Tag Archives: iron triangle

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