Ludington native flew night missions over Vietnam.

August 28, 2014
Gordie Tushek

Gordie Tushek

The traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall will be on display at Ludington City Park until Sunday, Aug. 31. For more information, click on the Mason County Allied Veterans Wall Project website here.

By Kate Krieger. Senior Correspondent.

LUDINGTON – On August 5, 1964, Everett Alvarez became the first American pilot to be shot down and taken prisoner in the Vietnam War. The following year Gordie Tushek graduated from Ludington High School. While studying at Michigan Tech, Gordie decided he too wanted to fly and fly fast. Immediately after graduation, he entered the U.S. Air Force. In pilot training, Gordie earned the opportunity to select the aircraft for his first operational assignment. By choosing the F-4 Phantom II fighter, Gordie knew he had volunteered for the Vietnam War.

In November 1971, he arrived at Ubon RTAFB in Thailand. Gordie was assigned to the 497 TFS “Nite Owls,” which was the only fighter squadron in the Air Force dedicated to night missions. He trained and became an OWLFAC, a specialized night forward air controller mission. Gordie formed lifetime bonds with other combat aviators. Aircrews flying in the Red River Valley of North Vietnam, Hanoi to Haiphong, encountered the most heavily defended airspace in the history of aerial warfare. Though Gordie was never jumped by enemy MIGs, he had his share of evading anti aircraft artillery (AAA) and surface to air missiles (SAMs). He flew 238 and 1/2 combat missions in the F-4. The half mission left him hanging in his parachute from a tree in the Vietnamese jungle and his Weapons Systems Officer (WSO) on the ground in the valley. In the year he served in Vietnam, Gordie is the only Nite Owl to be rescued. His backseater and all of his other squadron mates lost that year are still somewhere in Southeast Asia. No bodies were recovered.

“We lost quite a few Air Force members,” Gordie said. “We flew mostly at night and a lot of guys left and never came back.”

Gordie said a lot of the missions he and fellow mates went on were single missions, so there were no witnesses to what happened to them when they were shot down in the middle of night.

“They liked to shoot at us,” he said. “They really didn’t want us around.”

Gordie’s mates were never forgotten and their names appear on the polished granite panels One and Two west of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.

“I know quite a few of the names on those panels,” Gordie stated. “Losing friends and knowing the names on the wall, that really gets my attention.”

Before each of the names is a small cross engraved to signify missing or unaccounted for. For all remains that have been recovered the cross is cut again to form a diamond. The cross will be circled if a serviceman were to come home alive after memorial was dedicated in 1982. Today there are still no circled crosses on “The Wall” and efforts continue to get the fullest possible accounting for the 1,641 missing and unaccounted for servicemen and women from the war in Southeast Asia.

When Gordie came home to Ludington in November 1972, Everett Alvarez was still serving in a North Vietnamese prison.

Gordie and his wife, Sondra have visited the Vietnam Memorial in D.C. and they are very excited that the traveling wall is coming to Ludington. They now live in Georgia but own a summer home in Ludington.

“The fact that the wall can be mobilized, I think it’s wonderful,” Gordie said.

Although they will not be able to see the traveling wall since they will be out of town, they hope many people turn out to see it and to show their respect to all those who have paid the ultimate price for their country during the Vietnam War.

“Being in Vietnam was the best of times and the worst of times,” Gordie said. “There are still a lot of people we have no idea where they are. I think it’s wonderful to have the wall available to the general public who cannot go to Washington to see the entire memorial. It really is a wonderful memorial to all the folks we lost.”

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