vietnam.
Locher's rescue, George said, took place in June 1972 during the initial phase of what was called “Operation Linebacker.”
Incidentally, the 23 days Locher spent behind enemy lines evading capture set a record and was the deepest inside North Vietnam achieved by the United States during the entire War, according to reports.
It all began when (in the parlance of the military) an American 4F-4D was shot down by a North Viet-namese Shenyang J-6.
The pilot of the American craft was a very stubborn Major Robert Lodge, who absolutely refused to eject from the plane.
However, weapons officer Roger Locher was able to escape, and somehow remained unseen by US troops or the Vietcong as he fled the area. At the time, he was only 40 miles from Hanoi, North Vietnam.
Locher was extremely well-liked by his colleagues and was good friends with many of them. After he vanished, his continued absence haunted them.
“It became very important to many of them to try to find out if Locher had survived,” George said.
Locher traveled 12 miles on foot, losing lots of strength, hydration, and at least 30 pounds along the way.
After being behind enemy lines at least 22 days, Locher managed to transmit a radio signal to a group of American jets flying overhead: “Any U.S. aircraft, if you read Oyster 1 Bravo, come up on Guard.”
His call was heard!
A few of the pilots grew excited because they remembered “Oyster 1 Bravo” as being Locher's call sign.
Wary of enemy trickery but taking a leap of faith, the American personnel answered the call.
Locher's response to them: “Guys, I've been down here a long time. Any chance of picking me up?”
At first, some Americans who didn't directly hear this message thought the NVA might be impersonating Locher and setting a trap.
But a rescue force of planes nonetheless soon bore down on Locher's transmitted position.
Unfortunately, the attempted rescuers were greeted in return by two MiGs, as well as surface-to-air missiles and gunfire.
The rescuers successfully dodged the missiles, and even eluded one MiG in a narrow canyon. But they were driven away by enemy fire and could not get through to rescue Locher.
They returned to base and glumly reported what happened to superiors.
In an extraordinary gesture, General John Vogt, commander of the 7th Air Force, canceled the entire strike mission set for Hanoi on June 2, 1972 and redirected a task force of 119 aircraft to instead use that time and manpower to free Locher.
It was obvious at this point that Locher had become more than just one person: He was now a symbol of freedom.
“We shut down the war to go get Roger Locher,” retired U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Dale E. Stovall explained at the time.
So the long-missing Locher was thankfully located and rescued. And oddly, despite their proximity to Yen Bai airfield, none of the rescuer aircraft was lost or destroyed during this daring extraction.
After returning to base, a very relieved Locher was greeted heartily by friends and colleagues at the officer's club, George said.
As a moral to this exciting story, George emphatically stated he refuses to believe stories relayed in movies such as Oliver Stone's Platoon, which indicate United States soldiers shot and killed one another with friendly fire.
George said his moral is this: The spirit of American cooperation is too strong for any soldier to allow “friendly fire” to take place.
“We don't shoot one another in the back – not when we go to such lengths not to leave one another on the battlefield,” he said.