The Rescue of Bat-21
by Darrel D. Whitcomb "Bat 21" is a report of one of the most bizarre rescues of the Vietnam War. Colonel Iceal Hambleton was recovered from enemy territory in northern South Vietnam after 11and1/2days on the ground. This was the largest rescue operation in USAF history. On April 2, 1972, near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) of Vietnam, a US Air Force forward air controller, FAC pilot, using the call-sign Bilk 34 broadcast an urgent plea. The request was for assistance in rescuing any survivor of an EB-66 radar surveillance aircraft that was just shot down. The plane had been struck by a surface -to-air missile fired by the North Vietnamese Army. A single chute had been observed to open, followed by a desperate call for help, so at least one survivor was confirmed. Hambleton, the navigator, was the only survivor. He reached the ground safely, however, he found that he had landed near a village that housed a large number of enemy troops. While awaiting rescue, Hambleton directed USAF aircraft and they destroyed many enemy vehicles on the highways. A plan was devised to direct him by radio contact with a forward air controller aircraft to a safer pick-up point. USAF reconnaissance aircraft photographed the area and photo analysts laid out a course for him to follow to a river two miles away. In order to better guide Hambleton and knowing that he was an avid golfer who had memorized every course on which he had ever played, a very unusual plan was devised. Using specific holes at certain courses to establish distance and direction of travel, Hambleton was guided safely past enemy camps, gun emplacements, unfriendly villages, and then downstream to a rescue point.