Baited Trap, the Back Story

There is so much of oneself that becomes invested in an effort such as this book, a story that in many respects I have been living a part of since I remember wrestling as a boy with my uncle, Archie, in my grandparent’s living room. His loss on 25 June 1952 was devastating to the family, and to me personally. It was as if I had lost my older brother. In fact, he was closer in age to me, his nephew, than he was to my father, his older brother.

As you review Baited Trap, I know that we share a deep appreciation for the air rescue mission and those who fulfill it, then and now. I also know that when you finish the book, you will have an even greater appreciation for those pioneers of the air rescue service, such as Captain Wayne Lear and Master Sergeant Bobby Holloway–who flew daunting missions in rickety aircraft and created the new air rescue doctrine out of whole cloth.

I thought that I should explain some of the “back story” of Baited Trap, events, objectives and how the story unwinds, of what happened that Wednesday afternoon on June 25, 1952—and afterwards.

Because I grew up with Archie, I knew he was special—witty, mischievous, a leader and risk taker. He was exciting to be around.

As I learned more about Wayne Lear and Ron Eaton, I was also impressed by their character, drive, professionalism and deep down “goodness,” if you will. The same is true of other principals in the story including Bobby Holloway and Elliot Ayer.

The more I learned about them, the more that I wanted you to know about them.
Baited Trap, the Ambush of Mission 1890 is, as the title notes, an incredible story of airmanship, bravery and dedication. It is even more the life story of the three airmen who were killed on that mission.

I wanted you to know as much as possible about them—as well as what they did. Knowing them as you will, I knew that you would appreciate the rich and promising lives these young men had before them and that they put on line when they served their country in “defense of Freedom,” as it is called. And, once you knew Wayne and Ron and Archie, I felt certain that you would miss them almost as much as we who knew them in real life still do. I hoped that your sharing their loss would illustrate through the “human drama,” the real price of “defending Freedom,” including the bleak aftermath facing the devastated families they left behind—the “what might have beens” and the costs of lost opportunities represented by lives that were ended many decades too soon.

You will find a great deal of imagery in Mission 1890—photographs, cartoons and memorabilia.

The Bowker’s Book Wire reviewer pointed out the ways in which I used this technique in Truckbusters From Dogpatch: “With more than 1,000 black-and-white photographs and an engaging page layout somewhere between magazine and scrapbook, Truckbusters from Dogpatch is a rich historical document, entertaining read, and ode to the dedication, professionalism, creative problem-solving, and sacrifice of more than 3,500 of the Air Force’s finest.”

Baited Trap includes not only photographs, of which there are hundreds, but also images that represent and illustrate important aspects of their lives–a letter of acceptance, a dog tag, a sports medal. I believe images help the reader share the look and feel and impact of the world lived by those we are attempting to bring back to life.

Having lived the Baited Trap story in many ways, I knew the impact that Archie’s loss had on our family. I did not know or appreciate the extent of similar losses to the other families involved. I do now…and so will you.

Most military histories focus on the mission, or perhaps those who flew it, as well.
I have also tried to accomplish these worthy objectives in Baited Trap, because the mission and the units behind those who flew them truly made history. For the Third Air Rescue Squadron (3ARS), the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing and the USAF, Mission 1890 was over on 25 June 1952. For the families, however, it will never be over. The “story” of Mission 1890 continues to this day.

Long after the shooting on that North Korean plateau had ended, the families were caught up in the agonies and bleaknesses of the “missing in action, presumed alive” world—an empty life of hanging on to any shred of information, parsing every word of every sentence of every turgid letter from the “Bureau of Personnel,” writing letters of hope to other family members and trying to sound up beat and positive, even when all reasonable hope was a distant glimmer at the end of a bleak tunnel of dread.

Baited Trap includes many letters to the families and from the officials dealing with status, personal effects and human remains. These letters constituted both a thread of hope and a bleak tunnel of dread for the families in the years following 1952. Some of the information included verges on repetitious. Some official information is erroneous. It is recounted in the book as it happened because that is how the “story” unfolded for the families—watching the mail box and dreading the telegrams, glued to the television news in the hope that a repatriated POW’s name might be familiar, or miracle of miracles, the one name above all you would want to see is there. That roller coaster of uncertainty, doubt and endless unanswered questions faced each of the families involved and is also part of the story.

