The first six U.S. Air Force “Able Mabel” pilots from the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron, Misawa Air Base, Japan, at Don Don Muang RTAFB, Bangkok, Thailand in front of the McDonnell RF-101C-65-MC Voodoo (s/n 56-079, “Mary Ann Burns”), in December 1961.
Front row (left to right): 1Lt Fred Muesegaes, Maj Ken Harbst, Detachment Commander (45tj TRS Ops Officer), 1Lt Jack Weatherby;
Back row (left to right): Capt Ralph DeLucia, Capt Bill Whitten, 1Lt John Linihan.
Muesegaes, Weatherby, Linihan and Whitten (in chronological order) flew the RT-33A previously on “Field Goal”. On 29 October 1961, four RF-101s and ground crews from the 45th TRS were ordered by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff to deploy to Don Muang (“Able Mable Reconnaissance Task Force”). The aircraft were ready on 7 November and began reconnaissance sorties over Laos the next day.
Date December 1961
I was a member of the first Able Mable Reconnaissance Task Force. After leaving Japan we refueled at Okinawa, then spent one night at Clark AFB, Philippines. The last leg of the flight must have been fairly high altitude, there was frost on the walls in the plane. We were packed in like an odd assortment of sardines with equipment and parts all over.
We landed at Don Muang RTAFB, Bangkok, Thailand on 6 November, 1961. Everything we needed to get four RF-101C’s ready to start flying was packed with us on two C-130 cargo planes. When our planes rolled to a stop and the rear of the planes opened. We were surrounded by Thai Army with weapons in their hands. They knew we were hand carrying weapons on the planes and they wanted us to turn them over before we got off the plane. So they took our guns and ammo. We immediately began unloading and setting up our maintenance area in an old hanger. We had the planes ready to start flying the next morning.
We found out the next day we would be eating from a tent field kitchen and using the old G.I. Mess Kits while we were there. We ate real good, the food came in from a Navy ship. Our quarters was an old building the Japanese used for prisoners in the 40’s but it served as a roof over our heads. We set up cots with mosquito nets over them. There were friendly little lizards all over the walls and ceiling eating bugs, It sure beat sleeping in a tent! We had outside latrines and showers, there were boardwalks to get there. Often times there were snakes underneath the boards, I traveled quickly on the boardwalk. Our photo lab crew had a portable lab tent set up processing photos as soon as the planes landed.
These five brave pilots and many more flew low-level reconnaissance flights over Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam and received small arms fire almost from the first missions. There were no guns on these planes, only cameras to shoot with. Later they were sitting ducks for surface to air missles. Major Harbst landed one day after a 50 Cal round shattered the canopy right behind his head. I saw some blood on his neck when I was unstrapping him from his ejection seat. A piece of the canopy hit his neck just below his helmet. He might have been the first American hurt by enemy fire. Over 58,000 died before that war ended. We spent two months flying many missions out of Don Muang RTAFB. The Able Mable project later move to a different airbase. Many of those brave pilots were shot down later in the war over North Vietnam. I knew these five pilots personally and helped send them off on their missions. I was the crew chief on RF-101C 56 – 080. A/1C Leland Olson