Fallen hero awarded DFC 46 years later

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Photo by Staff Sgt. GRACE LEE

The air was thick with emotion. She had been waiting for this moment since the love of her life passed away more than 46 years earlier.

Andi Dice was presented the Distinguished Flying Cross Jan. 27 at Luke Air Force Base on behalf of her husband, Maj. Carl Dice, for his extraordinary heroism and aerial achievement displayed Dec. 8, 1969, during an F-105F combat mission.

Fellow pilot and witness to the event, retired Lt. Col. Bruce Cox shared what occurred that day.

That day, “Dice was the leader of Scotch Flight, a two-ship interdiction mission into a heavily defended area of northern Laos,” he said. “His wingman was 1st Lt. Emerson Taylor. After the flight briefing, they went to the duty desk for aircraft assignments and final updates to the mission. Dice learned his aircraft would be F-105F 63-8352, while Taylor was assigned an F-105D.”

Although Dice could have flown the aircraft with the rear cockpit empty, the duty officer quickly canvassed others in the squadron to offer them the opportunity to go on this mission. Cox, who was a first lieutenant, was chosen to go.

The pilots headed toward their target north of Plan of Jars region of Xiangkhoang Province, which was controlled by communist Pathet Lao.

“On this day, Raven 41, a forward air controller, had located a lucrative cache of military equipment and supplies critical to North Vietnamese offensive incursions, which was being moved during the cover of darkness from China to North Vietnam,” he said. “Dice led his flight to the rendezvous point and visually acquired Raven 41. After a short target briefing, the FAC requested two passes from each aircraft to saturate the target area with ordnance. Dice saw the smoke marking the target, received quick target refinement instructions from the FAC, and rolled in for a manual 30-degree diving delivery.”

After a successful first run precisely hitting the target, it was during the second pass Cox sensed something was wrong.

“We felt several distinct thumps in the aircraft,” Cox said. “Dice attributed these thumps to either turbulence or airflow disturbance associated with asymmetric weapon separation from the aircraft. Even though there were numerous known anti-aircraft artillery sites in the target area, he continued the attack, discounting the possibility that the shudders in the aircraft could be from enemy ground fire. But several seconds after climbing away from the target, he observed a red warning light in the landing gear handle, red unsafe landing gear indications for the nose and right main landing gear, and both red unsafe and green safe indications for the left main gear. He heard a loud whine, which was the utility hydraulic pump cavitating, (the collapse of vapor bubbles in the pump) and the utility hydraulic pressure dropped to zero.”

Dice notified Taylor of the situation and did what he could to keep the aircraft flying.

“The aircraft was flying solely on the emergency hydraulic system powered by the ram air turbine,” Cox said. “Taylor saw several holes in the left wing close to the fuselage. Dice and I instinctively looked toward the left wing, and I could clearly see a line of anti-aircraft artillery holes in the wing. Blue flames were darting from each hole, and the area behind the wing’s leading edge flap was blackened. Since there is no fuel in the F-105 wings, it was apparent that a fire in the left wing was being fed by highly flammable hydraulic fluid. The situation was going from bad to worse, and the closest emergency landing field was nearly 150 miles away.”

Neither pilot saw ejecting out of the aircraft in unknown hostile territory as an option, so Dice attempted to land at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, an F-4 base in northern Thailand which was 150 miles away. After a successful landing, Dice had to take critical steps to stop the aircraft.

“The throttle was placed to ‘off,’ the emergency brake handle was pulled, and the drag chute was deployed at 200 knots,” Cox said. “At 160 knots, he lowered the nose to the runway and applied wheel brakes. Even using the emergency brake system, braking was not available because of the total loss of utility hydraulic system integrity.”

Little did they know, a large drainage ditch would be their last hope after several failed attempts to stop the aircraft.

“The aircraft impacted the flood control ditch at about 75 to 80 knots,” Cox said. “The plane’s nose dropped and impacted the far side of the ditch, shearing off the nose gear, the radome and about ten feet of fuselage. Dice was killed instantly.”

Because of Dice’s efforts, Cox survived the crash.

While it’s been several years since his passing, his memory remains as Luke Thunderbolts, Dice’s wife and two daughters, Tamara Dice and Judy Webster, and colleagues came together to honor his service and sacrifice, and present his wife, Andi, with the DFC.

As Andi reminisced on the many memories of the time they had together, she thought of the person her husband was.

“He was absolutely devoted to his country,” she said. “He felt that he was doing his part and loved flying the ‘Thuds’ as they called the F-105s back then. He loved what he was doing and felt flying was his way of serving his country. All these years later, the loss is still there. I feel the world, as well as me, was cheated of somebody pretty special. I think if you talk to people who knew him really well, they would say the same thing.”

For Col. David Shoemaker, 56th Fighter Wing vice commander and presiding officer of the ceremony, he said presenting the DFC to Andi was an incredible experience.

“The opportunity to make this right with the family was an amazing honor,” Shoemaker said. “As the prior commander of a squadron with F-105 heritage, it was really special for me. We talk a lot about taking care of families in the Air Force. Sometimes, we forget that there’s a segment of family out there who are the survivors of fallen combat heroes, those who made the ultimate sacrifice. There are spouses and children out there who are still a part of the Air Force family and who we need to take care of. The medal presentation today was really two things. It acknowledged and recognized a hero extremely important to our Air Force and country, but it also took care of a debt we owed to his family.”