Slowly, as one set of hopes died, others would begin to grow, as Baited Trap recounts. Lives, however battered and broken, could be put back together. All of them tried—Della, Frankie, Dolly and Marguerite—not all were successful. The eventual toll for Mission 1890 was much greater than the three servicemen, as it turned out. That too, is part of the story.
If a message emerges from the true stories recounted in Baited Trap it might be something like this…

When it is necessary to send the fine young men and women of America’s military into harm’s way to defend Freedom, remember that for some, perhaps the bravest and the best, the price will be their lives, their futures.

The real price will be the “cost of lost opportunity,” the “what might have beens,” for them and for many of their family and those they left behind to try and rebuild shattered lives.

The price for the servicemen and women will be their lives and it will be paid at the time they are killed in action.

The price for the families and loved ones is unknowable and endless. It continues from the day of the “I regret to inform you” telegram or notification until the last member of that family dies who knew and loved them. It continues for our country by its not benefiting from the lifetime of contributions to our society made by these outstanding individuals whose lives ended so prematurely.

To America’s leaders: be cautious with the futures of our young men and women, and the families from which they came. Because they are our beloved sons and daughters, husbands and wives, we know they will fulfill the mission to the best of their ability when we send them. Just make sure the mission is worthy of their sacrifice…and make sure their sacrifices are truly “long remembered by a grateful nation.”

Thank you also for your personal investment in this incredible story. Once you have read Baited Trap, I hope you will agree with the Air Force general whose last letter to one of the widows created by that heroic mission assured her that her husband’s sacrifice would “long be remembered by a grateful Nation.” This book is to ensure that our Nation does long remember, with gratitude, Wayne and Archie and Ron, and all the other servicemen and women whose defense of Freedom has cost them their lives.

Tracy Connors
Gainesville, Florida

JU Leader Defends Freedom in Korea

Truckbusters From Dogpatch: The Combat Diary of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing in the Korean War, 1950-1953, is perhaps the largest unit history ever published on the so-called “Forgotten War.”  Baited Trap, the Ambush of Mission 1890, is the story of the most costly helicopter air rescue mission of the Korean War, and one of the most dary missions in air rescue history.  Both books have very special significance for Jacksonville University. The story of a book that one reviewer said he “thought would never be written and that, in fact, could not be written,” began nearly 70 years years ago at Jacksonville Junior College.

For most of the Korean War, pilots of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing flew the venerable, but aging F-51 “Mustangs.” The cover of Truckbuster From Dogpatch shows one clawing for altitude with a heavy combat load in January 1951. (below) 1st Lt. Archie Connors was lost during a daring, successful but tragic rescue mission in Korea.
1st Lt. Archie Connors, USAF

The story of  books that one reviewer said he “thought would never be written and that, in fact, could not be written,” began nearly 70 years years ago at Jacksonville Junior College.

It took JU Distinguished Alumnus retired Navy Captain Tracy D. Connors over five years to research and write the remarkable, 712-page, true-life account of the U.S. Air Force’s 18th Wing from 1950 to 1953, the time during which their heroic air-combat efforts flying F-51 “Mustang” fighter-bombers helped save South Korea from occupation by North Korean and Chinese military

JJC Student Council President. In December, 1948 Archie Connors was elected President of the Jacksonville Junior College Student Council. He installed the new officers of the sophomore class at JJC during ceremonies at the Student Council. Connors (left) inducts Philip Helow, Sophomore Class President, Rosemary McEachern, class secretary, and Shannon Poppell, sophomore vice president.

forces. Dr. Connors, now a Gainesville resident, has published 14 management handbooks for not-for-profit organizations.

