Lt. Chuck Hofelich was a “Thud” driver and proud of it. He flew an F-105 “Thunderchief” supersonic fighter-bomber, he and his jet jockey buddies called “Thuds” on 79 combat missions over North Vietnam.
When not taking the air war to the North Vietnamese, his unit, the 12th Tactical Fighter Squadron based in Okinawa, Japan, was on call to deliver a knock-out blow to an enemy any where in the world if the United States declared nuclear war.
His main mission in Okinawa was to scramble his F-105 and have it airborne in five minutes or less headed for a predetermined target he had spent years studying. His single nuclear bomb would wipe it off the map.
“There were 15 F-105 pilots in our squadron each carried one 500 pound nuclear bomb that looked pretty much like any other 500 pound conventional bomb,” the 72-year-old Calusa Lakes resident who lives in Nokomis, Fla. said. “Every pilot had his own target and we had to memorize everything about that target.
“My target was a North Korean airfield. I studied that same target for three years. Among the three fighter squadrons based on Okinawa – the 12th, 44th and the 57th – 15 pilots spent three days every other month in ‘The Pad.’ This is what we called it when it was our turn to be on alert with a nuclear bomb in the bomb bay of our F-105s ready to scramble,” Hofelich explained.
When waiting at “The Pad” for a mission that never came they lived in a little hut on base for 72 hours near their fighter-bombers. They couldn’t drink, but they could play a lot of poker waiting for the alarm bell to go off and hoping it never happened. They were lucky.
Hofelich married his wife, Joan, about the time he was assigned to Okinawa for a two year tour of duty. About the time she arrived there their daughter, Cynthia, was born.
“We bought a little one bedroom, one bath house with a kitchen in Okinawa for $2,800. We lived like kings among the natives,” he recalled with a smile. “We had a maid and a gardener to take care of the place. My wife and I enjoyed Okinawa so much we had my time there extended a year.
“All the time I was there I didn’t think about the nuclear mission much when we were in ‘The Pad.’ But later on we’d think about it, but we didn’t talk to our wives about what was going on. We just told them we were going to ‘The Pad’ for three days and that was that,” Hofelich said.
He and the other F-105 pilots rationalized their potentially fatal nuclear missions by observing: “I’d rather be in the air delivering a nuclear bomb than receiving one.’ They looked at their mission this way, “We were defending the United States of America. You just did your job, that’s what we were doing.
“I don’t think they worried about us getting back after dropping a nuclear bomb. We just hoped there was an airfield to land on when we got back home,” he said.
“Think about the big picture. We had B-52 bombers in the air all the time filled full of nuclear bombs ready to drop on a moments notice. Many of our submarines carried nuclear war heads, plus we had scores of other fighter planes all over the globe ready to scramble with more nuclear bombs. Then there were the long range guided nuclear missiles in silos back in the U.S. It’s kinda scary when you think about it all,” Hofelich observed.
Fortunately for him and the rest of the world, he never scrambled his F-105 with a nuclear bomb aboard. He never got off the ground while on alert with a nuke and neither did any of his squadron buddies.
The 12th Tactical Fighter Squadron’s day-to-day mission was to fly into North Vietnam and drop conventional bombs on predetermined targets picked out by the top brass. Hofelich is still bitter they weren’t allowed to bomb certain areas like Haiphong Harbor.
“Typically four of us would fly from an airbase in Korat, Thailand on our bombing missions into North Vietnam. On a normal mission each of our F-105s would drop eight, 750 pound bombs on a target. That’s more than a B-17 from World War II could drop,” he said. “It was about 450 to 500 miles one way to the target. A mission would take us about 2 to 2 ½ hours.”
The F-105 was the workhorse of the Air Force in North Vietnam. They dropped most of the bombs and took most of the punishment from enemy fire during these flights.
“I think the Air Force bought 750 F-105s. Of that number some 390 were shot down over Vietnam,” he said. “Small ground fire got most of us flying F-105s. The mission Hofelich remembers best was one he flew on July 7, 1965. It was the worst mission of the war for him.
“I was the Number 4 guy in a flight of four F-105s that were sent up to knock out a couple of bridges in North Vietnam. When the four of us got to our targets we paired off. J.T., the flight leader, and I took one bridge and Frank and Don took the other,” he said.
“When Don came up from his dive on the other bridge his F-105 was in flames. He had to punch out. We saw his parachute open, but that was the last we ever saw of him,” Hofelich said. “We circled the area in our F-105s to try and provide cover for him until the rescue helicopter arrived. We probably stayed longer than we should, because when I hooked up to the tanker I only had about 30 seconds of fuel left.
“J.T. let me fuel up first because I was the lowest on fuel. The tanker saved my life.”
The three surviving members of that ill fated-flight were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for trying to do what they could to protect a fellow aviator who had been shot down over enemy territory.
