Thursday, August 23, 2012

TFH 8/23: Captain Nicholas J. Donelson, USAF

Nicholas J. Donelson was born on June 5, 1937 in Kansas City, Missouri. He enlisted in the United States Air Force on September 17, 1956 and was first trained as a radar specialist. About four years later, he was accepted into the Air Force's Aviation Cadet program and received his navigator's wings and a commission as a Second Lieutenant on June 7, 1961.

Donelson first served in the Strategic Air Command's B-52 Stratofortress bombers until he was accepted for pilot training. He earned his pilot's wings and joined the 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron in 1966, flying the Republic F-105 Thunderchief from Yokota Air Base in Japan. During several deployments for combat in Vietnam from 1966-1969, he flew a total of 116 war missions.

Forty-five years ago today, then Captain Donelson led a strike against a heavily defended North Vietnamese railroad yard. Even though the Americans came under intense attack by enemy fighters, he led his pilots through to unload their bombs on the target. He was decorated with the second-highest award he could have recieved: the Air Force Cross.

From Military Times' Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Captain Nicholas J. Donelson (AFSN: 0-3118140), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as an F-105 pilot of the 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron, in action over North Vietnam on 23 August 1967. On that date, Captain Donelson was the mission commander for a force of thirty-two aircraft attacking a heavily defended rail yard in the vicinity of Hanoi. Repeated attacks against his force by hostile aircraft destroyed two friendly aircraft, and the intense barrage of anti-aircraft fire downed a third and severely damaged a fourth. In spite of this intense opposition, Captain Donelson, at great personal risk, led his force to the target and pressed the attack, inflicting severe damage to the rail yard and destroying a large amount of rolling stock. Captain Donelson's firm leadership, timely decisions, and professional competence in the face of intense opposition resulted in the successful accomplishment of this extremely hazardous mission. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Captain Donelson reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

August 23, 1967 was a dark day for our Air Force. The North Vietnamese had strengthened their fighter tactics and our airmen were caught largely unprepared. Actions like this one led to the importance of air tactics training through what are now known as the Air Force's Weapons School and the Navy's Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program ("TOPGUN") to guarantee that America will never again be outperformed in the air.

Donelson also was awarded the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, and two Distinguished Flying Crosses in his Air Force career that ended on August 31, 1980 with his retirement at the rank of Colonel. I believe him to still be living.

His Vietnam squadron, last known simply as the 34th Fighter Squadron and then flying the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, was inactivated on July 16, 2010.

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