Connors used formerly classified monthly records and reports, plus hundreds of personal recollections and over 1,000 photographs to spotlight and profile the men who actually fought the war. “I wanted Truckbusters to become for the reader a gritty, dusty, tent city full of the sounds, smells and character of those who served with the 18th in Korea—pilots, ammorers, mechanics, clerks, medics, and supply sergeants—who still, live and speak and fret and worry about how to keep that venerable, but out-dated F-51 Mustang “Spam Can” flying,” he explained.

Truckbusters is dedicated to 1st Lt. Archibald “Archie” Connors, President of the JJC Student Council in 1948-49, and CAPT Connors’ uncle–“more like my older brother,” he explained.

The JJC Track Team for the Florida Relays of 1948. Connors (first row, second from left) brought home medals for the Sprint Medley Relay and the Mile Relay for Freshman and Junior College Class participants.

After attending Robert E. Lee High School, serving briefly in the U.S. Navy during WWII, and graduating from JJC as a pre-law student, Connors completed flight training as a U.S. Air Force pilot. He was posted to Korea and the 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron (a component of the 18th F-B Wing), in late 1951. During a daring rescue mission into the so-called “Iron Triangle” on 25 June 1952, Lt. Connors was killed in action.  CAPT Connors’ determination to learn the details of his uncle’s last mission, grew into a comprehensive history of the 18th Wing during the Korean War.

Then JU President Dr. Kerry D. Romesburg welcomes a copy of Truckbusters From Dogpatch into the Swisher Library collection from CAPT Tracy D. Connors, who also donated six other management handbooks he has published for not-for-profit organizations and volunteer administration.

A Truckbuster’s section entitled “Into the Iron Triangle,” describes the compelling story of Lt. Connors’ final mission, one of the Korean War’s most heroic–and costly. Using declassified official records, extensive research, tracking down the scattered families of heroic airmen, and the Freedom of Information Act, CAPT Connors pieced together the story of what five incredibly brave and determined Air Force and Navy pilots did that long June afternoon. After three costly attempts to pluck a downed Navy Ensign off the side of a heavily defended mountainside, the helicopter and its escorting Mustang fighter-bombers were successful in

After three costly attempts to pluck a downed Navy Ensign off the side of a heavily defended mountainside, the helicopter and its escorting Mustang fighter-bombers were successful in rescueing the young pilot. Several miles away however, enemy fire brought down the helicopter. Two of three airmen aboard were killed. Lt. Connors was shot down and killed several minutes later as he made a low level pass over the downed helicopter attempting to provide further protection. One crewman survived 14 months as POW.

The 18th Wing made an enormous contribution to the Korean War, Connors noted, including saving the day during the Pusan Perimeter (almost Dunkirk) period, during the breakout after Inchon, and during the retreat from the Yalu, “during which they saved many thousands of American lives.” Later, the 18th’s unrelenting interdiction played a key role in bringing about the Armistice that reestablished the nation of South Korea. The 18th Wing flew more combat missions that any other unit in the Korean

The 18th Wing flew more combat missions that any other unit in the Korean War, and one of its squadron commanders was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, one of only two such awards to Air Force personnel during that war. The Wing’s integrity,

The Wing’s integrity, professionalism and dedication also contributed significantly to the fledgling Air Force core values so often cited these days, Connors explained.

Connors believes strongly that Truckbusters as a story of an embattled American military unit that worked through enormous challenges to achieve military success “is highly relevant to all Americans today. The Korean War is called by some Americans ‘the Forgotten War.’  But not by millions of South Koreans who regained their freedoms, self-determination and future.  It’s not called that by the families and friends of those who fought, bled and died there.  And, it should not be forgotten by those today who understand the on-going importance of what was achieved by those who struggled there. Our nation owes those who served in Korea a significant debt of gratitude for what they did to protect Freedom. Their deeds and achievements continue to shape the world over half a century later,” he emphasized.

Book Review, Graybeard Magazine, Korean War Veterans Association, Jan-Feb, 2008

“…this book finally tells a story that has not been told but should have been.”

