Bronco Pilot to Present at Museum Speaker Series

John Van Etten, who was an OV-10 Bronco pilot and on-scene commander during the famed rescue of Bat 21 during the Vietnam War, will be presenting about the famous search-and-rescue operation on Thursday, May 18, at 7 p.m. as part of the EAA Aviation Museum Aviation Adventure Speaker Series.

In April 1972, U.S. Air Force navigator Lt. Col. Iceal “Gene” Hambleton was shot down in his EB-66 aircraft, call sign Bat 21, over South Vietnam during the Easter Offensive. Because Hambleton had top secret access to Strategic Air Command operations and was a SAM countermeasures expert, the Air Force poured extensive resources into retrieving Hambleton, who had survived the shootdown and parachuted onto a battlefield with thousands of North Vietnamese soldiers.

Over the course of the next 11 days, Hambleton evaded capture in the Quang Tri province, just south of the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam. During the course of the rescue operation, six more men died when an HH-53 sent to rescue Hambleton was shot down. At this point, Hambleton considered surrendering until, as on-scene commander, John talked to him over the emergency radio, telling him it would be a waste of human lives to give up now.

After five more days hiding and with more aircraft shot down in attempt to rescue Hambleton, a ground rescue attempt was made, in which Hambleton had to bypass North Vietnamese-occupied villages to reach the rendezvous point. Knowing Hambleton was an avid golfer and memorized courses, his rescuers used golf-course code to guide him. On the night of April 13, two Navy SEALS rescued Hambleton, who by then was delirious and had lost 45 pounds over the course of the past 11 days.

Thursday’s event is free for EAA members and youths 5 and under, and just $5 for nonmembers.

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