When Capt. Ramon Horinek, who grew up on a farm near Atwood, Kan., volunteered for duty in Southeast Asia, he already had earned more distinctions than the average jet jockey, among them awards for superior performance as an instructor pilot and acceptance as a volunteer for 30-day isolation in a simulated space capsule to provide data for future spaceflights. Vietnam, however, was where the action was.
In February 1965, Ray Horinek reported for duty as an A-1E pilot with the 1st Air Commando Wing in Vietnam. Six months and many missions later, he again volunteered, this time as a forward air controller involved in classified operations. There would be plenty of combat missions there, and combat was what Horinek lived for–and what he got. In February 1966, he was the key player in one of the war’s most extraordinary, sustained acts of heroism in the field.
The chain of events, which can be no more than sketched here, started on Feb. 16, when guerrilla tribesmen who were fighting the Communists were surrounded by enemy troops at a remote site. Although his light, unarmed plane was torn up by automatic weapons fire, Captain Horinek continued to direct air strikes that scattered the enemy and destroyed one of their munition storage dumps.
The following day, the guerrillas’ main base came under attack. Flying a replacement aircraft, Captain Horinek took eight hits as he arrived on the scene to support the friendly force. He called in fighter strikes that eliminated several enemy positions, until radio contact with the friendlies was lost and the fluid ground situation could not be followed from the air. Horinek landed on the surrounded airstrip. Proceeding on foot, he pinpointed enemy locations and, under constant enemy fire, called in air strikes that drove the enemy off. Friendly aircraft now could use the strip to evacuate supplies and wounded. The guerrillas withdrew from the strip as darkness fell.
The next morning, Captain Horinek led a group of guerrillas back to the strip, driving the enemy off in close combat. Single-handedly, he attacked an enemy position, killing three of four enemy troops and capturing the fourth, who turned out to be an important prisoner. Sprinting back to the airstrip, which was partially occupied by the enemy, he carried a wounded man to safety, then ran into the exploding storage area to retrieve much-needed radios. Horinek next joined a friendly unit that was under fire, calling in air strikes to within 25 yards of his position. He continued to control the air action while the guerrillas withdrew to safety.
Finally, Captain Horinek manned an exposed air request radio during a night mortar attack. All mortar fire was silenced by the strikes he directed. Although the base was ultimately lost, he had saved the surviving guerrillas and controlled the destruction of hundreds of enemy troops and their stores of supplies. For his inspiring leadership and heroism both on the ground and in the air, Capt. Ramon Horinek was awarded the Air Force Cross.
At the end of his tour, Horinek returned to the States, began flying the F-105, and joined the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing at Takhli RTAFB. On Oct. 7, 1967, he was in the first flight of fighters to hit a North Vietnam helicopter parking area. In six passes while evading SAMs and MiG-17s, he destroyed six helicopters and damaged two others.
Seventeen days later, Captain Horinek’s luck ran out. That day’s target was the MiG field at Phuc Yen, northwest of Hanoi. His F-105 took a direct hit while on the bombing run. He continued the run, destroying two MiGs, but his aircraft was too badly damaged to make it home. He bailed out, breaking bones in his ankle when he landed in the midst of a group of unfriendly locals, who stripped him of everything but his underwear.
After an agonizing trip to Hanoi, Horinek, now a major, was tortured continuously for seven days and received no food, water, or clothing, though the nightly temperature hovered near freezing. The torture stopped only when his captors decided they could get no useful information from him. Because of his persistent defiance, he was mistreated many times in the years to come and spent months in solitary confinement before the POWs were released in January 1973. Major Horinek was awarded six decorations for heroism and leadership while a POW, including an oak leaf cluster to the Silver Star he had earned for his Phuc Yen mission.
Ramon Horinek returned to flying status after recovering from his POW treatment. In February 1983, he retired as a lieutenant colonel, one of the most decorated and respected of Vietnam veterans. He now lives in Universal City, Texas, still holding firmly to a belief in God and country that sustained him in combat and during more than five years in Hanoi’s prisons.
Published August 1992. For presentation on this web site, some Valor articles have been amended for accuracy.