Wednesday, December 05, 2012

TFH 12/5: Major Thomas E. Dayton, USAF

Thomas E. Dayton was born in New York on June 3, 1933. He began his military service on July 7, 1953 when he entered the United States Military Academy, West Point. As the United States Air Force hadn't opened their own service academy yet, he opted to join that service and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant after graduating in June of 1957. Dayton earned his pilot's wings and in various roles flew the North American F-86 Sabre, the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger, and the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter.

When it came time for Dayton to fly into battle over Southeast Asia with the 22nd Special Operations Squadron at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, he piloted a Douglas A-1 Skyraider. The 22nd's primary mission was to interdict and destroy enemy forces and supplies along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, as well as other attack missions and the vital role of escorting and coordinating search and rescue missions for downed American fliers. It was during one of the last on December 5-7, 1969 that then-Major Dayton repeatedly flew into hostile fire during fifteen attempts to rescue a shot-down colleague. The rescue was finally successful on the sixteenth attempt, and for his incredible courage in the skies Dayton was awarded 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 Major Thomas E. Dayton (AFSN: 0-29982), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as an A-1 Tactical Fighter Pilot of the 22d Special Operations Squadron, in action in Southeast Asia, from 5 December 1969 to 7 December 1969. On those dates, Major Dayton exerted all the courage and flying skill at his disposal in a fiercely opposed attempt to rescue a fellow airman from one of the most heavily defended areas in Southeast Asia. During the first two days of this largest search and rescue mission attempted in Southeast Asia, Major Dayton escorted helicopters into the search area on four separate occasions. Despite intense hostile fire during low altitude and slow speed required in this protective role, he repeatedly attacked hostile positions throughout the valley. Designated On-Scene Commander on the third day, Major Dayton continued his heroic rescue efforts with great vigor and determination despite the fact that fifteen previous attempts had failed, and with full knowledge that each return would again place his life in jeopardy. Notwithstanding these tremendous obstacles, Major Dayton persisted in his efforts, with the realization that the successful application of airpower would be the deciding factor. During the final rescue attempt, Major Dayton had to hold an orbiting position over the survivor to divert air strikes away from the survivor's position. Braving hundreds of rounds of hostile fire during these three days, Major Dayton took control of the recovery operation at its lowest ebb and heroically challenged and mastered this successful, unparalleled rescue mission. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, Major Dayton reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Thomas Dayton retired from the Air Force on January 1, 1983 as a Colonel. I could not find any information to the contrary, so I believe he is still alive.

The 22nd Special Operations Squadron was inactivated after the Vietnam War and has not been reformed by the Air Force since.

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