EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a series of profiles on the four Edmond-area veterans who will be inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame Nov. 9. Vietnam Ace Charles DeBellevue, of Edmond, is today’s subject. Maj. Gen. Rita Aragon, of Edmond, will be profiled in Aug. 18’s Edmond Sun.
Four Edmond-area residents with distinguished military careers will be inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame later this year.
This year’s event will be at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at Quail Creek Golf and Country Club, 3501 Quail Creek Road in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame’s Class of 2012 consists of:
• Col. Charles B. DeBellevue, of Edmond
• Capt. Boyd L. “Bo” Barclay, who lives in the Deer Creek area
• Maj. Gen. Rita Aragon, of Edmond
• Lt. Col. Orville O. “Bill” Munson, deceased
• Capt. John Lee Prichard, deceased
• U.S. Army Cavalry scout Amos Chapman, deceased
• Maj. Kenneth D. Bailey, deceased
• Command Sgt. Maj. Everett Bagley Jr.
• Capt. Vincent A. Kimberlin
• Choctaw Code Talkers of World War I and WWII
COL. CHARLES B. DeBELLEVUE
On May, 9, 1972, renewed and generally unrestricted airstrikes against military targets in North Vietnam began as part of what was dubbed Operation Linebacker.
Barrier combat air patrol provided a buffer zone between threat areas and specialized friendly refueling tankers, search-and-rescue forces and electronic communications and surveillance aircraft, according to U.S. Air Force combat narratives from 1972-73. They were advised of MiGs approaching from the northeast.
All strike formations were escorted by at least one and sometimes two flights of Phantom F-4s. If they had advance warning they were allowed to turn into approaching MiGs, which mostly relied on hit-and-run tactics — single passes at high speeds.
On May 10, 1972, Capt. R. Steve Ritchie and Capt. Charles B. “Chuck” DeBellevue, Ritchie’s weapons officer, reached their patrol area west of Phu Tho and south of Yen Bai.
Ritchie obtained radar contact and the bandits were declared hostile. Ritchie’s flight engaged four MiG-21s. Maj. Robert Lodge downed the number two MiG and his wingman, 1st Lt. John D. Markle, downed the number three MiG.
Ritchie and DeBellevue switched the attack to the number four MiG, a threat to Lodge and Markle, while Lodge pursued the number one MiG.
As they converted to the rear, Ritchie achieved radar lock and fired two AIM-7s at a range of about 6,000 feet. The first missile appeared to pass just under the MiG-21. The second impacted the target, causing a fireball. As they flew past the falling debris, DeBellevue observed a parachute and what was believed to be the MiG-21 pilot.
In June, bombing of Hanoi was suspended four days while the Soviet president visited the city. Between June 21 and July 9, USAF fighter aircrews destroyed seven MiG-21s.
On July 8, Ritchie and DeBellevue were the lead F-4E in a flight of four from the 555th Fighter Squadron in support of an Operation Linebacker strike, flying at medium to low altitude west of Phu Tho and south of Yen Bai. They were advised of bandits southeast of their position, about 35-40 nautical miles away.
Ritchie and DeBellevue headed toward the MiGs in a tactical support formation. During the dogfight, they downed two MiGs, giving DeBellevue a total of three kills all while flying with Ritchie.
On Aug. 28, Ritchie and DeBellevue were flying the lead aircraft during another Operation Linebacker strike mission.
They acquired radar lock on a MiG-21 flying head-on to them. They converted to the stern and fired two AIM-7 missiles in an attempt to get the MiG to start a turn. As they rolled out behind the MiG, they fired the two remaining missiles; the third one missed, but the fourth impacted the MiG. It exploded and started tumbling downward toward the ground.
“The most important thing is for the crew to work well together,” DeBellevue told reporters at the time. “They have to know each other. I know what Steve is thinking on a mission and can almost accomplish whatever he wants before he asks. I was telling him everything he had to know when he wanted it, and did not waste time giving him useless data.”
On Sept. 9, DeBellevue was flying with Capt. John Madden Jr. when they were making a turn to withdraw following an encounter with a lone MiG. That’s when two MiG-19s swarmed in for an attack.
“We acquired the MiGs on radar and positioned as we picked up on them visually,” DeBellevue recalled later. “We used a slicing low-speed yo-yo to position behind the MiG-19s and started turning hard with them. We fired one AIM-9 missile, which detonated 25 feet from one of the MiG-19s. We then switched the attack to the other MiG-19 and one turn later we fired an AIM-9 at him. I observed the missile impact the tail of the MiG. The MiG continued normally for the next few seconds, then began a slow roll and spiraled downward, impacting the ground with a large fireball. Our altitude was approximately 1,500 feet at the moment of the MiG’s impact.”
Madden and DeBellevue returned to their base thinking they had destroyed only the second MiG-19. An investigation, aided by the testimony of another aircrew, revealed that they were the only aircrew to shoot another MiG-19 which crashed and burned on the runway at Phuc Yen that day.
DeBellevue was asked how he felt about becoming an ace.
“I feel pretty good about it. It’s the high point of my career,” he said at the time. “There’s no other job that you have to put out as much for. It’s frustrating, and yet when you do shoot down a MiG, it’s so rewarding.”
During his combat tours, DeBellevue flew 220 combat missions, 96 of which were over North Vietnam. He is credited with a total of six MiG kills, the most earned by any U.S. aviator during the Vietnam War.
30 YEARS OF SERVICE
DeBellevue was born in New Orleans and grew up in Louisiana. Commissioned through Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in 1968, he completed undergraduate navigator training at Mather Air Force Base, Calif., in July 1969.
He began F-4 combat crew training at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., en route to an assignment with the 335th Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C.
In October 1971, he was sent to the 555th Fighter Squadron at Udorn Royal Thai Air Base. He entered pilot training at Williams AFB, Ariz., in November 1972.
After pinning on his new wings, he returned to the F-4 Phantom II as a pilot assigned to the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing at Holloman AFB, N.M. In 1975, he moved to Elmendorf AFB, Ala., where he served as an assistant operations officer in the 43rd Fighter Squadron.
He was the 5th Air Force deputy chief of staff at Yokota AB, Japan, and then was assigned as commander of the 95th Air Base Wing, Edwards AFB, Calif., until 1995.
After 30 years of military service DeBellevue retired from active duty as commander of the Air Force ROTC Detachment 440, University of Missouri-Columbia, in January 1998.
His skill as a weapons officer was recognized when he and two other U.S. Air Force aces, Ritchie and Capt. Jeffrey Feinstein, received the 1972 Mackay Trophy, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Armed Forces Award and the Eugene M. Zuckert Achievement Award.
DeBellevue’s numerous additional honors include the Air Force Cross, three Silver Stars, three Legion of Merit awards and six Distinguished Flying Cross awards.
After he retired he moved to Edmond.
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