July 1, 2006

Secrets of Lima Site 85

As a survivor of the fall of Site 85, I was a firsthand witness to many of the events mentioned in this article [“The Fall of Lima Site 85,” April, p. 66]. Of the many attempts to write about this tragedy, the only factual account of these events can be found in the book The Soldiers’ Story, by Ron Steinman.

I wish to thank you for listing the names of the heroic men who were lost on that mountaintop. A Bronze Star and a name on the Vietnam War Memorial is small payment for their sacrifice.

Maj. Stanley J. Sliz,

USAF (Ret.)

Prescott, Ariz.

“The Fall of Lima Site 85” is deeply appreciated. One of the NCOs killed at the site, TSgt. Donald K. Springsteadah, worked for me when I was a first lieutenant at Tainan AB, Taiwan, in ’60, ’61. We were assigned to the 868th TMS, a Matador missile squadron. He was an exceptionally well-qualified electronics tech for our mission radar, very similar to the equipment used at Lima Site 85. There wasn’t a piece of that system that Don couldn’t fix. I had heard that he was KIA many years ago, but your article cleared away the fuzziness of that memory to honor his service and those other brave men who fell with him. Perhaps his remains, like TSgt. [Patrick L.] Shannon’s, will also be found to bring some comfort to his family, similar to that brought to my wife’s family years after the end of WWII when her older brother’s remains were found in Germany.

Col. Paul McLellan,

USAF (Ret.)

Torrance, Calif.

Who Shot Yamamoto

I enjoyed reading “Magic and Lightning” in the March issue [p. 62] about the shootdown of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. … I was a P-38 pilot just coming into the 339th Fighter Squadron as the Yamamoto mission was flown. After the war, I developed very close friendships with Rex Barber and John Mitchell.

With a number of other pilots, the Second Yamamoto Mission Association (SYMA) was organized and chartered in January 1989 to research all available evidence to see if we could determine which pilot, Tom Lanphier or Rex Barber, shot down Admiral Yamamoto’s airplane. You will find the evidence in considerable volume at our website, http://www.syma.org.

I believe our evidence irrefutably proves that Rex Barber, alone and unassisted, shot down the airplane carrying Admiral Yamamoto, and Rex Barber should have 100 percent of the credit because Tom Lanphier did not attack the Yamamoto airplane. I substantiate this statement with documents that [are] on the SYMA Website:

1. The March 1985 USAF Board of Review conducted by R. Cargill Hall, chief of research, Office of Air Force History, concluded:

“The evidence points to 1st Lt. Barber as the first to fire on Admiral Yamamoto’s lead bomber, setting it afire and causing a portion of the tail empennage to fly off. But the burning bomber, in the words of Admiral Ugaki, continued to fly under power just above the jungle, losing altitude. Barber’s wingman, Captain Lanphier, once disengaged from the Zeros, next struck Yamamoto’s bomber broadside, severing a wing. The bomber turned over on its back and plummeted to earth. Barber, on looking back after his pass, saw the airplane fall and understandably presumed it to be the result of his attack. …”

2. In August 1995, I received a letter from author C.V. Glines who had been named curator of the Jimmy Doolittle papers at the University of Texas at Dallas. Glines found a copy of a letter that Lanphier had sent to General John P. Condon dated Dec. 15, 1984. The key part of the letter is the sentence that Tom writes about the Yamamoto shootdown, “Rex now opines that he shared in the destruction of Yamamoto’s bomber by implying, I gather, that he hit it while it was elsewhere in the air before I shot it into the treetops. The bomber I shot the wing off of was intact from nose to the tip of its tail, when I first fired at it, far inland from where Barber had to be at the time, chasing a bomber over the sea.”

3. Examination of the Yamamoto wreckage in the jungle showed that the right wing was immediately adjacent to the fuselage and had not been shot off in flight. The left wing had been torn off in the crash-landing in the jungle. This information is corroborated in a 1989 letter from Richard Kohn, director, Office of Air Force History.

4. The Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records continues in its refusal to let us present this new evidence (Lanphier letter) discovered after the initial hearing. But the proof is indisputable: Barber shot down the airplane carrying Admiral Yamamoto and, by his own words, Lanphier never attacked the Yamamoto airplane.

[In Rebecca Grant’s article, the comment “No one on God’s green Earth knew who had shot down which bomber, much less who had shot down Yamamoto,”] attributed to John Mitchell, was made before John attended the Yamamoto Retrospective held in Fredericksburg, Tex., in April 1988. Following that Retrospective, John Mitchell repeatedly, in interviews, stated that he was completely convinced that Rex Barber, alone and unassisted, shot down the airplane carrying Yamamoto.

George T. Chandler


Second Yamamoto Mission Assoc.

Pratt, Kan.

I read with great interest the subject article in your March 2006 edition. Admiral Yamamoto and his role in World War II seem to continue after 60-plus years to interest readers of military history, airpower, and the parts that skill, daring, intense planning, and sometimes just good luck play in remarkable ways.

As the chairman of the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records that heard Barber’s claim that he, and he alone, should be granted credit for the shooting down of the “Betty” bomber transporting Yamamoto for an inspection trip to Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands in 1943, I would like to add some further insight to your article.