Kris Barnett

Graybeard Magazine Book Review

One of the most insidious effects of war is the way unforeseen and unplanned circumstances can intersect so many lives. Baited Trap: The Ambush of Mission 1890 presents the surreal events that followed what was hoped to be a successful rescue mission in the Korean mountains. But what happened to the pilots and the rescuers leads to long-term ramifications for the men and their families.

Tracy D. Connors [author of Truckbusters From Dogpatch], the nephew of one of the F-51 pilots from the Rescue Combat Air Patrol sent to protect a downed Navy fighter pilot that day, presents the results of his extensive research regarding Mission 1890.

Connors’ interviews with the families of the rescuers, original documents such as military records and official correspondence, and personal letters and experiences are woven together to create comprehensive depiction of the ill-fated mission as well as a riveting portrayal of each of the man (and their loved ones) whose lives changed on June 25, 1952.

After providing helpful background with a brief history of the procedures and equipment used in many military rescue missions, Connors introduces the men whose fate intertwined in what is described as “the deadliest helicopoter rescue mission of the Korean War.”

Readers get to know Navy Fighter Pilot Ensign Ron Eaton, whose combat mishap sets in motion the rescue mission. Readers meet Rescue Combat Air Patrol pilot Archie Connors and the extended Connors family. Also profiled is Captain Wayne Lear, the pilot of the rescue helicopter sent to rescue Ensign Eaton. We also meet Elliot Ayer, flight leader for the combat rescue mission, and Bobby Dale Holloway, the medical technician who flew the rescue mission with Captain Lear.

Connors skillfully weaves personal and professional details about each man, bringing depth and interest to the book. However, he never loses sight of his purpose in publishing the details of this little-known event in military history: to bring to light the daring mission and what it represented for the men and their families. The dramatic plot twists and turns are continually surprising, even for the reader who is most familiar with the circumstances surrounding the Korean War.

The reader may easily forget that the events depicted are not fictional. Furthermore, the men involved in the mission were never officially recognized for their sacrifices as part of Mission 1890. However, this book finally tells a story that has not been told but should have been.

After detailing the mission, Connors describes its aftermath. At the time, the whereabouts of the servicemen involved in the initial crash as well as the rescue mission were unknown. With credible information, the families clung to hope that their loved ones were alive as prisoners of war. Each man was listed as Missing in Action, leaving the families in heartbreaking limbo.

A remarkable amount of correspondence between the families and military officials is presented in the book, capturing the frustration and uncertainty. As the men’s lives did, the families begin to intertwine as they connect with one another in the years that follow the mission. Sadly, one by one, the belongings of the men make their way back to their families, as do some of their remains. Nonetheless, the returned belongings and remains are not enough to provide closure for many family members.

Connors includes final thoughts in his concluding section: “Slowly, as one set of hopes died, others would begin to grow, as Baited Trap recounts. Lives, however battered and broken, could be put back together again. All of them tried…not all were successful. The eventual toll for Mission 1890 was much greater than the three servicemen, as it turned out.”

By Kris Barnett

in Book Review, Graybeard Magazine, Korean War Veterans Association, Jan-Feb, 2008

Dr. Forrest L. Marion, Oral Historian, USAF Historical Research Agency; Author: That Others May Live, USAF Air Rescue in Korea

…includes a ‘gold mine’ of documentary and photographic evidence at the family level. I believe the story will resonate with many readers…”
Dr. Forrest Marion

“This story is a tragic, but wonderful, example of how war may affect the loved ones of those who are lost. It includes a ‘gold mine’ of documentary and photographic evidence at the family level. I believe the story will resonate with many readers, especially the families of those U.S. Servicemen lost in military operations since 2001. In ‘Baited Trap,’ deaths in combat, perceived or actual bureaucratic insensitivities, and human failings combine with the sometimes sorrowful and failed–and sometimes encouraging and successful–efforts of loved ones to cope with their respective losses. There are undoubtedly many American families today who would draw a measure of strength and courage from a poignant reminder that they are not the first to experience a war for whom there may never be final closure in this life.”

