In Memoriam: Colonel Jack Broughton

Colonel Jacksel M. Broughton, one of the most famous and controversial airmen of the Vietnam War, has died.  In its obituary, the New York Times wrote:

Col. Jack Broughton flew more than 200 jet-fighter missions in the Korean and Vietnam Wars and received the Air Force Cross, his service’s highest award for valor after the Medal of Honor. He led the Air Force’s Thunderbirds in acrobatics that thrilled air show spectators in the mid-1950s and piloted nearly 50 types of military aircraft.

But in June 1967, he faced a possible prison term when the Air Force accused him of covering up the strafing of a Soviet freighter in the North Vietnamese port of Cam Pha by a pilot under his command.

Colonel Broughton and two of his pilots were court-martialed. All were acquitted of the most serious charges, conspiracy to violate Air Force rules of engagement that forbade such an attack. But Colonel Broughton’s career was destroyed in the fallout from one of the most contentious issues of the Vietnam War: the restrictions Washington placed on bomber pilots out of fear that the Soviet Union or China could be drawn into the conflict.

There’s more at the link.

Colonel Broughton wrote several excellent books about his life and air warfare.  Perhaps the most famous is ‘Thud Ridge‘, about his experiences leading a wing in combat over North Vietnam.  However, my personal favorite (and part of my permanent library) is ‘Rupert Red Two: A Fighter Pilot’s Life From Thunderbolts to Thunderchiefs‘, in which he describes his entire US Air Force career from flying P-47 Thunderbolts over Germany immediately after World War II, to his resignation after his court-martial conviction was set aside on appeal.  It includes his decision to ground his squadron of F-106 Delta Dart fighters after their ejection seats proved lethally dangerous to pilots.  This brought him into conflict with his superiors, but he stood firm, and the necessary changes were made.

Colonel Broughton was, as the old adage would put it, “a fighter pilot’s fighter pilot”.  He set one hell of an example as a fighting man, but was betrayed by his superior officers as the result of political pressure.  He overcame his justifiable anger and bitterness, and went on to build a new career in civilian life.

We are diminished by his passing.  May he rest in peace.



  1. I always wanted to send him my copy of Thud Ridge, and get it signed.

    He was an amazing pilot, and an honourable man.

    Godspeed Col. Broughton.

  2. BG Chuck Yeager was the Chairman of the Court Martial Board that convicted COL Broughton. Conviction, as written, was later overturned. regards, Alemaster

  3. I was one of Jack's pilots when he was Commander,5th FIS "the Spitten Kittens",Minot AFB ND flying F-106s in the 60s. A terrific guy, great commander, who took good care of his troops. The only other AF pilot to have a court martial thrown out was Billy Mitchell. Good Company!

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