Bulldogs who served in Vietnam – Retired Col. Larry Burda

  • Published
  • By Audra Flanagan
  • 148th Fighter Wing

March 29th is National Vietnam War Veteran's Day. Each year, we pause to remember, and share the efforts of Bulldogs from the 148th Fighter Wing who served during this era. 

Retired 148th Fighter Wing Col. Larry Burda was assigned to the 509th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Clark Air Base, Philippines, from 1965 to 1967. “We often escorted B-52s and tankers in the PACAF region to keep them safe from MiGs,” said Burda, who flew the F-102 Delta Dagger.

Pilots assigned to the 509th would conduct air defense operations from the Philippines, Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam; Bien Hoa Air Base, South Central Vietnam; and Don Muang Udorn Royal Thai Force Base, Thailand, on a rotational basis. It was common for aircrew to spend two weeks on alert in the Philippines, three weeks on alert in Da Nang, then back to the Philippines and then travel back to Don Muang for three weeks of alert. 

Burda recalls his first sortie from the Philippines to Da Nang. He was in a TF-102, a two-seat aircraft, getting oriented with new airspaces and crossing the South China Sea. The region experienced constant thunderstorms. This required the aircraft to travel to 33,000 feet to get above the weather. The F-102 was well known for enduring compressor engine stalls in thunderstorms (Philip, 1961). During the sortie, the TF-102 engine temp went up as the engine was stalling. As a result, he turned off the motor and began to glide to 20,000 feet. Not long after, he started the TF-102 again. At the lower altitude, the TF-102 used more fuel causing them to arrive at Da Nang with very little fuel. Burda had one chance to land the aircraft at a new airfield with a 350-foot ceiling and fumes for fuel. 

During his first week of conducting air defense missions at Da Nang, Burda recalls hearing loud explosions from his alert trailer. He looked out the window and saw alert F-102s on the flightline were on fire. Viet Cong, a Vietnamese military and political organization, had used satchel charges on the alert area, which resulted in the destruction of four F-102s armed with Falcon missiles and rockets and two C-130s U.S. aircraft on the airfield which resulted in the massive fires and explosions (Schlight, 1999). 

Four fully loaded F-102s were pointed towards the alert trailer housing American forces while there was enemy gunfire in progress. Burda and his team ran to a bunker behind the trailer and hoped for the best. While his team survived the attack, Burda recalls an interaction with a fellow Airman in the bunker who was crying. Burda asked if he was hurt. The Airman replied, “My false teeth are in there” and pointed to a tent that was on fire. In addition to the destruction, one security forces Airman was killed during the attack.

In contrast to the dangers of war, Burda enjoyed some unique experiences during this assignment. He was the leader of three F-102s on the cover of the February 25, 1966, issue of Life Magazine. One of Burda’s Officer Evaluation Reports, or OER’s, was signed by 405th Fighter Wing Commander, Col. Charles E. Yeager, the WWII flying ace who was notorious for being the first to break the sound barrier. 

When arriving at Clark Air Base, there were approximately 50,000 U.S. Forces deployed in support of the Vietnam War. When Burda left in 1967, there were more than 500,000. 

Burda resigned his commission with eight years of service after his time in Vietnam. Burda stopped by the 148th on his way to Ely, Minn., where he’d accepted a job as a Civil Engineer with the Forest Service. The 148th was converting from the F-89 Scorpion to the F-102 at that time and offered Burda a job. The rest is history.

Burda retired from the Minnesota Air National Guard in 1994 with 35 years of service. He flew the F-102 Deuce, F-101 Voodoo, RF-4C Phantom, and F-4D Phantom II. He served in a variety of roles to include 179th Fighter Squadron Commander, 148th and Air National Guard Chief of Safety, and Special Assistant to the Adjutant General.



Paul, Philip I., 1st Lt, USAF “F-102 High Altitude Flameouts In And Around Thunderstorms” Armed Services Technical Information Agency, January 1961 https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/tr/pdf/AD0257837.pdf

Schlight, John, “The United State Air force in Southeast Asia.  The War in South Vietnam, The Years of the Offensive 1965-1968, The Air Force History and Museums Program, 1999 https://media.defense.gov/2010/Oct/13/2001329762/-1/-1/0/AFD-101013-038.pdf