The Last Victory
By Paris Achen
August 11, 2005
Medford Oregonís Jim Wise didnít know when he launched his F-4 Phantom from the
deck of the USS Midway in January 1973 that he would help make
Over the air control radio, U.S. Navy Lt. Jim Wise heard the unthinkable:
a North Vietnamese MiG-17 fighter aircraft was over the Gulf of Tonkin
while a Viet Cong delegation sat at the peace table in Paris.
"I couldnít believe it," said Wise, a longtime Medford resident. "There
were only two other times during the Vietnam War when the North Vietnamese
sent fighters over the Gulf of Tonkin because they knew the sophistication
of our aircraft."
Wise, Lt. Victor Kovaleski, Lt. Pat Arwood and Ensign Lynn Oates of
Squadron 161 were sent out in two F-4 Phantom fighters from the USS
Midway aircraft carrier to intercept the MiG, a fast Russian-made
plane with heavy armament.
Little did they know they would accomplish the last air combat victory of
"Itís a testament to our superior training that we were able to do what we
did because MiGs turn so fast and if they donít want to fight, theyíll go,
and youíll never see them," Wise said.
Wise, a 1964 graduate of Medford High School, joined the military in 1968
after graduating from Oregon State University.
After training to be a naval flight officer at Aviation Officer Candidate
School in Pensacola, Fla., he served two stints in Vietnam: March to
November 1971 and April 1972 to March 1973.
He launched air attacks from the Midway, including his historic run
on Jan. 12, 1973.
Wise said on that day, he remembers flying through overcast skies, the hot
humidity heavy on his face.
"We caught up with the plane," Wise said. "It saw us and rolled behind us.
Then, it turned right and got in front of us. We hit it with a missile,
which hit the left tail. The second missile hit the tailpipe, and the
The memory of the victory is bittersweet, said Wise, now a 58-year-old
golf pro at the Rogue Valley Country Club.
Later, Wise found out the MiG had been targeting a U.S. Air Force C-130 in
the Gulf of Tonkin. Because of the actions of Wise and the other pilots,
the Air Force crew escaped attack by the MiG.
The pilot of the MiG was found dead in the gulf.
"You have an empty feeling," Wise said. "You know you did what you had to
do, but you know you shot somebody down. As I have gotten older, I have
had to deal with those things. Itís not a pleasant thing."
Fighter aircraft from the Midway scored the first and last air
combat victories of the Vietnam War. The first was June 17, 1965, by Cmdr.
Louis Page, Lt. John Smith, Lt. David Batson and Lt. Cmdr. Robert Doremus.
In June, about 170 members of squadrons 21 and 161 held a reunion aboard
the Midway on display at the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum to
mark the 40th anniversary of the first air combat victory.
"Both squadrons were assigned to the Midway and they represent the
start and end of the air war in Vietnam," said Jack Ensch, one of the
former airmen who organized the reunion. "There is a lot of historical
Ensch shot down two MiGs during the war and was a prisoner of war for
eight months in Hanoi, North Vietnam.
Wise and Ensch, good friends from the war, took a tour of the ready room,
where they spent much of their time on the Midway, and visited with
other friends they had made during the war.
"The camaraderie developed in combat is unique to itself," Wise said.
In honor of the first and last victories, former airmen from the Midway
contributed $40,000 to restore one of the aircraft carrierís F-4 Phantoms,
paint it with the Squadron 21 and 161ís colors and mark the splitter plate
with the names of the eight pilots. The plane was unveiled at the museum
during the reunion.
Wise said seeing his name on the plane gave him a sense of satisfaction
even though the historical significance of his success resulted from being
in the right place at the right time.
"Any naval officer could have done the same thing, but I happened to be
the last," Wise said.
Jim Wise, a longtime Medford resident, said
the memory of his historic victory is bittersweet.
ďYou know you did what you had to do, but you
know you shot somebody down,Ē he said.
Mail Tribune / Jim Craven
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