Richard Lee Whitteker
7 February 1939 – ????
On 27 March 1968, Captain Richard L. Whitteker and then 2nd Lt. James L. Badley, both of the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron, departed Danang Air Base on a strike mission (callsign Gunfighter 8) into North Vietnam. On the mission, Gunfighter 08 crashed.
The target area was within North Vietnam, and the target being attacked was on the road leading to the Ban Karai Pass, a major entry point into the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. Whitteker and Badley were in F-4D tail number 66-8801.
From an eyewitness account by Captain Charles Smith, an F-100 “Fast FAC” who controlled the flight:
“On the afternoon of 27 March 1968, as Misty 21, I controlled Gunfighter 07 [piloted by Major Harper and Lt. Paul] and Gunfighter 08 [piloted by Capt. Whitteker and Lt. Badley] on a target in North Vietnam; coordinates XE 279 165. On this flight, Gunfighter 08 crashed into a hill immediately Northeast of the target.”
Misty 21 watched the aircraft make the last portion of the pass and saw the impact; impact came while Misty 21 was directly over the aircraft in a 90 degree bank, at an altitude of four thousand feet above Gunfighter 08.
On the two previous passes on the target (a marking pass by Misty 21, and an ordnance delivery pass by Gunfighter 07) there had been small arms/automatic weapons muzzle flashes in the valley immediately to the Southeast of the target. Gunfighter 08’s last pass took him directly over this valley.
Gunfighter 08 called in, and Misty did not see him until Gunfighter 08 was on final, about 1/2 mile out. At this time the aircraft was straight and level, at a dive angle of approximately twenty degrees, and appeared to be at the normal airspeed for ordnance delivery. The pass looked very good at that point (the pass was a strafe pass) and Misty 21 commented ‘Looks like a good pass, Gunfighter.’ Gunfighter 08 did not start recovery until the aircraft was almost directly over the target. It is easy to tell when an F-4C/D begins his recovery, because of the vapor condensation above the wings when the aircraft is pulling ‘Gs’. This vapor condensation did not occur until Gunfighter 08 was almost directly over the target. At this time, it appeared to Misty 21 that the ‘G’ forces came on more rapidly than in a normal recovery and more than the normal ‘G’ load was applied. Almost immediately, Gunfighter 08 impacted very near the top of the hill Northeast of the target”.
Although both men were initially listed as Missing in Action, an Air Force review board determined that the circumstances of their loss were such that survival was not possible and recommended that their status be changed. The recommendation was approved on 08 May 1968 and their status was changed to “Hostile Loss/Died while Missing/Body not Recovered”. As of 29 May 2003, neither Whitteker’s nor Badley’s remains have been repatriated.
Richard Whitteker set out to be a chemical engineer like his father, the late William Whitteker. He studied chemical engineering at Pennsylvania State University, where he was in the ROTC program. After college, he went into the Air Force.