Col. Baylor Haynes, USAF (Ret); Founding President, The Jolly Greens and the Air Rescue Association

“There should have been some Silver Stars and a Medal of Honor award for those that participated in Mission 1890…”

Col. Baylor Haynes, USAF-Ret

“When we were in combat we lived in a different world. We approached life differently. The other guy may get killed, but not us. If you do get killed then it’s all over for you. But, it’s only the beginning for our loved ones we left behind. At home our loved ones wait, afraid to look out the window for fear of seeing a car stop in front and military personnel get out. It it is over for us, it is just beginning for them and they will be affected all of their lives by the loss. Every birthday, anniversary and holiday they will feel the effects. I think your approach will be welcomed by the families of those you profiled in Baited Trap. In many respects, they are still going through the waiting-to-know and through the loss. Those who never went through it will get new insights into what pain and anguish it brings. There should have been some Silver Stars and a Medal of Honor award for those that participated in Mission 1890–and Bob Holloway should have been rescued. He would have been in 1965-66. Good story!”

Lt. Col. John W. Caldwell, USAF (Ret); Author: Bless ‘Em All

“…a long overdue tribute to the Air Rescue Service and particularly for these airmen whose bravery, airmanship and dedication to life saving duty is unsurpassed in military history.”
Lt. Col. John Caldwell, USAF-Ret

Captain Tracy Connors has presented a remarkably accurate picture of the courage and dedication of those pilots and airmen who risked and sometimes gave their lives that others may live during the Korean War. At the same time he has also identified and described some of the shortcomings of Air Force leaders and the chain of command at that time who lacked adequate knowledge of rotary wing capabilities and potential–a relatively new branch of aviation. Those of us fortunate enough to have participated in the combat rescue of downed airmen live for the rest of our lives with a sense of gratitude that we were graced with that very rare opportunity.

The loss of any American warrior in the service of his or her country is a tragedy to all of us and most painfully to their loved ones. The author has captured both the pride and the distressing sorrow felt by families when they realize their warriors will not be returning home to the hero’s welcome they so richly deserve. Baited Trap is a long overdue tribute to the Air Rescue Service and particularly for these airmen whose bravery, airmanship and dedication to life saving duty is unsurpassed in military history.

Judy, Virginia

“Della…I just had to let you that I am enthralled by the book…I’m nearly finished chapter 6 and it is fascinating…I will let you know more as I get farther in the book…Thank you so-o-o-o much for sending it…is in indeed a part of history that should be told!”

M.S., San Rafael, CA

[A recent letter to Bob and Della Holloway]

“Dear Bob and Della, I finally finished [Baited Trap, the Ambush of Mission 1890]. Probably one of the hardest reads I have ever done since I know you both personally. Many nights I had to put the book down because I couldn’t see through my tears. Della, you are a very courageous and gutsy woman!!!!!! I admire you for all you did. I don’t know how you kept your sanity all those years, but Faith is a great thing.”

“And Bob, as I was reading with complete awe, I would “TRY” and read certain things to [my husband], but my emotions got the better of me and told him to read it himself. Who knew? You look at people you have known for years, and yet there is always a story that you don’t know about. The way [Baited Trap was written], I felt I was with you on this horrible journey all the way. I had such a heavy heart reading this book, but then thought about the outcome and what two wonderful people you are. You are both heroes in your own way.”

“Bob, I have always told you no one says the Pledge of Allegiance like you. Now I know why. I cry at the National Anthem (I’m Italian, what can I say!) I’m sure the next time the Pledge comes up I will let the tears flow. I am so very happy that I was able to read this book. Your children and grandchildren must be just so proud of the two of you. I know I am. Love, M.

P.S The next time I see a ham and cheese sandwich I know exactly what I will be visualizing!!!!!! “

DLH, Marin County, CA

“Last night we received a phone call from a friend, who is a school teacher, telling us that it is the very best history book he has ever read and it will definitely be part of his library for future use. This morning we received a phone call from a friend in Colorado who has one of the books and just can’t put it down. It arrived at his home yesterday and he stayed up last night to continue reading it. Don’t know what comments you are receiving from the general public, but our friends are definitely intrigued by the book.”