On the tenth of May, 1972 Lieutenant Randy Cunningham and his RIO, LT(JG) Willie Driscoll, flying a Phantom F-4J, ShowTime 100, would shoot down two MIGs, making them the first American aces of the Vietnam War. Then they would shoot down a third. This account from Ace Pilots:
They were participating in a strike against the Hai Dong railyards, on flak suppression, when a score of enemy fighters challenged them. ... After dropping their bombs on some warehouses, Showtime 100 loitered to cover the A-7 fighter-bombers still engaged. Responding to a call for help, Cunningham took his F-4J into a group of MiG-17s ("Frescoes"), two of which promptly jumped them. Heeding a "break" warning from Grant in Showtime 113, Cunningham broke sharply and the lead pursuing MiG-17 overshot him. He instantly reversed his turn, putting the MiG dead ahead; he loosed a Sidewinder and it destroyed the MiG.
... VF-96 Exec, Cdr Dwight Timm had three MiGs on his tail, one being very close, in Timm's blind spot. ... After more maneuvering, Cunningham re-engaged the MiG-17 still threatening his XO. He called again for him to break, adding, "If you don't break NOW you are going to die." The XO finally accelerated and broke hard right. The MiG couldn't follow Showtime 112's high speed turn, leaving "Duke" clear to fire.
Calling "Fox Two," Cunningham fired his second Sidewinder while the MiG still inside the minimum firing range. But the high speed of the Fresco worked against it, as the Sidewinder had time to arm and track to its target. It homed into the tail pipe of the MiG-17 and exploded. Seconds later, Cunningham and Driscoll, finding themselves alone in a sky full of bandits, disengaged and headed for the Constellation.
As they approached the coast at 10,000 feet, Cunningham spotted another MiG-17 heading straight for them. ... The MiG's nose lit up like a Roman candle! ... In an effort to out-climb the MiG, Cunningham went to afterburners, which put him above the enemy aircraft. As he started to pull over the top, the MiG began shooting. This was Cunningham's second near-fatal mistake; he had given his opponent a predictable flight path, and he had taken advantage of it. Duke rolled off to the other side, and the MiG closed in behind.
Not wanting to admit he was getting beaten, he called to Willie, "That S.O.B. is really lucky! All right, we'll get this guy now!" With the MiG at his four o'clock, he nosed down to pick up speed and energy. Cunningham watched until the MiG pilot likewise committed his nose down. "Gotcha!" he thought, as he pulled up into the MiG, rolled over the top, got behind it. While too close to fire a missile, the maneuver placed Duke in an advantageous position.
He pulled down, holding top rudder, to press for a shot, and the MiG pulled up into him, shooting! He thought, "Maybe this guy isn�t just lucky after all!" The Communist pilot used the same maneuver Duke had just tried, pulling up into him, and forcing an overshoot. The two jets were in a classic rolling scissors. As his nose committed, Duke pulled up into his opponent again.
As they slowed to 200 knots, the MiG's superior maneuverability at low speed would gave him more advantage. A good fighter pilot, like Kenny Rogers' poker player, "knows when to hold, and knows when to fold." This was the MiG's game; it was time to go. When the MiG raised his nose for the next climb, Cunningham lit his afterburners and, at 600 knots airspeed, quickly got two miles away from the MiG, out of his ATOL missile range. ... Cunningham nosed up 60 degrees, the MiG stayed right with him. Just as before, they went into another vertical rolling scissors.
... Driscoll strained to keep sight of the MiG, as Duke pitched back towards him for the third time.
Once again, he met the MiG-17 head-on, this time with an offset so he couldn't fire his guns. As he pulled up vertically he could again see his determined adversary a few yards away. Still gambling, Cunningham tried one more thing. He yanked the throttles back to idle and popped the speed brakes, in a desperate attempt to drop behind the MiG. But, in doing so, he had thrown away the Phantom's advantage, its superior climbing ability. And if he stalled out ...
The MiG shot out in front of Cunningham for the first time, the Phantom's nose was 60 degrees above the horizon with airspeed down to 150 knots. He had to go to full burner to hold his position. The surprised enemy pilot attempted to roll up on his back above him. Using only rudder to avoid stalling the F-4, he rolled to the MiG's blind side. He tried to reverse his roll, but as his wings banked sharply, he briefly stalled the aircraft and his nose fell through. Behind the MiG, but still too close for a shot. "This is no place to be with a MiG-17," he thought, "at 150 knots... this slow, he can take it right away from you."
Now the MiG tried to disengage; he pitched over the top and started straight down. Cunningham pulled hard over, followed, and maneuvered to obtain a firing position. With the distracting heat of the ground, Cunningham wasn't sure that a Sidewinder would home in on the MiG, but he called "Fox Two," and squeezed one off. The missile came off the rail and flew right at the MiG. He saw little flashes off the MiG, and thought he had missed. As he started to fire his last Sidewinder, there was an abrupt burst of flame. Black smoke erupted from the Fresco. It didn't seem to go out of control; the fighter just kept slanting down, smashing into the ground at about 45 degrees angle.
Just who the third pilot Cunningham shot down that day is the subject of dispute. Some say it was "the top Vietnamese ace known as 'Col. Tomb' in the media" other said it was "a flight leader or squadron commander of the 923rd Regiment".
On November 29, 2005 Congressman Randy Cunningham pled guilty to receiving $2.4 million in bribes from military contractors and evading more than $1M in taxes, according to the Los Angeles Times.
"I broke the law, concealed my conduct and disgraced my high office," Cunningham, 63, said outside the federal courthouse. "I know I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation [and] my high office." Cunningham left without answering questions.
AE Houseman, (thanks for a reader for pointing out the name error) in his poem To An Athlete Dying Young wrote about the human need to keep youthful triumph safe from the corruption of time.
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
They were two different days, separated by 32 years. The grandfather paradox argues that the past exists independently of the present, that it remains graven in the mind of God, beyond our power to alter -- or to besmirch. Whatever Randy Cunningham did in later life, it remains true that on the tenth of May, 1972 ShowTime 100 would shoot down two MIGs, then a third. ...