Tag Archives: air rescue service

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

Remembering a Korean War Hero: Captain Elliot Dean Ayer, USAF

The Iron Triangle Claimed the Last 18th FBW Mustang Pilot

It was nearly dark at 1915 hours on 25 July 1952, when Captain Elliott Dean Ayer, Flight Leader of Filter How Flight was “wheels up” from K-46, Hoengsong, SK, on a twilight reconnaissance of a North Korean MSR.

K-46 Forward Operating Base for the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing, 1952-53.
K-46 Forward Operating Base for the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing, 1952-53.

It was rapidly getting dark, making it harder for ground observers to make out the “655” side number or the “Lovely Lady” on the left cowling or “Lady Louise” on the right cowling.  His four-ship flight included 1st Lt. William McShane flying Number Two, 1st Lt. C. J. Gossett was Number Three, and 1st Lt. Rexford R. Baldwin was Number Four. Ayer was one of the Korean War’s most experienced pilots and leaders, having served with distinction as a soldier, NCO and combat pilot during WWII.  He was highly experienced in the F-51 Mustang, having earned several decorations for his bravery during heavy air combat in the Italian theater in WWII.  Following his appointment as How Flight Leader of the 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron on 1 June just a few weeks before, he had been selected by the 18th FB Wing to fly its historic 45,000th combat mission, a great personal honor.

Captain Elliot Dean Ayer, USAF
Captain Elliot Dean Ayer, USAF (left) is congratulated by Colonel Sheldon Brinson, Commander of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group (the combat flying squadrons of the 18th Wing), after flying the Wing’s 45,000th combat mission on July 14, 1952. He was killed in action two weeks later.

Further, he had been recommended for another Distinguished Flying Cross for his leadership in directing Mission 1890 on June 25th, a harrowing helicopter extrication of a Navy Corsair pilot from off the side of a mountain west of Wonsan under heavy fire.  The mission involved six Mustangs and one H-5 Dragonfly helicopter.  Tragically, although the rescue mission was initially successful, the waiting Chinese used Ens. Ron Eaton as bait, and shot the helicopter down five miles from the site.  Minutes later, Ayer’s wingman, 1st Lt. Archie Connors, was also shot down while making a “low, fast pass” over the helicopter crash site to ascertain the fate of its crew and passenger.  Mission 1890 became the most deadly helicopter rescue of the Korean War. Tonight was to be just another twilight MSR interdiction.  But for Captain Ayer, it was the last mission, the one from which he never returned.  He became the last 18th FB Wing Mustang pilot killed in combat before it transitioned into the F-86 Sabre-jet in February 1953. © Copyright 2015 BelleAire Press, LLC Next: Pearl Harbor Veteran

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