From my journalism archives: Colonel Dick Mischke and his service in the Korean War

If there was ever an officer and a gentleman, it would be Air Force Colonel Dick Mischke. I had the privilege of interviewing him in 2000 while working for Prime Time Newspaper’s Kelly Observer. I remember it was a very hot day as we sat and talked in a house that he designed himself.

His comparison of enemy aircraft to mosquitoes still makes me chuckle…

 Col. Dick Mischke reflects on 182nd Fighter Squadron’s role in the Korean War

BY RICHARD ZOWIE

Observer staff writer

AUGUST 17, 2000

As veterans of the Korean War pause to reflect on the war they fought in 50 years ago, they evoke many memories of battles fought, wounds received, friends left behind and friends still unaccounted for.

One of those veterans of the Korean War was Dick Mischke, a retired Air Force colonel who served as a flight commander during the war. Mischke served in the 182nd Fighter Squadron, which today is part of the 149th Fighter Wing at Kelly Air Force Base.

But when the Korean War broke out, there was no 149th FW, and the 182nd FS was stationed at Brooks AFB, where it was organized in 1947. A pioneer among ANG units, the squadron was the first ANG squadron to see combat in Korea, the first to shoot down a MiG-15 jet and the first to successfully demonstrate the applicability of aerial refueling during combat.

Until the Korean War, Mischke and his fellow pilots normally flew in the propeller-driven F-51 aircraft. After the war started, beginning in October 1950, they trained in Lockheed jet-engine T-33 aircraft at Langley AFB, Va., to prepare for their missions in Republic F-84-E “Thunder Jet” aircraft, which they used for combat missions against the Soviet-made MiG aircraft.

“The 182nd FS really helped to usher in the jet age in aviation,” said Mischke, a flight commander during the war. “We were among the first human beings in the whole world to fly around the sky in jet aircraft then. At the time, there were very few jet fighters and no jet bombers, jet cargo aircraft, jet refueling or jet airline planes at all.”

Mischke, who also flew combat missions in P-38 aircraft during World War II, was flying in a F-51 Mustang fighter from Palm Beach, Fla., to Brooks Field on June 25, 1950, when he first heard an announcement on the radio of North Korea invading South Korea. Though America would soon find itself embroiled in a war on the other side of the world, Mischke notes with irony that many in America had never heard of Korea.

“When I landed my plane at Brooks, I asked the aircraft mechanic that met me if he had heard any news about the invasion of South Korea,” Mischke recalled. “The mechanic replied to me, ‘South Where?’”

Subsequently, Mischke and the 182nd FS became an element of the 136th Wing (nicknamed the “Texas Wing” because most of its members were Texans) and “shipped out” in the spring of 1951. They originally were stationed at Itazuke Air Base in Fukuoka, Japan, on the island of Kyushu. This was done because, at the time, North Korean troops occupied all of Korea except for the Pusan Perimeter in the southeastern corner of South Korea.

“Because of this, we would have to fly over 100 miles across the Sea of Japan and then another 200 miles to the bomb line,” explained Mischke, who was promoted to captain early in his tour. “The fighting itself was up way farther from the bomb line. It made for a very long mission and gave us little time to complete our mission and dog fight the MiGs with the necessary high power settings.”

After four months, the 182nd FS relocated to Taegu, Korea. From there, they continued their mission. “Our wing’s assignment was interdiction,” said Mischke. “We provided air-to-ground combat support to Army ground troops. We dive-bombed, strafed and dropped both aerial and napalm rockets. Most of our work dealt with dive-bombing the railroad tracks to cut off supply lines to enemy troops. We would also bomb warehouses, trucks and tanks that we knew were supplying the North Koreans.”

Mischke said his most memorable moment in the Korean War was in 1951 when he and his crew were bombing the main airport in North Korea, located in the capitol of Pyongyang.

