Name: Clifton Emmet "Cliff" Cushman c071p
Rank/Branch: Major/US Air Force
Unit: 469th Tactical Fighter Squadron
Korat Airbase, Thailand

Date of Birth: 02 June 1938
Home of Record: Grand Forks, ND
Date of Loss: 25 September 1966
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 213800N 1062600E (XJ501927)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F-105D "Thunderchief"
Other Personnel In Incident: (none missing)


SYNOPSIS: The principle Air Force tactical strike aircraft during the Vietnam War was the Republic F105 Thunderchief, nicknamed a "Thud." It was the first supersonic tactical fighter-bomber designed from scratch and the largest single-seat, single-engine combat aircraft in history. Easily recognized by its large bomb bay and unique swept-forward engine inlets located in the wing roots, it was mass-produced after the Korean War. The first Thud to exceed the speed of sound did so on 22 October 1955 in spite of its underpowered Pratt & Whitney J57 stop-gap engine. Production of the F-105 finished in 1965 with the tandem-seat F model, which was designed as a Wild-Weasel Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) attack aircraft. The F-105 served throughout Southeast Asia, particularly during Rolling Thunder operations.

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 truck 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 installed anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) batteries every 48 feet. They also positioned a heavy concentration of surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites around the tracks.

On 25 September 1966, then Captain Clifton E. Cushman was the pilot of the #2 F-105D in a flight of 3 that was conducting an afternoon combat mission to bomb a railroad bridge located on the northeast railroad line approximately 1 mile north-northeast of Kep MiG base and 29 miles northeast of Bac Giang, Lang Son Province, North Vietnam. Capt. Cushman's call sign was "Devil 2." The flight arrived in the target area on schedule and immediately checked in with the airborne battlefield command and control center (ABCCC). Devil flight was directed to begin their bomb runs on the bridge.

At 1530 hours, Devil Lead made his pass on the target followed in order by the rest of his flight. After pulling off the target, Capt. Cushman radioed that he had been hit by anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire and he had a fire warning light. Devil 3 asked if he could steer, to which Cliff Cushman replied he had "lost his stability, augmentation and aircraft power."

Devil Lead observed 37mm AAA fire bursting to the left and rear of Devil 2, and told Capt. Cushman to break right. Lead then saw his afterburner light and simultaneous torch of flames coming from the right aft section of Devil 2's aircraft. Lead then observed the aircraft break into several burning sections. He also saw Cliff Cushman's ejection seat arcing up and to the front of the falling wreckage.

Because the aircraft fell behind a ridgeline, it was not observed all the way to the ground. However, while no parachute was seen, a pilot in another flight heard a good beeper before the Thud crashed into the ground. Devil Lead made several attempts to established radio contact, but was unable to do so. Due to the area of loss, no RESCAP (rescue combat air patrol) or search and rescue (SAR) operation was possible. Cliff Cushman was immediately listed Missing in Action

The area in which Capt. Cushman bailed out is jungle covered karsts with scattered small villages throughout a three mile radius of the crash site; approximately 3 miles west of Highway 1A, 3 miles west of the northeast railroad line, 17 miles northeast of Kep MiG base, 52 miles South-southwest of Haiphong and 55 miles southeast of Hanoi.

In April 1972, a US Air Force interrogator debriefed a former member of the Vietnam People's Army (NVA) who stated that he saw a pilot land in the area where Capt. Cushman was reported to have landed. According to this witness, "the airman was bleeding heavily from a head wound." He also claimed that "the pilot later died and his body was buried by local villagers." About this same time, the US government also received information that "a French news agency had specifically referenced Capt. Cushman by name as having been killed." However, no article with such information has ever been located.

A Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst initially correlated the April 1972 report provided by the NVA rallier to a different loss incident. In August 1981, another DIA analyst reevaluated this report and correlated to a sighting of Cliff Cushman instead of to the originally correlated case.

In November 1989, when queried about the fate of Cliff Cushman by US officials who were visiting Vietnam, Vietnamese officials stated, "Capt. Cushman died in the crash of his aircraft." Further, the Vietnamese provided no documentation, no evidence or remains to support their claim of his death.

In April 1991 the US government released a list of Prisoners of War and Missing in Action who were known to be alive in enemy hands and for whom there is no evidence that he or she died in captivity. This list, commonly referred to today as the USG's "Last Known Alive" list, includes Cliff Cushman.

In April 1992, members of the Joint Casualty Resolution Center (JCRC) traveled to Vietnam to investigate this loss incident. They interviewed witnesses in Lang Son Province that state Capt. Cushman "died of a bullet wound after landing, that his remains were buried and the burial site was later washed away.

If Cliff Cushman died of injuries sustained in the loss of his aircraft or was shot by North Vietnam after landing on the ground, he has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if he survived as indicated by his inclusion in the USG's Last Known Alive list, he most certainly would have been captured. In that case his fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way, the Vietnamese know what happened to him and could return him or his remains any time they had the desire to do so.

Since the end of the Vietnam War well 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 were call upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances and they 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.