Herbert Owen Brennan

United States Air Force
27 August 1926 - 18 October 1974
O'neill, NE
Panel 30E Line 088


F-4 (USAF)

USAF Senior Pilot

DFC, Purple Heart, Air Medal (3 awards), National Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign

The database page for Herbert Owen Brennan

20 Jan 1999


Joni R. Terrio
Memorial Day 2003

In a series of letters and tapes home, Lt. James Badley talked about a series of losses experienced by the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing during November 1967. Herbert Brennan's aircraft was the last in that series.

On 9 November 1967 a 480th Tac Ftr Sqdn F-4C (tail number 64-0751) crewed by Lt. Colonel John Armstrong and Lt. Lance Sijan went down near Ban Loboy Ford, Laos, as they bombed enemy supply routes. The circumstances indicated that the destruction of the aircraft could have happened in one of two ways: they could have taken a direct hit or the plane could have been blown up by its own bombs. Since Armstrong's flight was armed with the new FMU-35 time-delay fuzes, there was a distinct possibility that they had malfunctioned. Faulty fuzes could have prematurely triggered detonation of all six bombs, and if this had happened, over two tons of high explosive would have erupted less than fifty feet from the airplane.

The next day, 10 Nov 1967, Lt. Colonel Kelly Cook told his wife in a letter that part of his flight assignment that night was to check out some malfunctioning bomb fuzes. Cook's flight that night consisted of two aircraft from the 389th Tac Ftr Sqdn:

  • BAFFLE 01, F-4C tail number 64-0669
    • Major James S. Morgan, 389th TFS, flight lead
    • 1LT Charles J. Huneycutt, 389th TFS

  • BAFFLE 02, F-4C tail number 64-0834
tasked with a SKYSPOT mission over North Vietnam. SKYSPOT was frequently used when the weather was too bad for the pilots to actually get into the target; the flight crew would fly to a designated point where they were picked up by radar and the radar controllers would then vector the crew to another point where a countdown for bomb release would begin. Normally, the bombs were ordered released while flying level at 15,000 to 20,000 feet, and bomb damage was assessed by the same radar controllers who were directing the mission. On this particular night, when the radar people directed Baffle Flight to drop their bombs, both aircraft had immediately disappeared from the radar scope. Since there was nothing said by the pilots, the radar crew figured that, once again, one of two things must have happened: either the bombs underneath the aircraft had been hit by an 85 millimeter shell, or the bombs had been set off prematurely by the new FMU-35 fuzes.

When mechanically-fuzed bombs were released, the arming wire was pulled and a front spinner propeller began to spin. After the spinner rotated a certain number of revolutions -- set during ground weapons load -- the bomb's fuze was active and ready to detonate upon ground impact. The new FMU-35s, chemical fuzes developed for use on mines and delayed bombs, armed the bomb through a precisely-timed, two-step process: First, the bomb was released from the aircraft; this act pulled an arming wire, which then allowed the second step to begin. During the second step, chemicals began eating through a thin metal shield. When the shield was broached, the bomb was an armed mine: volatile and very sensitive to impact.

Unfortunately, as they were to prove months later, there was a defect in the fuzes when the military first began using them, and, essentially, the bombs were arming when they were attached to the aircraft. This meant the bombs were live and deadly when released from the aircraft, allowing premature, sometimes immediate, detonation.

Colonel Frederick "Boots" Blesse, Deputy Commander of Operations for the wing, suspected the fuzes were defective after the back-to-back losses of Armstrong/Sijan and Baffle Flight. At that time, he ordered all the FMU-35 fuzes removed and replaced with regular mechanical fuzes. Unfortunately, 7th Air Force didn't agree with Colonel Blesse's conclusion that the FMU-35 fuzes were at fault and he was ordered to continue using the FMU-35s.

On 26 November 1967, Colonel Herbert O. Brennan and Lt. Douglas C. Condit went down in Laos (F-4C 64-0697, 390th TFS). It seemed to be a repeat performance of the Armstrong/Sijan loss two weeks earlier. They had rolled in on the target, released their bombs, and had immediately blown up. Colonel Blesse immediately suspended all use of the FMU-35 fuzed weapons until a thorough investigation could be conducted. This time 7th Air Force listened and responded by sending U.S. Air Force Contractor personnel to DaNang to officially investigate the fuze problem. This official delegation couldn't find anything wrong with the fuzes and delivery of weapons employing this fuze was began again at the end of December.

