The heroic Vietnam War hero Robert “Bob” Pardo of the United States Air Force passed away on December 5 in College Station, Texas.
He was 89.
On March 10, 1967, US Air Force captain Pardo and weapons officer 1st Lt. Steve Wayne were traversing hostile territory in Vietnam during a bombing run.
Flying alongside another F-4C Phantom airplane, piloted by Capt. Earl Aman and 1st Lt. Robert Houghton, the pair of jets tasked with eliminating North Vietnam’s only steel mill, which was heavily fortified with anti-aircraft guns and artillery.
As soon as the enemy began firing from the ground, both Pardo’s and Aman’s Phantoms took damage.
“We took at least one hit, maybe two, right in the belly of the airplane,” Pardo recounted in a 2015 interview with the Air Force Veterans in Blue program.
Unfortunately for Aman, his plane took another shot after he took the first enemy contact, and he ran out of fuel before he could safely return to base.
“I knew if I didn’t do anything, they would have to eject over North Vietnam into enemy territory, and that would have resulted in their capture for sure,” Pardo said. “At that time, if you were captured by civilians, you were probably going to be murdered on the spot.”
To save his fellow pilots, Pardo heroically slammed Aman’s jet into the ground by pressing his plane’s nose onto Aman’s tailhook, a retractable landing hook on the underside of the plane.
Pardo helped Aman’s Phantom decrease altitude by 1,500 feet per minute and guided the plane back into friendly territory.
With Pardo’s assistance, Aman’s Phantom was able to descend at a rate of 1,500 feet per minute and return to friendly airspace.
Friendly forces rescued both aircrews after they safely ejected over the Laotian border.
“My dad taught me that when your friend needs help, you help,” the Vietnam War hero answered.
“I couldn’t have come home and told him I didn’t even try anything because that’s exactly what he would have asked me. He would’ve said, ‘Did you try?’”
Though it would seem his command would be greatly pleased with his selfishness, Lt. Gen. William Wallace ‘Spike’ Momyer, commander of the 7th Air Force in Vietnam, would reprimand him for sacrificing his multimillion-dollar jet in a rescue.
Facing a court-martial, Pardo was saved from punitive actions by his wing commander, Col. Robin Olds, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
Twenty years subsequent to the air rescue, Pardo would get the Silver Star, the third-highest military decoration, for his deeds.
Aside from his Silver Star, his awards include the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart, Air Medal with twelve Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Meritorious Service Medal.
Pardo joined the Air Force in 1954 at the age of nineteen, after been born in Herne, Texas, in 1934.
Throughout the Vietnam War, he flew 132 missions.
With the rank of lieutenant colonel, Pardo left the Air Force in 1974.
“He is a legend, but his legacy is the thing he did and you can do things like that, it doesn’t have to be pushing somebody’s airplane, you can be helping somebody,” his son, John Pardo told KBTX on Wednesday.
“His character was one of outstanding individuals, his principles were unparalleled, and his love for his country was utmost in his mind. Helping Earl and Bob Houghton the best we could is the greatest example ever, in the air, of one person trying to save somebody else’s life.”
“That is the only time that one airplane has actually pushed the other in aviation history.”