MAGNUSSON, JAMES A. JR.
Name: James A. Magnusson, Jr.
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
Date of Birth: 15 November 9134
Home City of Record: Nahant MA
Date of Loss: 04 April 1965
Country of Loss: North Vietnam/Over Water
Loss Coordinates: 192800N 1055700E (WG997526)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Source: Compiled from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S.
Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families,
published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK in 1998.
Personnel In Incident: April 3 1965: Herschel S. Morgan; Raymond A. Vohden
(released POWs); George C. Smith (missing). April 4, 1965: Walter F.
Draeger; James A. Magnusson (missing); Carlyle S. Harris (released POW);
September 16, 1965: J. Robinson Risner (released POW); May 31, 1966: Bobbie
J. Alberton; William R. Edmondson; Emmett McDonald; Armon Shingledecker;
Philip J. Stickney; (missing from the C-130E); Thomas Case; Harold J. Zook;
Elroy Harworth (remains returned from the C130E). Dayton Ragland; Ned
Herrold (missing on an F-4C)
REMARKS: CRASH OW - SRCH NEGAT - J
SYNOPSIS: The Thanh Hoa Railroad and Highway Bridge, spanning the Song Ma
River, is located three miles north of Thanh Hoa, the capital of Annam
Province, North Vietnam. It is a replacement for the original French-built
bridge destroyed by the Viet Minh in 1945 - they simply loaded two
locomotives with explosives and ran them together in the middle of the
In 1957, the North Vietnamese rebuilt the bridge. The new bridge, completed
in 1964, was 540 feet long, 56 feet wide, and about 50 feet above the river.
The Vietnamese called it Ham Rong (the Dragon's Jaw), and Ho Chi Minh
himself attended its dedication. The bridge had two steel thru-truss spans
which rested in the center on a massive reinforced concrete pier 16 feet in
diameter, and on concrete abutments at the other ends. Hills on both sides
of the river provided solid bracing for the structure. Between 1965 and
1972, eight concrete piers were added near the approaches to give additional
resistance to bomb damage. A one-meter guage single railway track ran down
the 12 foot wide center and 22 foot wide concrete highways were cantilevered
on each side. This giant would prove to be one of the single most
challenging targets for American air power in Veitnam. 104 American pilots
were shot down over a 75 square mile area around the Dragon during the war.
(Only the accounts of those specifically known to be involved in major
strikes against the bridge are given here. Some losses were aircraft
involved in operations against other targets. Note also, that because
aircraft came in on this target from a wide geographic area, some personnel
lost outside the 75 mile range may have been inadvertently overlooked in
In March 1965 the decision to interdict the North Vietnamese rail system
south of the 20th parallel led immediately to the April 3, 1965 strike
against the Thanh Hoa Bridge. Lt.Col. Robinson Risner was designated overall
mission coordinator for the attack. He assembled a force consisting of 79
aircraft - 46 F105's, 21 F100's, 2 RF101's and 10 KC135 tankers. The F100's
came from bases in South Vietnam, while the rest of the aircraft were from
squadrons TDY at various Thailand bases.
Sixteen of the 46 "Thuds" (F105) were loaded with pairs of Bullpup missiles,
and each of the remaining 30 carried eight 750 lb. general purpose bombs.
The aircraft that carried the missiles and half of the bombers were
scheduled to strike the bridge; the remaining 15 would provide flak
suppression. The plan called for individual flights of four F105's from
Koran and Takhli which would be air refueled over the Mekong River before
tracking across Laos to an initial point (IP) three minutes south of the
bridge. After weapon release, the plan called for all aircraft to continue
east until over the Gulf of Tonkin where rejoin would take place and a Navy
destroyer would be available to recover anyone who had to eject due to
battle damage or other causes. After rejoin, all aircraft would return to
their bases, hopefully to the tune of "The Ham Rong Bridge if falling down."
Shortly after noon on April 3, aircraft of Rolling Thunder Mission 9-Alpha
climbed into Southeast Asia skies on their journey to the Thanh Hoa Bridge.
The sun glinting through the haze was making the target somewhat difficult
to acquire, but Risner led the way "down the chute" and 250 pound missiles
were soon exploding on the target. Since only one Bullpup missile could be
fired at a time, each pilot had to make two firing passes.
On his second pass, LtCol. Risner's aircraft took a hit just as the Bullpup
hit the bridge. Fighting a serious fuel leak and a smoke-filled cockpit in
addition to anti-aircraft fire from the enemy, he nursed his crippled
aircraft to Da Nang and to safety. The Dragon would not be so kind on
The first two flights had already left the target when Capt. Bill Meyerholt,
number three man in the third flight, rolled his Thunderchief into a dive
and sqeezed off a Bullpup. The missile streaked toward the bridge, and as
smoke cleared from the previous attacks, Capt. Meyerholt was shocked to see
no visible damage to the bridge. The Bullpups were merely charring the heavy
steel and concrete structure. The remaining missile attacks confirmed that
firing Bullpups at the Dragon was about as effective as shooting BB pellets
at a Sherman tank.
