A Memory of Cap-53
By: Backender, Danny Russell

The Shootdown of Cap 53 22 April, 1970 As Told by: Danny E Russell (Crewmember)

22 April 1970 started out as most days in Viet Nam, get up early, eat some breakfast, go to OPS go to pre-flight briefing with 362nd TEWS and on and on.

Well this wasn't going to be just another day so let's just start over!!!!!!!!!!

I'm Danny Russell and I was a rear end crewmember with the 6994th Det 2 at Plekiu. With the help of Phil Ehrhorn, MY SEFE or as I learned on this great website, the mission leader, and I say that with great respect because Phil had been in Viet Nam sooooo long that his chin whiskers(((all 15))) were 4inches long and his teeth were black..

No seriously, Phil was and is to this day a very dear friend and we hope to tell this story and remember to the best of our ability, the details of this ill-fated mission.

As you all know, our missions, sometimes we very classified and this will still leave some gray areas but I'm sure you will under- stand it with no explaination.

OK HISTORY 101. Our flight 22 April 1970 - - End of April Cambodian invasion - - - - 3rd or 4th of May Kent State Does this kinda set the stage and put you in the right era?

Our crew consisted of Lt George M. Wall Pilot, Lt Nasipak co-pilot Capt Carl Lemon Navigator, SSgt Edward J. Mosely Flight Engineer all with 362nd TEWS and Ron Lawlor was our 203 , Phil was in charge of the back end crew cosisting of SSGT Michael R. Conner, and myself.

Mike and I were in charge of scheduling and we were really excited about flying together and we had made it a point to hand pick this crew to fly with.

Mike had just recovered from a broken finger and I had just came off DNIF due to hernia surgery. Speaking of that, about 6 hours after I had surgery they had a rocket attack near the hospital in Siagon where I went to be cut on and I had to climb under the bed. OOOOHHHH the gas had worn off too fast and that tile floor was cold.. As with most rockets, they landed and didn't go off and they weren't even close to the hospital.

We took off after our normal routine, and flew an un-eventful mission I think we took off about 3:30 AM with a 6 hr mission.

It was the kind that you knew who you were after and where he was supposed to be but he just didn't come up. We joked back and forth saying he knew WHO was up here and he was afraid to come up with all the EXPERTS up here ready to copy.

About 10 minutes B4 time to RTB he came up and we asked the AC for permission to stay on site to get him. Permission, so we dug in and did our thing. Capt Lemon got on him and directed the plane into position, I think we had a fix on him when KABOOM. Reports say we got hit with 37MM but I looked down and saw at least a 4 inch hole right next to the doppler set. Capt Lemon was the only one hit.. I think a piece of schrapnel went thru close to his elbow-- not too much blood and he did an excellent job. He hung right there and between him and Phil, they got out the MAYDAY and gave our exact position.

Rescue was johnny on the spot and other than me trying to clean my pants I think everyone did a fine professional job. Our first intent was to get to sea because the damage was to the rear end control and the front end crew didn't have alot of options.

I know I'm going to get responses to this because you guys from the TEWS will see my lack of knowledge about what did and what probably happened that I know nothing about. But bear with me I'm a flat-lander from ILLINOIS.

We lost one engine immediately and the other one was smoking pretty bad, so going over the mountains was out. Next I think they tried for a landing strip but rescue said it was VC controlled.

Next option was to bail out so Mike and I went to the jump door and tried to open it.. Jambed due to the concussion. We tried and tried and finally the door just fell off!!!!!! We looked at each other and both agreed we were way too low to jump, and about that time Lt Wall looked back at us expecting the back end to be clean and ordered us to strap in and prepare for crash landing.

As we went forward, Mike was ahead of me and he automaticly went to my seat so I took his rear seat. I had just buckled in and looked out the left window to see the wing hit a tree and break loose.

I honestly don't know if I was knocked out or not, I did realize that something very heavy was on me when I tried to move, one of the consoles had broken loose and had landed on me. As I got free , I started hearing moans and groans so I knew someone else had made it also.

As we slowly started to unpile each other I discovered my good friend Mike, who had went forward and had taken my seat was killed. To this day I still ask GOD why. This man was married and all he could do is talk about his wife and the baby they were about to have.

Rescue was talking to a plane that had tailed us in and he had radioed back that didn't think anyone could have survived but we sure straightened him out in a hurry. It's surprising all the strict radio procedures you forget when your in a life & death situation!!!!

We were really a rag tag mess to look at, we all had head wounds and you all know even a scratch on your head bleeds heavy. I kind of laughed to myself as I saw Phil and Ron trying to wrap Captain Lemons head. What a HOOT that was.