When it was decided that the board would agree to hear the Barber claim in the mid-1990s, I anticipated after reading his application that this case would be of historical significance and one that would be shrouded in controversy, whatever the outcome. I increased the number of people on the board for this hearing from the usual three, including the chairman, to five to bring in a wider array of expertise. All were senior executives.

Barber’s case was documented and presented with great skill and detail. All members of the board actively participated in the hearing, each asking numerous questions to clarify points in their minds. After the hearing, the five of us met numerous times in my office to review the facts and present our conclusions. We were split two for and two against from the beginning and ended up there when I sent our recommendations to the Secretary. As the tiebreaker I tried to present the Secretary with an equitable solution.

To summarize, [one board member] said her calculations convinced her [that] the shootdown could not have occurred as Barber alleged; [one member was] adamant that Barber had not made his case; and the other two members believed Barber’s claim met the test of reasonable certainty. I leaned towards the latter two’s position, but believed the best finding to be a strong recommendation to the Secretary that he return the case, now significantly better documented and reviewed, to the official AF Victory Credit Board that rendered the original finding Barber was appealing, to wit, credit was to be shared by the two contesting pilots. The two members voting to grant the appeal, agreed that if they did not prevail, then my suggestion would be acceptable to them. The Secretary chose to deny Barber’s appeal. His points were well-crafted. The board could not find fault with his taking mostly the higher road.

The record of proceedings in this case exceeded one thousand pages. Exhaustive research led the applicant to call as a witness a person that actually went to the jungle site and inspected the wreckage of the “Betty” bomber. That there was some enmity between the two contesting pilots was clear in all the documentation. And I believe the board had in the back of their minds that we were hearing only one side of the argument. Lanphier was dead and could only speak for himself through his writings and extensive speaking engagements. He was fully aware of Barber’s claims prior to his death. He never changed the fundamental facts of his claim to be the sole pilot that killed Admiral Yamamoto.

I know this case has stayed in the minds of the board members. None of us was perfectly satisfied with any of the possible outcomes. There was no perfect solution fair to all involved. The Secretary summed it up best when he said in essence that this was a remarkable mission, performed flawlessly and bravely by the very best of men. There was more than enough honor, gratitude, glory, heroism, courage, patriotism, and dedication to duty for all to share.

LeRoy T. Baseman

Retired Air Force Deputy Asst. Sec., Cost and Economics

Alexandria, Va.

Reader to Reader

Mr. Webber’s letter in the May issue [p. 4, concerning the April editorial, “Faith No More?”, p. 2] makes me wonder if we served in the same military. Certainly the service is not perfect, but it has come a long way since the Vietnam era. The Vietnam era GI Bill was still in force or grandfathered in 1987. I know; I was still using it. If Mr. Webber did not obtain benefits, either he failed to transfer it to the new GI Bill or did not apply before he retired. It was also possible to use the education benefit while on active duty. As a recruiter, he surely must have known the extent of benefits and latest developments.

MSgt. John Wolf,

USAF (Ret.)

Bethel, Pa.

Missile Miss

I enjoyed several items on the topic of ICBMs in your May 2006 edition but must comment regarding the report, “Pentagon Describes Conventional Trident Plan” [“Aerospace World,” p. 28].

First, the article states that “the D-5 is a newer design offering better accuracy.” Actually, accuracy is not a function of the original missile design, but is achieved by a guided re-entry vehicle (RV). A guided RV is mature technology tested by the Air Force on Minuteman in the 1980s, refined in the 1990s, and easily adapted today for deployment in an ICBM.

Second, [the news item also states that] “the D-5 also is still in production, whereas the last Minuteman missiles were produced nearly 30 years ago.” In fact, Minuteman is currently undergoing a significant modernization of propulsion, guidance, re-entry, and ground systems that will extend its life well beyond 2020. In many ways, Minuteman is a new missile and an excellent platform for continued spiral upgrades.

Third, [regarding the statement that] “launch of the land-based Minuteman would cause boosters to fall on Canadian soil, … require overflight of Russian territory, … [and] could be misinterpreted as a nuclear attack”: Launching from operational missile bases such as Minot, Malmstrom, and F.E. Warren does present challenging issues. However, coastal (e.g., Vandenberg) or overseas (e.g., Guam) basing would mitigate this problem and eliminate the “nuclear or conventional” ambiguity.

For now, Minuteman serves as a nuclear deterrent. However, the Air Force is looking at derivatives of the recently retired Peacekeeper missile, including the Minotaur variant. Such a missile could be based in a way to solve the overflight and misinterpretation issues, provide the needed range/payload capability, and deliver large RVs to promptly achieve the desired weapons effect.

John L. Clay

VP and General Manager

ICBM Prime Integration Contract

Northrop Grumman

Mission Systems Sector

Clearfield, Utah

Calculated Courage

I enjoyed [John T.] Correll’s recent article “Calculated Courage at Thai Nguyen” [February, p. 68].

I would like to point out two minor discrepancies. My father was named as “David A. Everson.” He has no middle name or initial. His EWO was named as “Donald A. Luna.” That should have been “Jose David Luna.” Good article!

David C. Everson

Vancouver, Wash.

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