Eugene Thomas Meadows
4 March 1940 – 13 October 1966
A flight of two F-4s from the 480th TFS were conducting an armed reconnaissance mission in Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam, when they came across truck traffic on Route 103 a few miles 10 miles north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The two aircraft set up and began to conduct multiple passes against the trucks. On its third, perhaps fourth, pass, F-4C tail number 64-0654 impacted the ground. Their wingman saw no parachutes and emergency radio communications could not be established with the crew, then 1st Lt Murray L Borden and then 1st Lt Eugene T Meadows.
Both men were intially classed as Missing in Action, although a later review of the circumstances led to the conclusion that both had died in the crash.
Both men were rated pilots (the F-4C had dual controls) and there is conflicting information with respect to who was riding front seat and who was in the rear seat. It is generally accepted that 1st Lt Borden was in control of the aircraft at the time of its loss.
In 1994 the crash site was excavated and human remains repatriated. On 15 Nov 1994 positive identification of Eugene Meadows’ remains was announced, but to date Borden’s remains have not been identified.
A remembrance from fellow Warhawk Joe Crecca:
“I was there at Danang when we lost Borden and Meadows. I do not see any way there could have been any conflict about who was in front and who was in back. Murray Borden was in the front seat and Gene Meadows in the rear seat. I flew my second combat mission with Murray Borden about August 22nd of 1966. I recall that I took the airplane off from the back seat. That night we flew over the same area where Borden and Meadows would lose their lives two months later. The other crew in their flight were Ned Oswald and Fred Malatesta. A very short time before the impact they heard the famous words spoken on the radio so typical of what a pilot says when things have gone bad in a real hurry: “Aw, shit”. They also added that they saw no ground fire though there certainly could have been.
My thoughts were either that they suffered a total electrical failure or that they were hit in the cockpits by .50 caliber, non-tracer ammo.
In the former case the pilots would have no instruments to tell them of airplane attitude. At night, with no visible horizon, and unilluminated instruments neither pilot would know what control inputs to make in order to recover the airplane. If it happened just as they were rolling in, in other words, almost upside down with the nose down to 30 degrees or more, ground impact would occur very quickly and even more quickly if the wrong inputs were made to the controls.
Anti-aircraft hits in the cockpits by .50 caliber or particularly 23 millimeter fire would render both crewmen either incapacitated or dead. One of them, though, was able to utter those famous last, two words.
Rest in peace, Murray Borden and Gene Meadows. You both were great men”.
480th Tactical Fighter Squadron
Danang AB, Vietnam, 14 Aug 66 -22 Nov 66
A rememberance from fellow Warhawk Joe Latham:
“Murray and I were squadron mates from November 1963, when we reported to MacDill AFB, FL as brand new Air Force pilots. We were roommates in Tampa, FL until his wedding, and at Naha AB, Okinawa in 1965. Murray and I arrived at the 480th TFS, Danang AB, RVN, together as replacement F-4C aircraft commanders, on 4 July 1966. I first heard of Murray’s loss about a half hour after it happened, as I was heading out to my aircraft to lead a similar 2-ship air interdiction mission about an hour after Murray’s mission.
Murray was an F-4C Aircraft Commander (AC), the pilot who flew in the front seat of the F-4C Phantom II. Eugene Meadows was an F-4 Pilot, also referred to by the Air Force as a PSO (pilot systems operator), the pilot who flew in the rear cockpit of the Phantom II. The rear cockpit of the Air Force F-4C had a control stick, throttles, and rudder pedals, as the aircraft was also flown from the rear seat. However, the primary job of the rear seat pilot was to run the air-to-air radar system, as the F-4 had the world’s best air-to-air radar capabilities, and the plane had been designed for the Navy to intercept enemy aircraft at long range, before they could attack the fleet. The rear cockpit in the Navy model was manned by an RIO (radar intercept officer) who was not a pilot. The Navy’s F-4B rear cockpit had neither a stick nor throttles; only the pilot in the front seat could fly the F-4B.
The Air Force decided to put new Air Force pilot training graduates into the rear cockpit, where they would learn to run the radar system and then later upgrade to the front cockpit. Murray Borden and I each spent more than a year and a half in the back seat before a formal upgrade course in early 1966, and we each had our first front seat ride in the same 2-ship flight in Okinawa on 23 August 1965. As backseaters, we could make takeoffs, landings, and fly the plane, but had to ask the aircraft commander to raise or lower the landing gear, raise or lower the flaps, and to push the throttles outboard in order to use the afterburners.
During the first half of our combat tours, Murray Borden, Scott Wilson (KIA over Hanoi on 22 Nov 66), Ronald Martin, and I were the only First Lieutenants in the 480th TFS at Danang who were Aircraft Commanders.
Murray, Scott, and I were replacements who had upgraded together at MacDill AFB. All of the other First Lieutenants were back seaters, who had not had the opportunity to upgrade before going to Viet Nam.
Although we sometimes flew with other backseaters, Murray and Gene were crewed together.
Murray was leading a 2-ship night interdiction mission just north of the DMZ in Route Package 1. We were looking primarily for truck traffic and troops headed toward South Vietnam. Murray’s flight may have taken off just prior to midnight on 13 Oct 66, but it was probably early in the morning of 14 October when Murray flew into the target. It was a very dark night, with overcast clouds, so there was no moonlight.or starlight. The flares that Murray had dropped had been allowed to burn out and both planes were making low angle bomb deliveries, which meant that the planes would come close to the ground during the pull-out. The wingman thought that Murray had hit a target, as it appeared that there was a secondary explosion. When there were no more radio calls from Murray, it became apparent that the “secondary” was caused by Murray’s plane hitting the ground rather than an exploding target. There was no indication of any defensive reaction from any North Vietnamese on the ground. I’m sure that Murray’s aircraft was not shot down.
The major problem with weapons delivery from an F-4C at night, especially a dark night, was that the gun sight had only a red pipper in the middle of a fixed red circle – there were no roll tabs projected onto the sight’s combining glass to indicate the degree of bank. When looking at the target through the sight, the Aircraft Commander had no reference as to whether the plane was in a wings level dive, a shallow bank, a steep bank, or even inverted. One had to keep glancing down to the attitude indicator to check the bank and dive angle, and then look back through the sight to reacquire the target. At 450 knots (approximately 500 mph), it was very easy to misjudge distances at night, and delaying a pull-out by a split second could be fatal. That particular night was almost pitch black. Once there was some fire on the ground, we would often let the leader’s flares burn out so that we would not expose ourselves to the enemy while making a low angle weapons delivery below the height of the flares Once the light from the flares was no longer available, it was much more difficult to judge distances and closure rate. All exterior aircraft lights were turned off and we made frequent radio calls to the other plane in the flight to keep them apprised of our relative position to the target and to each other.
As mentioned, I led a 2-ship flight to the same target area about an hour later. I did not hear any beepers or any indication that either pilot may have ejected or survived. Despite the mention of a beeper in the biography, I am not aware that anyone reported hearing a beeper that night. The Air Force sent a helicopter to the area the next day, and it was my understanding that they reported sighting what appeared to be a piece of aircraft canopy”.
Wilbur J.Latham, Jr., Colonel, USAFR, retired