HAROLD W. “BUFF” RADEMACHER
Patriot, Chapter 1919
Air Force, Vietnam
Harold W. Rademacher
was born in Salem, South Dakota in 1930.
He doesn’t know how it started, but at an early age
his family began calling him “Buff” and that nickname has stuck all the way
through school, his Air Force career, and retirement, right up to the
After graduation from High School, Buff went away to Eagle
Grove, Iowa to attend Junior College.
He went to Eagle Grove primarily because he had an
Uncle who was the Superintendent there, so he had a place to stay with
family while going to school.
The Korean War broke out (June 1950) while he was a
While waiting in
anticipation of being drafted, Buff went down to the local recruiting office
and took the test for acceptance for flight school.
He passed the test, but remained enrolled in Junior
He watched the draft numbers coming up until they were too
close for comfort, and then enlisted in the Air Force.
After some months of enlisted service, in March 1951
he reported for Aviation Cadet Training at Lackland Air Force Base, San
cadet training, graduating in Class 52-G, he went through pilot training and
crew training at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and then in late 1952, he
was ordered to Korea.
In early 1953, Buff reported in at Kimpo Air Base
(K-14), just outside Seoul, and was assigned as an F-86 “Saber Jet” Fighter
Pilot in the 4th Fighter Wing.
After one year there, the war being over, he rotated
He spent a year
(1954) at Laughlin Air Force Base, Del Rio, Texas, as an instructor in F-86
gunnery and in crew training, and then was transferred to Williams Air Force
Base, Arizona where he served another five years as an instructor in F-86
In 1960, Buff was
assigned to George Air Force Base, California.
He says, “I got into F-104’s and was in an accident,
my back was broken and it took a year for me to recover.”
His next assignment
was a “long tour” in Europe where, from 1961-1964, he flew an F-105
(more commonly called the “Thud”) from Bitburg Air Force Base
He served during part of that assignment as a Forward Air
Controller (FAC) with the Army’s 1st Infantry Division.
Upon rotation back home to the United States, Buff
was assigned to an F-105 unit in Wichita, Kansas.
He was assigned to
the 357th Fighter Squadron at McConnell Air Force Base.
The squadron was not trained for use of radar back
then in 1964, so a detachment, that included Buff, was ordered to do a four
month TDY for training in Turkey.
The timing was scheduled to have the men all home by
Christmas 1964. However, late in the planning for that deployment, they were
diverted and the 357th became the first F-105 unit to be sent TDY from the
United States, to support the mission in Vietnam.
Buff’s initial temporary duty period ended without
It was on his second
TDY to Vietnam in 1965 when his aircraft was shot down and he was wounded.
In Buff’s words, “On June 8, 1965 I was flight
leader for four aircraft that were on a mission over North Vietnam.
At about 4:30 p.m. we were all set to hit a
target of opportunity, a bridge protected with air defense guns.
I made a pass, drew fire and my F-105 took
a single hit, but that one hit was all it took.
The plane was on fire and I had to eject.
My parachute came down in difficult
I was fairly well beaten up with facial
cuts and some other injuries, and found myself on the floor of a deep ravine
with high peaks on every side.
The area was densely forested; nothing
could be seen but 100 foot-tall trees in all directions. I was in big
trouble and I knew it, having gone down in North Vietnam at that early time
in the war, my chances of being picked up and gotten out of there were
really slim. The remaining three planes of the flight watched as I went down
and kept that location on the ground in view.
As they circled the area, my second in
command called for air rescue.
Unknown to me at the time, when air rescue
was on the way they asked for an estimate of how long it would be before
enemy troops could get to the downed pilot (me).
Looking down at the really bad spot where I
was located, (the best way I can describe it, I was down in the bottom of a
deep hole with trees all around), my second in command was only half joking
when he replied that it would take enemy troops about three weeks, at the
earliest, to reach where I was on the ground. He knew air rescue would not
have to contend with enemy interference, but they were going to have a tough
time getting me out due to the limitations of the rescue helicopter and its
equipment in making a pickup, and especially so from my unfortunate place on
the ground. In those early days the big long range H-53 “Jolly Green Giants”
were not yet available.
Air rescue was equipped with small jet
engine helicopters of the type in use at that time for emergencies at major
civilian airports in the United States.
They had limited range and were very
ill-suited for air rescue service in our environment, but that’s what we had
in 1965. Two
of those, each carrying an extra 55-gal. barrel of fuel inboard, had
launched and they set down together and refueled well inside North Vietnam,
enroute to my crash site.
One took on just enough fuel to return to
base, while the other refueled with most of what was in both barrels, and it
continued on north. That helicopter arrived over my location less than two
hours after my plane went down.
But, I was still in plenty of trouble.
There were no open areas anywhere near me
and the helicopter had limited loiter time.
They either had to get me out of there
quick, or they had to leave without me.
There was no open space for the helicopter
to descend safely below the tree tops, and the hoist cable was not as long
as the trees were tall.
The helicopter came to a hover above me and
lowered the penetrator, but it was still suspended above me after the cable
was fully paid out.
Without hesitation, the helicopter slowly
descended, bending down the tree tops, until finally I could reach the
By 6:30, they had me out of there and on
the way home. That
pilot and crew had just set a new record, making the northern-most rescue
ever from North Vietnam at that time in the war.
They took a tremendous risk to save me and
I owe them my life.”
After treatment for
his injuries, Captain
returned to the United States for five days to be re-equipped with a new
individually configured helmet and other items replacing those lost when his
plane was shot down.
after his return, the entire 357th Squadron sent pilots, including Buff
Rademacher, to different bases, providing combat training for other F-105
was an instructor pilot for the F-105’s at Takhli Air Base in Thailand, but
he also continued to fly bombing missions to North Vietnam himself, working
on his 100 missions.
The 357th Squadron
had been the last unit to deploy where the pilots had their choice of
serving temporary duty for four months, or until they had been credited with
having flown 100 combat missions.
Buff opted for and completed 100 missions.
He also did some interesting work doing “leaflet
drops” from 45,000 feet over Hanoi.
After his return
home from Vietnam, he was assigned to the 12th Air Force, and further
assigned to the IG Preparation Team at Waco, Texas.
Buff became the “Standardization and Evaluation
Officer” for F-105’s and visited all F-105 units in the 12th Air Force to
perform practice inspections, helping them get ready for Inspector General
He was also taking college level courses.
In March 1969 he
graduated with his bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska at
Omaha under the “Bootstrap” program. At about that time, 12th Air Force
headquarters had moved to Bergstrom AFB in Austin, Texas, and Buff’s job
moved with it.
After several years in Austin, during which period
his wife, Patsy, owned and operated a Health Spa, Buff was reassigned to
Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, where he went into training for the F-111.
After two years (1971-1973) at Mountain Home,
Lieutenant Colonel Harold W.
retired after 23 years service and returned to Austin.
That was primarily because Patsy had stayed in
Austin and continued to operate her business there. But it was also because
he considered that to be his home. Today, he says, “I first arrived in
Texas back in 1951 and have had 60 years in the State.”
Buff soon entered into a second career and worked another sixteen
years for Prudential Insurance before retiring as District Agent. Today he
and Patsy are both retired but remain very active as volunteers, primarily
with their church, working in a program providing meals for the needy.
He has been a life member of the Military Order of
the Purple Heart for the past eleven years, and this month Chapter 1919
Patriot Harold “Buff” Rademacher.