We formed up next to a crater about 12 ft across . Rescue had no trouble seeing us there. As we were moving around, my D ring got hooked on some twigs and my belly pack exploded out in front of me, What a mess. I,m glad I didn't have to repack it.

Rescue would have been fun to watch under different circumstances. I think all 4 branches were there. Here again I hope I don't screw this up but I THINK there were F4s A6s Spads cobras, sandys and even an ov10.

They were great and I can honestly say they worked to precision.. They told us what was going to happen and it happened exactly as they told us.

My memories of the next few moments were intense. I went back to the plane to try to help anyone I could find but my back started to really act up. I guess my strength had been used up and I finally heard someone asking for help but I could hardly function on my own so I hollered back to stay put and I would report their location. I think it was Mosely but I'm not sure.. Man that was tough to not be able to function when someone needs you.

As I got back to our rescue area, the air rescue support did their thing. Cobra gunships were blazing and rockets were impacting really close. This made me realize we weren't down here alone. Charlie was trying to get us.

The first rescue chopper came in and a couple guys got on or maybe all three (Phil, Ron ,and Capt Lemon). The next one came in and lifted right back out. They told me they were taking small arms fire, assuring me they would be back.

Then the show started all over. Under any other circumstances it would have been fun to watch. F-4's unloaded, Cobras set and fired rockets. A-6s straifed. I think the OV10 had his side arm out(Ha Ha)


A small LOCH came in and I got on, we got about 20 ft in the air and Charlie hit the rotor and down we went TWICE IN 20 MINUTES???? COME ON ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!!!

Here we go again. Now let me talk about CHOPPER CREWS THEY ARE CRAZY . The gunner picked up his 50 or 60 cal??? I don't know which, and set up and started blazing. The pilot after shutting down came over to me while we being fired at and was standing straight up telling me " Ya know I never did like that chopper, I'm going to get a different one tomorrow!!!!!!!

After sanitizing the area again, rescue came in again and got me out.

Upon reaching the hospital I learned that Capt Wall has also been killed in the crash.

Ron , Phil and Capt Lemon were all accounted for and visually seen. I never saw Lt Nasipak or SSGT Mosely.

After returning to base and starting to work we learned that Mike's widow had given birth to a son one month to the day after the crash Mike Jr.`was born 22 May, 1970.

WE took up a collection and started a college fun for him, and I must say 63 guys gave til it hurt. I'M so proud of them.

Upon returning stateside Phil and I and Alan Brack and his wife went to Tennessee to visit the widow and son who never got to see DADDY. Mikes parents and his widows parents also attended. I do not use their names only for their privacy.

25 years later we all went to THE WALL for a gathering. The little baby I held in 70 was now a married man. We went to the wall at exactly at 9:35AM the time of our shoot down. We held each other and cried. After about an hour we started moving towards the Lincoln Memorial, Mike and I were kinda dragging up the rear and we passed a t-shirt stand . A t-shirt with a hologram of a soldier looking out of the wall towards a little 5 year old caught our attention.>>>> The shirt said "Here Daddy I Brought you a present" We both lost it again !!!!

After a long day we all returned to our motel. Phil and I stayed together and there was a knock at our door. It was Lil Mike.

Guys, my Mom has told me stories, my grandpa has told me stories, but would you please tell me a story about my DAD?

I have never cried as much as I did that vacation.


Thanks to all of you who fought side by side with me and my crew

Forgive me if I have mis-stated anything.

Yours for a better tomorrow Danny.


A Letter to Danny

This was forwarded to me by Danny for adding to the site. It is a letter to him from Richard Bonazza, with a note from Danny back to Richard.

Ben, I just had to send this to J.C. This kind of stuff makes his web site so valuable to me.

Danny, My name is Richard Bonazza. I was called Ben over in Nam. I was at Pleiku from March 69 to the 1st of May when I went TDY and then permanent to NKP in Thailand. I had to know you in Nam from damn if I can place you. I knew Phil real well. I was flying on a 2 seater in the area just west of Cap 53 when you got hit. Our plane had taken enemy fire earlier but thankfully "Charlie" missed us. I can still hear Phil's SOS going out over secure radio. And then our plane flying over to see your plane smoking and the choppers coming in. We were low on fuel so we couldn't stay long. On our way back to base we heard "cap Killer" on it's way to destroy the plane. Since I left a few days after the crash I never got to see any of you guys again. Your story filled in a lot of blanks for me on what happened that day. I often wondered what became of Mike's son. Now thanks to you I know. Take care and if you remember me please e-mail. Would love to hear from you. Rich