During the course of putting together this report on the Icebag 01B SAR, I had occasion to speak with both Bill Talley and Jim Padgett. Here is an email sent by Bill Talley on February 26, 1998:
11 May 1972
I looked at the map, and I believe you have our location accurately plotted. We were West of Hanoi when we took the hit. I jettisoned everything and turned Southwest. We were in the delta. I saw the mountains and did not think we had enough altitude to clear them. I asked Jim if he was ready to eject. He said we are over a village. I rolled the plane and saw the village. Your map indicates a couple of small circles for villages on the East side of the mountain range. We sucked up our feet and cleared the mountain top. We were in a valley, and I knew we could not clear the next mountain top so I initiated the ejection.
I never saw Jim's chute. Even though I had slowed to about 325-350k IAS, the wind force twisted my helmet partially around my face. I could also feel the wind pulling on the glove of my right hand. I had my fingers in a fist, yet the wind peeled the glove off. When the chute opened and I stabilized, I reached for my survival radio. Then I heard an explosion and looked over my left shoulder and saw a ball of fire, our airplane. As I reached for the radio again I saw a large boulder on the side of the hill where I was going to land in about 5 seconds.
No PLF [parachute landing fall], not at all graceful, splat into the boulder. My chute was hung in a tree, and as I was trying to pull it out, I heard a call on my radio asking me for a short count. I gave one, and a jet flew directly overhead. Probably an F-4, because I did not recognize the voice or call sign to be one of the Thuds. The pilot said he had a good fix on my location. I gave up trying to pull the chute down and thought best to leave the area and hide. I climbed to the top of the mountain, which was steep. Had to go part of the way on all fours. I carried my helmet to wear when the chopper pulled me up. Since our squadron was TDY to Korat, our PE personnel did not paint over the squadron color and insignia on the visor cover. Instead it was covered with tape.
The top of the mountain did not have a place to hide. I looked over the edge of a cliff and saw another large rock with a ground hole under it large enough for me to crawl through. The space under the rock was large enough to lay with my feet curled in a fetal position. While I was trying to pull my chute out of the tree, I had a bad feeling that we were too close to Hanoi for a rescue, but needed to wait and see. While hiding under the rock, I waited for a radio call.
On my first tour at Korat, we understood that a SAR would be on standby any time a big raid was going in RTE PACK VI. I thought there was still six or seven hours of daylight remaining for an effort. By dusk, I had given up. While hiding under my rock, I could hear the Vietnamese calling in a kind of yodel. The sounds got closer, and after dark I heard footsteps nearby five or six times. All activity ceased around midnight.
12 May 1972
At first light, I crawled out from underneath the rock, extended the antenna on my radio and heard some one calling for me. I answered then got back under the rock. My hopes were up and I thought someone would be there within an hour.
Just before noon, I believe, there were rifle shots around me. I laid still for a couple of minutes thinking they might go away. Then I thought they might be trying to shoot into the hole I had crawled in. So, I wiggled out, stood, and saw about 20-25 Vietnamese circling and more running toward me. I raised my hands to surrender and heard a plane or planes overhead. The Vietnamese took off my flying suits and boots, tied my arms behind my back , and we started walking down the mountain. Several times that afternoon I could here strafing in the area and thought Jim was being rescued. We walked until several hours after dark before stopping.
13 May 1972
The next morning we started walking again and a few times I heard more strafing. Once again I thought that might be Jim's rescue. Even though we had walked for many hours, we probably had not gotten more than five miles from the top of the mountain. That would have been May 13. Jim was captured on the 13th and taken directly to Hanoi. I walked all of the 13th and most of the 14th before collapsing. My knee was cut and swollen from my graceful PLF. The guards put me on an ox cart to ride for an hour or so, then transferred me to an army truck. We rode the rest of the 14th going through a city and all that night. We were going South along the ocean. I could see the Big Dipper and North Star and smell the salt water.
We then stopped at a camp where I was taken in for a short interrogation attempt, put back on the truck and started North. We drove through a large city, which I thought was Hanoi, and kept on going North. I though they were taking me to China. Late on the 15th we arrived at the Hanoi Hilton. I had no idea where I was. I believe Jim was in the Hilton a short time, then taken to the Zoo. I stayed in the Hilton. Two days before we were released, they put Jim in my room. An F-4 was shot down about :10 after us. I believe there were North West of Hanoi. The crew was captured immediately and taken to the Hilton. We ended up together. I have often wondered why I had such a round about trip to the Hilton. Just one of the mysteries of the Vietnamese.
About three weeks before the shoot down, we were at McConnell AFB. I was about a month away from pinning on L/C rank and was verbally told of my next assignment. Even though all that changed so quickly, I have not regretted what happened. I was a POW only a year. If I had been shot down on my first tour or my first TDY, I could have been a POW four years. As you know many were there four to six years. I feel very lucky. The last 25 years have gone by very fast, and I often think of that year of 1972-73. Byron, last year you said that you learned a lot on that mission. I did too. Thanks for making the effort.
I believe that I mentioned that I was the pilot and Jim was an electronic warfare officer. We were flying a Wild Weasel mission in support of a strike going into the Hanoi area. Thanks for telling me about the website.