Two weeks later, on 16 January 1968, Colonel Blesse's suspicions were finally confirmed. Two F-4s from the 480th TFS were tasked with a SKYSPOT mission using FMU-35 fuzed 750 pound Mk 117 bombs set for delayed detonations from 45 minutes to six hours after arming. The mission crews were

  • F-4C tail number 64-0927
    • Major Charles E. Lewis, flight lead
    • 1LT Jack L. Kelley

  • F-4D tail number 66-8706
    • Capt Scott B. Stovin
    • 1LT Thomas N. Moe
Kelley was very concerned about the fuzes so during the briefing he advised Major Lewis to take the extra precaution of pulling up sharply upon release of the last bomb and, fortunately, that was precisely what he did. Their aircraft and the one behind was blown up. The four crewmen safely ejected; Lewis and Kelley were rescued several hours later, while Stovin was picked up two days later. Tom Moe was captured and spent the rest of the war as a POW.

After returning to the base, Lewis and Kelley told how one of their bombs exploded below and behind their right wing. They saw the flash of light, felt the push on the aircraft, heard the noise, and saw 1/3 of their right wing being blown in pieces up and slightly to the left. That information was all Blesse needed -- he ordered the armament people to use the fuzes, but to leave them disconnected from the bombs. From that time forward, there were no more incidents at DaNang of aircraft suddenly blowing up upon release of their FMU-35 fuzed bombs.

Twenty years later, I wrote about this series of losses in my book Angels Unknown, which documents James Badley's tour of duty at DaNang Air Base. The information I obtained from the Defense Department described Colonel Brennan's last flight in this way:

"Col. Herbert Owen Brennan, the pilot, and Captain (then a Lieutenant) Douglas Craig Condit, the co-pilot, departed DaNang Air Field, South Vietnam, in an F4 on 26 November 1967. They were shot down on their second mission of the day in a heavily defended, heavily karsted, sparsely populated area 32 miles southwest of Dong Hoi, North Vietnam. The wingman heard electronic beeper signals within seconds after the explosion of the aircraft and they lasted intermittently for over an hour. Search and Rescue forces were unable to recover the men due to hostile forces and hostile fire."
In his book Check Six, A Fighter Pilot Looks Back, Major General Frederick "Boots" Blesse states that neither Herbert "Bert" Brennan nor Doug Condit ever activated their survival radios - there were no beepers heard following their crash or during the next four days when the wing flew search and rescue missions over the crash site. After reading this, I wrote to General Blesse and asked him why his account differed from the official report. Since Blesse was Deputy Commander of Operations for the wing at that time, I assumed he would have been apprised of every detail surrounding that flight. His letter dated March 19, 1991, said:

"Dear Lynda,

I received your last letter and I agree the people involved should know the truth -- whatever that is.

First, let's discuss who filed the report. The debriefing is done at wing level, and a member of the Wing Intelligence section in the Command Post would have been the one who submitted that report. I don't know who that person was.

Now, let's talk about beepers. Bert was my roommate, my close friend, and my assistant operations officer. Doug was my regular backseater. The mission they went on was one that I was scheduled to fly but, having been in Hong Kong for four days, I gave it to Bert because he had not been able to fly while I was gone. He simply replaced me, at his delight, and ended up with my mission and my backseater. I suggested the switch because it seemed the fair thing to do.

Now, knowing all that, you can be sure I was in on every piece of information that surfaced concerning that misssion. There were no beepers heard at the time or later on to the best of my knowledge. I authorized missions into that area for four days hoping to pick up some sign that either Doug or Bert might have survived. Nothing was ever reported and we finally gave up the search."

From the friend of a friend,
Lynda Twyman Paffrath

The point-of-contact for this memorial is
one who remembers,
Joni R. Terrio
20 Jan 1999

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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Channing Prothro, former CAP Marine
Last updated 05/29/2003