|Name:||Kenneth Frank Backus|
|Rank/Branch:||Captain, US Air Force|
Ubon Airfield, Thailand
|Date of Birth:||15 August 1938|
|Home of Record:||Pyrites, NY|
|Date of Loss:||.22 May 1967|
|Country of Loss:||North Vietnam|
Click coordinates to view (4) maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground:||F4C "Phantom II"|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Elton L. Perrine (missing)|
SYNOPSIS: The McDonnell F4 Phantom used by Air Force, Marine and Navy air wings served a multitude of functions including fighter/bomber, interceptor, photo/electronic surveillance, and reconnaissance. The two man aircraft was extremely fast (Mach 2) and had a long range, 900 - 2300 miles depending on stores and mission type. The F4 was also extremely maneuverable and handled well at low and high altitudes. It was selected for a number of state-of-the-art electronics conversions, which improved radar intercept and computer bombing capabilities enormously. Most pilots considered it one of the "hottest" planes around.
On 22 May 1967, Capt. Elton L. Perrine, pilot; and then 1st Lt. Kenneth F. Backus, co-pilot; comprised the crew of an F4C, call sign "Whizzer 2," that departed Ubon Airfield as the #2 aircraft in a flight of 2. Their flight was on a night strike mission against the Kep railroad yard located on the Northeast Railroad line running between China and Hanoi.
The North Vietnamese railroad system consisted of nine segments, the most important parts of which were north of the 20th parallel. Almost 80% of the major targets were in this area laced together by the rail system. The most important contribution of the system was to move the main fighting weapons from China to redistribution centers at Kep, Hanoi, Haiphong, Nam Dinh and Thanh Hoa. These supplies were further distributed by trucks and boats to designated collection points where porters carried the weapons, food and ammunition on their final leg into the acknowledged war zone.
The most important segment of the rail system was the single-track northeast railroad line that ran some 82 nautical miles from the Chinese border through Kep and into the heart of Hanoi. Ironically, in spite of the sheer number of vital targets all along the length of the northeast railroad, only 10 to 22 miles of its total length, depending upon timeframe was declared accessible for attack according to our own self imposed rules of engagement. The rest of the railroad line lay within the 30-mile buffer zone south of the North Vietnamese/Chinese border and the protected zones surrounding Hanoi and Haiphong. Within that 10 to 22 mile section of railway, the communists constructed anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) batteries every 48 feet. They also positioned a heavy concentration of surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites around the tracks.
When Whizzer flight entered the target area, the night sky was clear with visibility of 15 miles. As they continued toward the target, the Phantoms ran directly into an intense wall of flak from the AAA batteries. Whizzer 2 followed Lead into the briefed bomb run on the railroad yard. As the flight pulled off target, orange flashes were seen on the ground believed to be their bombs impacting. At 2052 hours, and 5 seconds after "bomb splash," Lead saw an isolated yellow explosion with glare going up to approximately 3000 feet some 3 miles east of the marshalling yard. Whizzer Lead was not positive the isolated explosion was an aircraft crash since black smoke was seen in the target area and Lead thought it all could have been flak and secondary explosions.
After completing the air strike, Whizzer Lead egressed the strike area as planned. As they continued toward the east, Lead tried to contact Elton Perrine and Kenneth Backus, but without success. The last radio contact Lead had with Whizzer 2 had been when the flight was roughly 10 miles short of the target. At that time Capt. Perrine radioed "coasting in."
The last known position of Whizzer 2 was approximately 3 miles southeast of the railroad yard and 1 mile southeast of a primary road winding through a heavily populated, lightly forested and flat area 16 miles northeast of Kep Airfield and 4 miles west of Long Cha Lake.
When no contact could be established with Capt. Perrine or Kenneth Backus, search efforts with immediately initiated by Lead. Due to darkness, no parachutes were seen and no emergency beepers heard. Likewise, because the aircraft disappeared deep within enemy held territory, no formal search and rescue (SAR) operation was possible. At the time the initial search was terminated, Elton Perrine and Kenneth Backus were listed Missing in Action.
During their debriefing, the crew of Whizzer Lead reported they received heavy enemy air command and control (ACC) tracking and saw two search lights aimed into the night sky from the same location. They then encountered light 37mm and 57mm AAA fire as they coasted out of the target area.
Since the end of the Vietnam War, over 21,000 reports of American Prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Fighter pilots in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.