Air Force veteran, now in Ocala, reflects on Vietnam War service
Vietnam War veteran Wayne Gordon Brown flew nearly 2,400 hours in eight different military aircraft, flew 137 combat missions and received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
But perhaps his most heart-wrenching flying experience happened over northwest Florida.
“I was checking out the F-106 in a two-seat Model B trainer at Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, Fla. When the engine broke and I and the instructor failed. must have ejected at around 200 mph at 1,700 over the Apalachicola National Forest, ”Brown, 78, said of the incident on October 9, 1973.
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Brown, then a captain, described being catapulted out of the plane after the canopy blew up and it exploded several hundred feet upward under enormous G-forces.
“I still remember being reclined (in the ejection seat) and going through the air waiting for the chute to open,” he said.
Brown remembers being parachuted into the forest, where he was briefly suspended from a tree about 30 feet above the ground until he broke free.
The plane crashed in a swampy area and rescuers arrived at Brown’s location in about 30 minutes.
The October 12, 1973 issue of Jet Scope, a private newspaper which covered the activities of Tyndall Air Force Base, contained an account of the crash. He said the plane crashed 36 miles east of the base near the community of Wilma at 9:16 a.m.
The newspaper report attributed the swift work of a helicopter rescue team to bringing back Brown, who the article said “got away” from the crash, and Captain Richard Hoover, who suffered a “fracture of the jaw, hip and back”. base operations just after 10:30 a.m.
“Rescuers said I would have been better off staying in the tree as there were snakes and alligators in the area,” Brown said.
After the crash investigation, Brown was offered his helmet and parachute, which he still has in his home in southeast Ocala.
An Air Force man since 1961
Brown, originally from Green, New York, began his career in the US Air Force in 1961 when he applied and was accepted to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
After obtaining his Bachelor of Science on June 9, 1965, he was appointed second lieutenant.
“Two hours after I graduated, I got married,” Brown said.
He married Marty Woodworth, whom he had known since 5th grade, and the couple recently celebrated their 56th birthday.
Wayne Brown trained as a pilot at Moody AFB in Georgia, first flying a C-41 propeller plane, which is the military version of a Cessna 172, and quickly switched to training jets.
One of his first solo flights was from Moody AFB to Patrick AFB in Florida.
Brown was deployed to Vietnam in July 1967 and flew in a group of 20 F-4 Phantom planes on a multi-stop trip from Eglin AFB in Florida to a base in Ubon, Thailand, where he would be stationed .
Brown flew 137 combat missions, including 100 over North Vietnam.
An amateur radio enthusiast since the age of 14, Brown was able to use the MARS (Military Auxiliary Radio System) equipment in Thailand to install a telephone patch through the US ham radio equipment owned by Senator Barry Goldwater to talk with Marty during his deployment.
Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross
Brown received the Distinguished Flying Cross for “heroism during his participation in an aerial flight,” according to the medal’s quote, during an attack on an enemy airfield at Phuc Yen in northern Vietnam.
“First Lt. Wayne G. Brown distinguished himself for his heroism by participating in an aerial flight as a pilot (F4) over hostile territory on October 24, 1967. On that date Lt. Brown participated to the first attack on a heavily defended airfield, “the quote reads.
“While avoiding intense anti-aircraft fire, surface-to-air missiles and threats from hostile aircraft, (he) successfully executed this very important mission” which rendered the enemy airfield “completely unusable”, according to the quote.
The quote describes Brown’s “selfless dedication to duty”.
After the war
In 1968, Brown returned to the United States flying EB-57 aircraft for air defense training, then served as a flight instructor in Colorado.
He later flew F-106 jets on missions to identify unknown planes and was forced to “scramble” and have his plane take off in five minutes.
Brown flew one of a group of F-106s that featured in a Parade magazine photo in 1978.
He completed active service in 1979 while serving at Fort Lee, Va., As the base commander. The family moved to Greensboro, NC, where the couple lived for 32 years before moving to The Villages and Ocala five years ago.
After serving in the military, Brown worked with a company that provided commercial operating software.
Brown is a life member of the Military Officers Association of America and is the organization’s vice president for central Florida.
The Browns have two grown children, Wendi Gwaltney and Scott Brown. Scott Brown said his father was an “amazing, amazing and good man”.
Asked about her support for her husband during his military career and his deployments, she said: “It was exciting and scary.”
“We were so young we didn’t realize how excited and scared we were,” said Marty Brown.