“It would be like bombing the national airport in Washington, D.C.,” he explained. “The entire wing — what was left of it since we’d been losing pilots and aircraft all along — consisted of about 24 planes that went up and encountered a lot of MiGs. We dive-bombed the runways so that the enemy aircraft couldn’t use them. The anti-aircraft fire was extremely intense, and the MiGs were all over us like mosquitoes.”

Because the extreme danger of the overall mission, each pilot was to fly no more than 100 combat missions; there was also very little chance of returning to combat duty once pilots completed their missions and were rotated back to the states. One of Mischke’s friends in his squadron was killed on his 96th mission; sadly, another friend was killed while flying on his 99th mission.

During his time in Korea, Mischke had the opportunity to be around a man whom many consider to be the greatest hitter ever to play in Major League Baseball.

“I got to see Ted Williams on base a few times,” Mischke recalled of the Boston Red Sox star, who had a .344 lifetime batting average, 521 career home runs and was the last player to hit over .400 in a single season. “I was stationed in World War II with Joe DiMaggio, who played baseball for special services. As for Williams, he was a Marine pilot. He didn’t talk much and he wasn’t exactly a warm person, but he was well thought of. Ted was a very honorable man who kept his word in whatever he did. He was a great aviator.”

When Mischke finished his 100 combat missions in November 1951, he was transferred to the Air Force’s 5th Fighter Headquarters in Seoul to serve as a mission planning and briefing officer in the fighter division in the command operation center.

Four months later, Mischke returned back home and was stationed at Bergstrom Field in Austin, Texas, and that is where he was when the cease fire was signed. In total during the Korean War, the 182nd FS had flown 5,700 sorties, dropped 6,820 tons of bombs, fired 2,200 rockets and 1.5 million rounds of machine gun ammunition.

Although the Korean War ended in 1953 with a cease fire and no official winner, Mischke says that the 182nd FS played an important role. “Besides helping to pioneer the jet age, the 182nd FS proved itself in the Korean War as a unit that could immediately step up to fulfill the mission given to it,” said Mischke. “We were part of the team that helped keep South Korea out of communist hands.”

After the war, the 182nd FS switched back to flying F-51 and A-26 aircraft before permanently returning to jet aircraft in 1956 — the same year the 182nd FS transferred from Brooks to Kelly. Once Kelly realigns next year, both the 182nd FS and the 149th FW will become tenant organizations of Lackland AFB.

Noble Rot: Writing is hard work

noble rot

If the title of this blog post sounds odd, it comes from two places. I’m told in the winemaking process, the extremely rare fungus that causes wine to have an one-of-a-kind sweetness is called “noble rot”. It’s a fungus, i.e. rot, and it’s noble because it’s something bad that causes something very good.

Noble Rot was also the title of a never-produced screenplay of John Belushi’s, one he’d worked on with comedy writer Don Novello (who’s perhaps best known for his Father Guido Sarducci character on Saturday Night Live). Intended to be a comedy wine caper, the script went through many drafts and rewrites, and on deadline once, Belushi and Novello even had an all-night typing session (keep in mind, this was the day before word processors that could easily revise and print new copies).

Belushi then presented the screenplay to his agent, Michael Ovitz, and to his manager, Bernie Brillstein.

Their verdict was unanimous: terrible, unfunny and, worst of all, unproduceable. Ovitz, according to the Belushi biography Wired, even tried to talk Belushi into shelving the movie in favor of another movie project, The Joy of Sex.

Imagine that…after all that work, the script still was unusable.

Belushi was working on the script up to his untimely death in 1982 at the age of 33. The movie project died with Belushi. Even more tragic for the late Albanian-American comedian, he spent a sizable chunk of the final year or two of his life working on this script, feeling it might be his magnus opus, his piece de resistance.

Amazing how much work can be put into a piece of writing, only to not only radically revise again but sometimes start all over. And sometimes even abandon.

Director Quentin Tarantino recently released his film Inglourious Basterds. (No, English teachers, that misspelling’s not a typo). Tarantino said he spent about 10 years writing the screenplay for this film.

