Charles B. DeBellevue
Colonel (ret.) Charles B. "Chuck" DeBellevue is America's highest scoring ace of the Vietnam War and the last ace to serve on active duty in the United States Air Force. Born on 15 August 1941 in New Orleans, Louisiana, he attended the University of Southwestern Louisiana earning a commission as a Second Lieutenant through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps in 1968. After completing Undergraduate Navigator Training at Mather Air Force Base, California in 1969, he was selected to be in the first all navigator class to train as Weapons Systems Officers (WSO) in the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. In 1971, he was sent to the renowned 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, nicknamed "Triple Nickel", at Udorn Royal Thai Air Base. It was there that Colonel DeBellevue would make history scoring six aerial victories against North Vietnamese MiGs, garnering him the distinction of becoming the first WSO to earn the title of "ace." On 10 May 1972, he and his pilot, Captain Steve Ritchie, were flying as number three in a four-ship supporting Operation LINEBACKER when they found themselves in a head-on engagement with four MiG-21s Fishbeds northwest of Hanoi. As they closed, Lead and two each shot one down. Ritchie and DeBellevue fired an AIM-7 at a MiG-21 at maximum range but the MiG pilot avoided it. They turned behind a fourth MiG-21, which they destroyed. Shortly after that, Lead was shot down. While this was DeBellevue's first kill of the war, it came at a high price. His roommate was the Lead WSO. On 8 July 1972, DeBellevue and Ritchie again found themselves head-on with MiG-21s. This engagement quickly turned into a hard turning dogfight. They obtained a boresight radar lock on one MiG and the crew fired two AIM-7s at the edge of their envelopes, both of which found their marks. The crew then locked up the remaining MiG and shot it down with a single AIM-7. The entire engagement lasted only 89 seconds. On 28 August 1972, flying the same F-4 in which he scored his first kill, DeBellevue again scored another kill north of Hanoi with a long range AIM-7 shot which gave him a total of four kills. On 9 September 1972, DeBellevue teamed up with Capt John Madden on a mission near Phuc Yen Air Base. They shot down two MiG-19 Farmers with AIM-9 missiles giving DeBellevue his fifth and sixth victories of the war and making him America's leading ace in the Vietnam War. For his outstanding airmanship, DeBellevue was awarded the Mackay Trophy in 1972. Following the war, DeBellevue entered pilot training and returned to the Phantom II as a pilot and held various flying and staff positions including commanding both the 432d Combat Support Group at Misawa Air Base, Japan, and the 95th Air Base Wing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Colonel DeBellevue's final assignment was commanding Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps Detachment 440 at the University of Missouri. He retired in 1998 after 30 years of distinguished service. His decorations include the Air Force Cross, three Silver Stars, three Legions of Merit, and six Distinguished Flying Crosses. Colonel DeBellevue and his wife, Sally, currently reside in Edmond, Oklahoma where he serves as the liaison between the Oklahoma State University Aging Systems Sustainment and Enabling Technologies (ASSET) Program and the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center to obtain reengineered out-of-production parts for America's war fighting aircraft.
See the Lithograph
During Operation Linebacker, the North Vietnamese Air Force lost at least 40 MiGs in air battles to McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantoms. Of these, "Triple Nickel" crews downed 15 and sister squadrons in the 432d Tactical Reconnaissance Wing downed another 9. In a squadron of warriors, Chuck DeBellevue led the way!
Chuck DeBellevue was born in 1945 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was commissioned through the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Southwestern Louisiana on January 26, 1968, and graduated from Undergraduate Navigator Training in July 1969. After completing combat crew training as a Weapons System Officer in the F-4 Phantom II and a tour with the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, DeBellevue was assigned to the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Udorn Royal Thai AFB, Thailand in October 1971. He flew 220 combat missions as a Laredo High Speed Forward Air Controller and was credited with the destruction of 6 enemy fighters in aerial combat as a WSO during the Vietnam War. He was awarded the MacKay Trophy for the most notable aerial achievement in 1972. In November 1973, DeBellevue graduated from Undergraduate Pilot Training and was then assigned to the 8th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. He next served as the assistant operations officer for the 43rd Tactical Fighter Squadron at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, and then served with the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson AFB again. Col DeBellevue held a variety of staff assignments including service with Alaskan Air Command, Headquarters Air Force at the Pentagon, and as Chief of Staff for Fifth Air Force at Yokota AB, Japan. He served as commander of the 432nd Combat Support Group at Misawa AB, Japan, and the 95th Air Base Wing at Edwards AFB, California. His final assignment was as commander of Air Force ROTC Detachment 440 at the University of Missouri from 1995 until his retirement from the Air Force on February 1, 1998. Col DeBellevue wears Command Pilot Wings and the Air Force Maintenance Badge, and accumulated over 3,000 flying hours during his Air Force career. He was the highest scoring ace of the Vietnam War and the last American ace on active duty. Chuck is married to the former Sally Kanik of Rancho Cordova, California, and they have three children and two grandchildren.
His Air Force Cross Citation reads:
The Air Force Cross is presented to Charles B. DeBellevue, Captain, U.S. Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as an F-4D Weapon Systems Officer, 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, on 9 September 1972. On that date, while protecting a large strike force attacking a high priority target deep in hostile territory, Captain DeBellevue engaged and destroyed a hostile aircraft. Through superior judgment and use of aircraft capabilities, and in complete disregard for his own safety, Captain DeBellevue was successful in destroying his fifth hostile aircraft, a North Vietnamese MIG-19. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, Captain DeBellevue reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.