Biery: ‘I should have zigged instead of zagged’

Biery: ‘I should have zigged instead of zagged’By GEORGE (BUD) BIERY II, Ridge Writers

On Oct. 6, 1968, I was assigned as a “spare” aircraft in case the primary aircraft was mechanically down. Wouldn’t you know, he went down. So I was launched on a night “Iron Hand” mission to provide anti-missile defense against surface-to-air missiles while other aircraft carried out strikes. My 57th combat mission.

I set up a random orbit and was “teased” by a SAM (surface-to-air missile) site for about an hour. Suddenly, the site launched a SAM at me. I attempted to launch a Shrike missile, but it didn’t come off the rails. I lost sight of the SAM and attempted to evade it. The SAM went off and the aircraft went immediately out of control in negative-g condition.

It took me a millisecond to eject. I saw flames and was slamming into a brick wall. I thought I was dead. But searing pain convinced me I was alive. I soon realized that the “brick wall” was the parachute opening shock. Also, I was blind. Then I opened my eyes. Okay, not blind, but unable to move my head. I feared I’d broken my neck. Then, realizing my head had been jammed in front of both parachute risers, I extricated it.

Because I went out at high speed with no leg restraints, I injured both knees. (I only discovered 34 years later that I had severed my ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] since there were no MRIs then). Additionally, everything on my survival vest was blown off including my emergency radio. Fortunately, I had a secondary radio. I immediately let my flight lead know I was floating down in my parachute and not to hit me. Either he or the Rescap (Rescue Combat Air Patrol) said to “watch out for sea snakes.” The Gulf of Tonkin is full of poisonous sea snakes, and I am deathly afraid of snakes, particularly the poisonous kind.

The A-7 Rescap took a chance flying low over my position with its lights on. Air bubbles from my g-suit kept running up my leg, a sensation exactly like a sea snake ready to bite a vital part of my anatomy. I also dreaded detection by fishing boats and spotted one very close. After an hour, an SH-2 helicopter arrived, dropping a swimmer who checked me out. Although not built to carry a machine gun, armor plate and passenger, the helo had to pick me up and still fly. The crew calculated they couldn’t, so they dumped fuel to get lighter. Directly on me and the swimmer.

Flown to the R.K. Turner [USS Richmond K. Turner], I was examined physically. I asked for a cigarette (I smoked then) but they declined until all the fuel dumped on me was washed off. I spent a painful night feeling like I had been hit by a baseball bat all over my body.

During time in sick bay on the USS Constellation, our flight surgeon had me go up to the flight deck daily to see if I could get in my A-7, a difficult aircraft to climb into. Once I could, he cleared me for combat. Quite a rehab program.

Ultimately, I had three Vietnam tours, over 200 missions and, according to my wife, Cecile, 29 months in Vietnam. I continued as a naval sviator for many more operational tours. My final two shore duty tours were at VX-5 (now VX-9) China Lake as an operational test pilot. I retired after 23 years when they told me I had enough fun flying and I was going to sit at a desk in Washington, D.C.

I continued on as an engineering program manager at China Lake for another 18 years.

Bud and Cecile Biery are well-known and widely appreciated as having been active, generous members of the Ridgecrest community.

Story First Published: 2019-11-08