A Story about Roger Locher

A Story about Roger Locher

The following is taken directly from the book One Day in a Long War by J. Ethel and A. Price.

By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man’s, I mean. -Mark Twain

“NIGHT OF MAY 10/11. YEN BAI. Sitting alone on a wooded hillside deep in enemy territory, Roger Locher made a mental inventory of his possessions. He had a stout pair of boots, underwear, flight suit, G suit, life preserver and a survival vest and its contents: two beeper radios and four batteries, survival knife, .38 caliber Browning pistol and ammunition, mosquito net, a small medical kit and various signalling devices-flares, smoke makers, signal mirror, and whistle. Following the loss of the survival pack his only means of sustenance was two pints of water and a couple of Pillsbury “Space Stick” snacks, none of which survived his first meal in North Vietnam.

The airman thought it unlikely that helicopters would come that deep into enemy territory to pick him up, but if he could reach the sparsely inhabited mountainous area to the west his chance of rescue would be much greater. The distance was ninety miles in a straight line. In a Phantom in a hurry it would take about five minutes; if he could advance an average of two miles per day it would take about six weeks. On the way he needed to cross the Red River, so he decided to take his life preserver. For food he would live off “Mother Nature.” Whatever it lacked, Roger Locher’s evasion plan certainly had the merit of simplicity.

Any attempt to move across North Vietnam would have been doomed from the start had the airman been injured, but in this respect Roger Locher had been extremely lucky. Apart from the shock, which soon wore off, during the ejection he had suffered only minor burns (“no worse than a bad case of sunburn”) to unprotected skin on his neck and wrists.

After first light on the second day the airman covered the first couple of hundred yards of the planned ninety-mile journey. But then the searchers returned and again he hid in a patch of rotting foliage. “Again they had the whole village out to look for me, even women and kids. Fortunately they didn’t bring dogs or they probably would have found me. Some little kids came within thirty feet of me, but they were there to get away from the adults and take it easy. After about an hour they went back to the search party.”

The airman lay still until the children had gone; then he took out a radio and listened for calls from American aircraft in the area. What he heard brought no comfort. A Phantom was providing cover for a downed crew while rescue helicopters moved in, and Locher could hear snatches of the fighter-bomber pilot’s calls. “He said, ‘Understand they are getting closer?’ Then, later, ‘Understand you think they see you, understand you want me to strafe your position?’ From the code words I knew they were well to the south of me. I thought if they couldn’t be rescued from there, what chance would I have? That was a dark time, my lowest psychological point.”

At dusk on the second day the search ended and again Locher moved a few hundred yards before nightfall. On the morning of the third day it was raining when the search resumed, though again the fugitive was able to move short distances in the morning before sunrise and in the evening after sunset.

Rain was falling at dawn on the fourth day as Locher resumed his scramble to get a far as possible and establish himself in a new hiding place. But this time the area remained quiet; the hunt had been called off. Locher decided to stay where he was for the rest of the day and start moving west at dusk. During the morning the airman heard a noise like like someone running towards him. He risked a peep and the “someone” turned out to be a five-foot-long monitor lizard on its way to some forest assignation. If the animal noticed Locher, it respected his wish for privacy. The airman returned the courtesy.”…

Excerpt from an Amazon review for the book by Donald M. Bishop.

“The authors interviewed American aircrew from all the services, some North Vietnamese participants, British diplomats who were serving in North Vietnam, journalists, and American POWs who were listening to the attacks in their cells. They placed Operation Linebacker in the context of the Vietnam war’s history and diplomacy. All in all, they told the “whole story” well, making his book a “must read” in the history of air warfare.”

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