Stories like this make me wonder if people realize just how hard work writing can be.

Great Characters: Anton Chigurh

I must admit that as a movie, I didn’t care much for No Country For Old Men. I got what the movie was about: a new kind of criminal pops up, one that bewilders and terrifies a soon-to-be-retired police sheriff played by Tommy Lee Jones. He has no idea how to deal with this kind of criminal, hence the title of the movie.

Javier Bardem won the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Anton Chigurh, and it was very fitting. He’s a psychopath, but yet oddly-principled murderer who’s after a mountain of cash left over by a drug deal gone bad. His weapon of choice is that device they use to kill cows in the slaughter house. His low, gravelly voice suggests he speaks very seldom. In one scene, he encounters a convenience store clerk who asks a couple of wrong questions. Chigurh gets defensive—but in a way as to not arouse suspicion—and then flips a quarter and tells the man to call it. If the man calls it right, he wins. If he doesn’t, he dies.

He does, and Chigurh tells him to keep his “lucky quarter” in a safe place.

This movie is based on a book, and I think sometime I’ll have to read it. I wonder how the author came up with the idea for Anton Chigurh.

A friend told me that sometimes the creepiest characters in stories like this become even creepier when they do odd things, whether it’s playing “Lucky Quarter” with somebody or having a very pleasant conversation with somebody before engaging in a 100% nothing-personal-it’s-just-business murder of them. Maybe it’s because they’re obsessive compulsive. Or maybe they think that’s the way to intimidate people.

Can you tell me what’s unusual about this blog posting?

Hint: It’s missing something.

Billy took his car to Walmart to buy two gallons of milk. On his way, Billy slid into a ditch to avoid hitting a rabbit. A cop who saw Billy’s mishap found it funny and said, “Billy, a bunny isn’t about to turn into a dodo bird. If you want milk again and gotta motor in your car, just hit that bunny!”

In Walmart, Billy found only skim milk to buy.

Now, it’s six days past, and that skim milk remains in that cold box. Billy won’t drink it.

Taking photos

For my work as a writer, I’ve taken lots of pictures. When I get a camera (especially if it’s digital), I usually prefer to play with settings and experiment. Yes, I know there are instruction manuals, but I find them tedious. Sometimes it’s because they’re targeted towards the master photographer who knows all the lingo and who can read between the lines of the instructions, and other times I simply don’t have the patience or energy to invest an hour of my life to reading and trying to remember. I’m a kinesthetic learner: I learn by doing.

So, it’s fun to go out, play with settings and take lots of pictures. Some pictures are throwaways while others tend to be pretty good. Occasionally, there are those that are really good.

I’d love someday to spend a few days following Annie Leibovitz around and seeing how she works her visual magic.

Back in the saddle of journalism

This past week, I made the rounds to different places that are my beats for the newspaper. Got to meet a few people and chat with them. I also met a few police officers. One thing I’ve learned in civilian journalism and one thing I’ve been told by veterans in the business: it can take a long time to cultivate law enforcement sources and only one badly-written, factually-challenged article to tear it all down.

I look forward to going to township meetings. They can be a great place to meet people, find out what’s going on and develop sources, but I also like to try to kill two proverbial birds with one stone. There’s little sense going if there’s nothing on the agenda that’s out of the ordinary.

From my journalism archives: Former Air Force pilot POW takes Finis Flight

Working at the Randolph Wingspread on Randolph Air Force Base near San Antonio, I had the immense privilege of meeting some of the most wonderful people. You know, people who are far more deserving than to be stuck living life here on earth.

Such a person was Colonel Albert Burer (his surname rhymes with pure), who after being shot down over North Vietnam as a combat pilot spent seven years as a prisoner of war. Amazing man, and I received the honor of interviewing him at his home for this article. He attended POW/MIA Remembrance Day services at Randolph in 2002, and I wrote this article to tell his story. Colonel Bure (as a sign of respect, I prefer to refer to even retired military officers by their rank) struck me as an incredibly-resilient man, loving his country and his faith in God never wavering despite the unspeakable treatment he must’ve received.