The bombers, undaunted, came in for their attack, only to see their payload
drift to the far bank because of a very strong southwest wind. 1Lt. George
C. Smith's F100D was shot down near the target point as he suppressed flak.
The anti-aircraft resistance was much stronger than anticipated. No radio
contact could be made with Smith, nor could other aircraft locate him. 1Lt.
Smith was listed Missing In Action, and no further word has been heard of
The last flight of the day, led by Capt. Carlyle S. "Smitty" Harris,
adjusted their aiming points and scored several good hits on the roadway and
super structure. Smitty tried to assess bomb damage, but could not because
of the smoke coming from the Dragon's Jaw. The smoke would prove to be an
ominous warning of things to come.
LtCdr. Raymond A. Vohden was north of the Dragon when his A4C bomber was
shot down. Ray was captured by the North Vietnamese and held in various POW
camps in and near Hanoi until his release in February 1973. (It is not
entirely clear that this U.S. Navy Lt.Cdr. had a direct role in the attack
on the bridge, but was probably "knocked out" by the same anti-aircraft
Capt. Herschel S. Morgan's RF101 was hit and went down some 75 miles
southwest of the target area, seriously injuring the pilot. Capt. Morgan was
captured and held in and around Hanoi until his release in February 1973.
When the smoke cleared, observer aircraft found that the bridge still
spanned the river. Thirty-two Bullpups and ten dozen 750 pound bombs had
been aimed at the bridge and numerous hits had charred every part of the
structure, yet it showed no sign of going down. A restrike was ordered for
the next day.
The following day, flights with call signs "Steel", "Iron", "Copper",
"Moon", "Carbon", "Zinc", "Argon", "Graphite", "Esso", "Mobil", "Shell",
"Petrol", and the "Cadillac" BDA (bomb damage assessment) flight, assembled
at IP to try once again to knock out the Dragon. On this day, Capt. Carlyle
"Smitty" Harris was flying as call sign "Steel 3". Steel 3 took the lead and
oriented himself for his run on a 300 degree heading. He reported that his
bombs had impacted on the target on the eastern end of the bridge. Steel 3
was on fire as soon as he left the target. Radio contact was garbled, and
Steel Lead, Steel 2 and Steel 4 watched helplessly as Smitty's aircraft,
emitting flame for 20 feet behind, headed due west of the target. All flight
members had him in sight until the fire died out, but observed no parachute,
nor did they see the aircraft impact the ground. Smitty's aircraft had been
hit by a MiG whose pilot later recounted the incident in "Vietnam Courier"
on April 15, 1965. It was not until much later that it would be learned that
Smitty had been captured by the North Vietnamese. Smitty was held prisoner
for 8 years and released in 1973. Fellow POWs credit Smitty with introducing
the "tap code" which enabled them to communicate with each other.
MiG's had been seen on previous missions, but for the first time in the war,
the Russian-made MiGs attacked American aircraft. Zinc 2, an F105D flown by
Capt. James A. Magnusson, had its flight bounced by MiG 17's. As Zinc Lead
was breaking to shake a MiG on his tail, Zinc 2 was hit and radioed that he
was heading for the Gulf if he could maintain control of his aircraft. The
other aircraft were busy evading the MiGs, and Magnusson radioed several
times before Steel Lead responded and instructed him to tune his radio to
rescue frequency. Magnusson's aircraft finally ditched over the Gulf of
Tonkin near the island of Hon Me, and he was not seen or heard from again.
He was listed Missing In Action.
Capt. Walter F. Draeger's A1H (probably an escort for rescue teams) was shot
down over the Gulf of Tonkin just northeast of the Dragon that day.
Draeger's aircraft was seen to crash in flames, but no parachute was
observed. Draeger was listed Missing In Action.
The remaining aircraft returned to their bases, discouraged. Although over
300 bombs scored hits on this second strike, the bridge still stood.
From April to September 1965, 19 more pilots were shot down in the general
vicinity of the Dragon, including many who were captured and released,
including Howie Rutledge, Gerald Coffee, Paul Galanti, Jeremiah Denton, Bill
Tschudy and James Stockdale. Then on September 16, 1965, Col. Robbie
Risner's F105D was shot down a few miles north of the bridge he had tried to
destroy the previous April. As he landed, Risner tore his knee painfully, a
condition which contributed to his ultimate capture by the North Vietnamese.
Risner was held in and around Hanoi until his release in 1973, but while a
POW, he was held in solitary confinement for 4 1/2 years. Besides the normal
malaise and illnesses common to POWs, Risner also suffered from kidney
stones, which severely debilitated him in the spring and summer of 1967.
By September 1965, an innovative concept had taken shape - mass-focusing the
energy of certain high explosive weapons. The Air Force quickly saw its
application against the old Dragon and devised a plan to destroy the bridge
using the new weapon. They would call the operation "Carolina Moon".
