Ed Scarff of Venice fought in two services in three wars spanning 30 years

Lt. Col. Ed Scarff is about to climb into his F-4 Phantom II fighter-bomber at DaNang Air Base south of the DMZ in Vietnam in 1966. He was the commander of the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Photo provided

Ed Scarff had a 30 year military career that spanned two services and three wars. He enlisted in the Navy in WWII as a teenaged machinest-mate and ended up joining the Air Force’s Aviation Cadet Program and flew jet fighters in Korea and Vietnam.

In August 1950 Scarff graduated from flight school and began his career flying the F-86 Sabre jet . He was assigned to the 94th Fighter Squadron, stateside, about the time the war in Korea was breaking out.

Three years later Scarff was assigned to the 334th Fighter Squadron based at Kimpo Air Base Korea that was located on the south side of the DMZ separating the two Koreas.

“The last combat mission he flew over enemy territory was to fly top cover for a reconnaissance flight whose mission was to photograph the flight lines of all the North Korean air bases.

This photo shows some of Scarff's F-4s refueling at the rear of a 707 refueling tanker during the Vietnam War during the 1960s. Photo provided

“Under the armistice the North Koreans were not to bring in any more planes into the country. The only way we could verify that was to take aerial pictures of the enemy aircraft inventory just before the armistice was signed.

“When we finished our photographic mission we were way up in North Korea. We turned around and started to head home and a little silver aircraft flew across and in front of us at a very low altitude.

“I was flying on Capt. Ralph Parr’s wing position and he called out, ‘Do you see what I see?’

“‘Yea.’

“‘Let’s go check it out,’ he said.

“We were at altitude at the time and we came down fast on the aircraft for a high speed identification pass.. I was following Capt. Parr.. We could see the big red star on its tail. It was a Russian-made IL-28 cargo plane.

“‘Let’s get him!’ Capt. Parr said.

“‘Right,’ I replied and as we pulled our F-86s up together Parr was in the lead. We got into position behind the Russian transport and Ralph started shooting. His bullets walked right  down the plane’s wing and fuselage. The transport disintegrated.

This is the shield for the 480th Fighter Squadron Scarff commanded in Vietnam in the mid 1960s during the war.

“That was the last North Korean aircraft shot down by an American fighter pilot in the Korean War,” Scarff said. “Parr didn’t even save me a shot.

“As we climbed back to high altitude on our way back home I did a fuel check and found I was very, very low. I had two choices: I could either fly toward home and jump out when the plane ran out of fuel and hope for rescue or I could fly out over the water and jump out and wait for rescue. I chose the first course of action.

“By then Ralph and I had climbed to high altitude so I shut down my engine and I did a maximum performance glide. What seemed like an eternity later our base came into sight. I started my engine again to do a straight in landing approach and just as I touched down on the runway my engine quit. I was completely out of fuel.”

Last year Scarff attended a gathering at the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham, Ala. The gathering honored a former North Korean fighter pilot who escaped his Communist regime by flying his MIG-15 to Kimpo Air Base that was located along the DMZ where Scarff and his 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron were stationed during the Korean War, almost 56 years earlier.

The U.S. government had a standing offer: Any MIG-15 pilot who defected and flew his fighter to an American airbase in Korea would be given reward and sanctuary.

Scarff and his flight were just returning from an alert pad scramble mission up north in Korea. We were in the process of landing at home base  when the improbable happened.

“I had just landed and was taxing my F-86 over to its slot on the alert pad when I heard an Englishman, who was flying with us in forth position, say over his intercom: ‘My god, it’s a bloody MIG!’

“A MIG-15 had come straight onto the wrong end of the active runway, fast and low, so as to  elude our anti-aircraft and radar. It passed the Englishman’s F-86 going in the opposite direction when they both were on the runway. Not knowing any of our language and having different radio frequencies the Korean pilot just flew in unannounced and in a hurry.

The MIG pilot got across to the surprised Americans on the ground he was defecting. He was immediately taken to the base headquarters and debriefed with the use of an interpreter. At the same time his fighter plane was pulled into a nearby hanger and thoroughly evaluated for valuable intelligence.

Six decades later Scarff met former North Korean fighter pilot No Kum-Sok for the first time.

He is now known in this country as Kenneth Rowe, he collected a bounty from the U.S. government for the MIG, was granted asylum in this country, learned English, went on to additional university and became an aeronautical engineering professor.

“He’s a great guy and we’ve become friends,” Scarff said.

He returned from his F-86 assignment in Korea and began testing air defense fighter planes at Eglin Air Force Base in North Florida. From there it was on to Germany where Scarff flew F-100 Super Sabres out of Hahn Air Force Base.

He went to Vietnam in 1966 and while there he became the commander of the 480th Fighter Squadron based on DaNang air base.. They were flying F-4 Phantom IIs.

“It was a fighter-bomber that was the work horse of the Air Force in Vietnam,” Scarff said. “We provided support for troops on the ground.”

During his year in Vietnam he received two Distinguished Flying Crosses for gallantry.

“On one occasion he took part in a rescue mission. He was vectored to a beleaguered pilot whose spotter plane had been shot down and he was on the ground about to be overrun/captured by the Vietcong. He kept the VC away from the downed pilot long enough to give our people time to order in the ‘Jolly Green Giant’ (helicopter) and rescue him and take him back to base,” he said.

His second DFC was awarded for interdicting and destroying two heavily traveled highway segments near Queng Khe, North Vietnam despite intense hostile anti-aircraft fire and a malfunctioning aircraft.

He completed his 30 year career in the service and retired as a full colonel in 1974. His last command was commander of the air base in Little Rock, Ark.

He and his wife, Jackie, moved to Venice in 1993. They had four children: Pamela, Marsha, Russell and Richard. Pamela died of MS in 2002 and Russell died of cancer in 2008.


Scarff’s File

Name:Edwin J. Scarff
D.O.B: 23 Nov. 1925
Hometown: Detroit, Mich.
Current: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: 1943
Discharged: 1974
Rank: Colonel
Unit: 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron
Commendations: Two Distinguished Flying Crosses, Bronze Star, Two Meritorious Service, and Thirteen Air Medals.
Service Locations: Pacific, Korea, Vietnam, Germany,and nine duty stations within the Continental United States.


This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Thursday, April 28, 2011 and is republished with permission.

All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be republished without permission. Links are encouraged.

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