SHINGLEDECKER, ARMON D.
REMAINS IDENTIFIED 04/30/98
Name: Armon D. Shingledecker
Rank/Branch: O2/US Air Force
Unit: 61st Troop Carrier Squadron, DaNang Airbase
Date of Birth: 26 December 1941
Home City of Record: Lima OH
Date of Loss: 31 May 1966
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 194857N 1052924E (WG510910)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
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: ALL CREW DEAD/FBIS
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. 2020
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 bridge.
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 this study.)
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 another day.
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
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 him.
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 fire.)
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
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 hot.
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 unscathed.
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 the Dragon.
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.