Considering the commendation he received more than four decades later Hofelich said, “It’s not like we really deserved the DFC. We were only trying to help our buddy. It wasn’t like we did some act of heroism.”
By 1967 he had spent almost seven years in the Air Force. By then he was a captain, but wanted to move on with his life and do something else. After he was discharged Hofelich decided to become a school teacher. His father had been a teacher and a high school football coach.
He had graduated from tiny Wittenberg College in Ohio years before with a degree in biology and the idea of becoming a doctor. However, he was smittened by an Air Force recruiter and signed up for the wild blue.
Hofelich wound up teaching biology and coaching at Avon Lake High School outside Cleveland, Ohio.
“Unlike my father who coached football, I started out with the girl’s tennis team. You know a coach is only as good as his material. We had two great kids on that team. We went to the state the first year I was their tennis coach,” he said.
Hofelich went on to coach track and field and golf. He ran track himself and played golf all his life. He had winning teams in all three sports during the 23 years he taught biology and coached.
“In 1993 I was inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame at Avon High School. I was fortunate enough to have good kids and we won a lot of championships,” he said as he looked at a plaque on the wall of his study proclaiming him a member of the Hall of Fame.
Hofelich and his wife, Joan, moved to the west coast of Florida in 1999 after he retired to be near their daughter, Cynthia, and her family who lives in Brandon, outside Tampa. They have two grandchildren.
CITATION TO ACCOMPANY
THE AWARD OF THE DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS TO
CHARLES G. HOFELICH
First Lieutenant Charles G. Hofelich distinguished himself by heroism while participating in aerial flight as pilot of an F-105 Thunderchief jet fighter during an attack on a heavily defended enemy position on 7 July 1965. On that date, Lieutenant Hofelich demonstrated exceptional diligence, perseverance, and courage while significantly enhancing the effectiveness of rescue operations on behalf of his downed fellow pilot. The outstanding heroism, aerial skill, and devotion to duty displayed by Lieutenant Hofelich reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Name: Charles G. Hofelich
D.O.B: 2 Nov. 1938
D.o.D: 18 April 2017
Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio
Current: Nokomis, Fla.
Entered Service: February 1962
Discharged: August 1968
Unit: 12 Tactical Fighter Squadron
Commendations: Distinguished Flying Cross
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, October 11, 2010 and is republished with permission.
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Charles G. Hofelich
November 02, 1938 – April 18, 2017
Charles “Chuck” G, Hofelich Jr , age 79, passed peacefully on April 18, 2017 at home, in the hands of his loving Savior Jesus Christ.
Charles “Chuck” Hofelich was born on Nov. 02, 1938 as the first child of Charles G. Hofelich Sr and Jean (nee Zander) Hofelich.
Charles is survived by his loving wife and lifetime friend Joan (nee Ramsdale) Hofelich, Charles and Joan were married for 55 years in a strong and wonderful marriage. In addition, Charles was survived by his loving daughter Cynthia (Craig) Luty of Brandon, FL and his loving granddaughters, Jessica Katherine Luty and Victoria Jean Luty of Brandon, FL. Charles was also survived by his loving brother James (Denise) Hofelich of Westlake, Ohio and his 5 Nieces and Nephews, of whom he loved and was very proud of.
Charles was very proud of his German heritage and his Cleveland, Ohio roots. Charles attended John Marshall High School participating in both football and continued his academics at Wittenberg University of Springfield, Ohio. Upon graduation, Charles enrolled as an officer in the United States Air Force and served his country as an F-105 Fighter Pilot during the Vietnam-era. Charles participated in numerous missions and was a very proud member of the River Rats organization. With honorable notation Charles was awarded the “Distinguished Flying Cross” for his service. God and country was often a Charles motto for a successful life.
After his military career, Charles turned to higher education and became a high school teacher, mentor, and coach at Avon Lake High School, in which he served 25 years. Charles was also a proud member of the Avon Lake Hall of Fame, in which Charles always felt that sports always played a critical role in character building. Charles was an avid golf player and coached golf, tennis and girls track teams in which he took all three sport team individuals to the state championships. Charles was a Browns, Cavs, Indians, and Buckeyes fan to the end. Charles loved and enjoyed singing by participating in the Lemon Bay Choral Group, Barbershop quartets, Men’s church chorus or simply singing prayers at the dining table. Charles honored and loved his Savior his entire life.
A Husband, a Father, a grandfather, a friend of many, Charles will be deeply missed. Please come celebrate Charles’ life from 5-8 PM, Wednesday, April 26, 2017 at Farley Funeral Home, Venice Chapel. A Memorial Service will be held at 11 AM, Thursday, April 27 at Emmanuel Lutheran Church. To share a memory visit http://www.farleyfuneralhome.com.
Published in Sarasota Herald Tribune from Apr. 21 to Apr. 23, 2017
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