Again, such is the man that the world is completely unworthy of.

 

Retired colonel reflects on time spent as POW

Attaining a greater respect for freedom

God, Family and Country credited with helping former pow survive nearly seven years in captivity

By Richard Zowie

Wingspread staff writer

(Originally published in the Randolph Wingspread in 2002; reprinted with permission)

Bases across San Antonio will hold Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Recognition Day ceremonies today to honor those who’ve served as prisoners of war and to memorialize those listed as missing in action.

Retired Colonel Arthur Burer, a former POW who spent nearly seven years imprisoned in North Vietnam, will attend a POW/MIA remembrance service at Lackland Air Force Base’s Air Intelligence Agency today.

During the Vietnam War, Colonel Burer’s mission was to fly RF-101 aircraft on reconnaissance missions into high-threat areas in North Vietnam.

“Our primary mission was to get pre-strike reconnaissance and then fly back and get bomb damage assessment after our combat airplanes struck the targets,” explained Colonel Burer. “Our job was to help prevent the enemy from moving equipment to their forces.”

The colonel would take pictures of the targets before and after the strike using cameras mounted onto the reconnaissance airplanes.

During his 40th mission, March 21, 1966, his aircraft was struck by ground fire. He suffered burn injuries and ejected from the aircraft.

Once on land, he immediately saw several North Vietnamese soldiers running toward him. They chased him into the water and caught him about 300 feet from the shore.

“The further out I went, the deeper it got and the harder it became to move in the water,” Colonel Burer recalled. “When they caught me, it was terrifying.”

The colonel was initially placed in solitary confinement, where he spent two total years during his incarceration. He was moved a few weeks later into a prison camp.

The North Vietnamese interrogated Colonel Burer several times to try to obtain information and tried to brainwash him and other POWs into communist thinking.

“We gave only our name, rank and serial number, in accordance with the Code of Conduct,” the colonel explained.

Colonel Burer recalled that when the mental games didn’t work, the North Vietnamese resorted to physical torture. Although North Vietnam had signed the Geneva Convention, he noted, they considered it inapplicable toward American POWs.

“The North Vietnamese considered us criminal air pirates who’d flown into their country illegally,” Colonel Burer explained. “They felt they could treat us anyway they wanted and wouldn’t be held accountable.”

At first, Colonel Burer and the others resisted the torture but eventually gave what the captors thought was “useful” information.

“We didn’t have much tactical information after that length of time since we didn’t know what else our units were doing,” he explained. “We gave them lies when they tortured us severely enough, saying things like, ‘Major Bugs Bunny will conduct a bridge bombing.’”

Fortunately, the North Vietnameses’ lack of knowledge about American culture made these stories seem believable.

Despite all the hardships, Colonel Burer never doubted that he and the other prisoners would be released.

“I was the biggest optimist in the camp,” he explained. “I had faith in God, in my country and my family.”

Finally, on Feb. 12, 1973, Colonel Burer and the other POWs were released from prison. After spending time at Andrews AFB, Md., for medical treatment, he was reunited with his wife and four children.

“Being a POW gave me a greater respect for freedom and its value,” the colonel explained. “I feel that people should respect our flag and our country, since we live in the best country in the world.”

After a vacation with his family, Colonel Burer requalified on the T-38 aircraft at Randolph. He also took his “finis” flight at Randolph with the 560th Flying Training Squadron. Finally, in 1983 after 32 years of service, Colonel Burer retired.

Through the years since, he has spoken openly about his experiences as a former POW to various organizations.

“I have no problem talking about my experiences,” the colonel explained. “My wife and kids know how I stand and about what happened. I wasn’t bothered by post-traumatic syndrome. I put the war behind me. I did what I was supposed to do and took beatings and woundings for it. But that was what my country was worth to me.”