The plan necessitated two C130 aircraft dropping the weapon, a rather large
pancake-shaped affair 8 feet in diameter and 2 1/2 feet thick and weighing
5,000 pounds. The C130's would fly below 500 feet to evade radar along a 43
mile route (which meant the C130 would be vulnerable to enemy attack for
about 17 minutes), and drop the bombs, which would float down the Song Ma
River where it would pass under the Dragon's Jaw, and detonate when sensors
in the bomb detected the metal of the bridge structure.
Because the slow-moving C130's would need protection, F4 Phantoms would fly
diversionary attack to the south, using flares and bombs on the highway just
before the C130 was to drop its ordnance. The F4s were to enter their target
area at 300', attack at 50' and pull off the target back to 300' for
subsequent attacks. Additionally, an EB66 was tasked to jam the radar in the
area during the attack period. Since Risner had been shot down in September,
15 more pilots had been downed in the bridge region. Everyone knew it was
The first C130 was to be flown by Maj. Richard T. Remers and the second by
Maj. Thomas F. Case, both of whom had been through extensive training for
this mission at Elgin AFB, Florida and had been deployed to Vietnam only 2
weeks before. Ten mass-focus weapons were provided, allowing for a second
mission should the first fail to accomplish the desired results.
Last minute changes to coincide with up-to-date intelligence included one
that would be very significant in the next days. Maj. Remers felt that the
aircraft was tough enough to survive moderate anti-aircraft artillery hits
and gain enough altitude should bail-out be necessary. Maj. Case agreed that
the aircraft could take the hits, but the low-level flight would preclude a
controlled bail-out situation. With these conflicting philosophies, and the
fact that either parachutes or flak vests could be worn - but not both -
Maj. Remers decided that his crew would wear parachutes and stack their flak
vests on the floor of the aircraft. Maj. Case decided that his crew would
wear only flak vests and store the parachutes.
On the night of May 30, Maj. Remers and his crew, including navigators Capt.
Norman G. Clanton and 1Lt. William "Rocky" Edmondson, departed Da Nang at 25
minutes past midnight and headed north under radio silence. Although the
"Herky-bird" encountered no resistance at the beginning of its approach,
heavy, (although luckily, inaccurate) ground fire was encountered after it
was too late to turn back. The 5 weapons were dropped successfully in the
river and Maj. Remers made for the safety of the Gulf of Tonkin. The
operation had gone flawlessly, and the C130 was safe. Although the
diversionary attack had drawn fire, both F-4's returned to Thailand
Unfortunately, the excitement of the crew was shortlived, because recon
photos taken at dawn showed that there was no noticeable damage to the
bridge, nor was any trace of the bombs found. A second mission was planned
for the night of May 31. The plan for Maj. Case's crew was basically the
same with the exception of a minor time change and slight modification to
the flight route. A crew change was made when Maj. Case asked 1Lt.
Edmondson, the navigator from the previous night's mission, to go along on
this one because of his experience from the night before. The rest of the
crew included Capt. Emmett R. McDonald, 1Lt. Armon D. Shingledecker, 1Lt.
Harold J. Zook, SSgt. Bobby J. Alberton, AM1 Elroy E. Harworth and AM1
Philip J. Stickney. The C130 departed DaNang at 1:10 a.m.
The crew aboard one of the F4's to fly diversionary included Col. Dayton
Ragland. Ragland was no stranger to conflict when he went to Vietnam. He had
been shot down over Korea in November 1951 and had served two years as a
prisoner of war. Having flown 97 combat missions on his tour in Vietnam,
Ragland was packed and ready to go home. He would fly as "backseater" to
1Lt. Ned R. Herrold on the mission to give the younger man more combat
flight time while he operated the sophisticated technical navigational and
bombing equipment. The F4's left Thailand and headed for the area south of
At about two minutes prior to the scheduled C130 drop time, the F4's were
making their diversionary attack when crew members saw anti-aircraft fire
and a large ground flash in the bridge vicinity. Maj. Case and his crew were
never seen or heard from again. During the F4 attack, Herrold and Ragland's
aircraft was hit. On its final pass, the aircraft did not pull up, but went
out to sea, and reported that the aircraft had taken heavy weapons fire. A
ball of fire was seen as the plane went into the sea.
Reconnaissance crews and search and rescue scoured the target area and the
Gulf of Tonkin the next morning, finding no sign at all of the C130 or its
crew. Rescue planes spotted a dinghy in the area in which Herrold and
Ragland's aircraft had gone down, but saw no signs of life. The dinghy was
sunk to prevent it falling into enemy hands. The bridge still stood.
In March 1967, the U.S. Navy attacked the Thanh Hoa Bridge using the new
"Walleye" missiles, but failed to knock out the bridge. Before the war
ended, 54 more Americans fell in the Dragon's Jaw area.
In late 1986 the remains of Harworth, Zook and Case were returned and buried
with the honor befitting an American fighting man who has died for his
country. Ragland, Herrold, Alberton, McDonald, Edmondson, Shingledecker,
Stickney, Smith, Draeger and Magnussen are still Missing in Action.