“I’ll get those dirty bastards…” Remembering Lou Sebille 65 years after he made U.S. Air Force history.
Mission Report No. 26 of 5 August 1950 recorded that “Major Sebille in aircraft number 394, sustained flight damage and made dive on half track, destroying target, aircraft and self… [and in pencil was added] numerous enemy troops.”
After diving his F-51 Mustang into enemy troops, Major Lou Sebille, commanding officer of the 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron was later awarded the first Medal of Honor for the new U.S. Air Force.
Major Lou Sebille’s Heroic Mission
Major Louis J. Sebille, was in command of the 67th Fighter Squadron when it arrived, without airplanes, at Ashiya, Japan on July 31, 1950, explained Lt. Col. Duane “Bud” Biteman. They were to receive twenty-five of the “new” F-51 Mustangs that had arrived the previous week aboard the Navy Carrier, USS BOXER. But because there was insufficient physical space–real estate, to park their planes and house their troops, to base them at Taegu with the rest of us–the 67th would, by necessity, have to remain at Ashiya, on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, and receive logistic support from the 8th Fighter-Bomber Group at Itazuke, 40 miles south of Ashiya.
“It would be a crude, and probably unworkable wartime arrangement–with the 67th’s parent organization, the 18th Group based at Taegu, but having to beg for vital support from a bunch of ‘strangers’ based forty air miles away. Lou Sebille was not a bit happy with that arrangement, and told Lt. Colonel Ira “Ike” Wintermute, our 18th Group C.O. what he thought the results would be.
His angry response to the proposition was unlike the easygoing, friendly personality of Lou Sebille, and he was undoubtedly in a sour mood as he began re-indoctrinating his pilots–who, until that time had been flying the F-80C Lockheed jet fighters for the past year, as we had, training them once again to fly the propeller-driven F-51s, and rebuilding his combat outfit,” Biteman recalled.
They started flying their first combat missions the following day.
By August 2nd Biteman could hear the “Elsewhere” flights [“Elsewhere” was the radio call sign for the 67th Squadron at that time] “operating alongside our elements all along the front lines. I could recognize many of the radio voices of pilots I’d flown with over the past couple of years, and it was hard not to exchange friendly greetings and small-talk over the busy tactical wave-lengths. I talked with Bob Howell, 67th Operations Officer, (an old-time P-51 instructor pilot who had given me my first P-51 check-out at Pinellas, Florida during World War II). Ross Cree, friend and fellow S-2 officer, Ed Hodges, Harry Moore, Joe Lane, Owen Brewer—the whole bunch was up in Korea to help extricate us from the damned bucket of worms we’d gotten ourselves into. We were extremely glad to have their help, for they were capable, experienced, hard-driving fighter pilots.”
Three days later, on August 5th, while each was leading separate flights near H’amchang [36 degrees, 32’N, 128 degrees, 15’W] on the Naktong River, Lou Sebille and Bob Howells would both be killed within five miles and within minutes of each other–both within 15 miles of the base at Taegu!
H’amchang, the little village where Major Lou Sebille died, “was just one of many small groups of mud and straw huts that dotted the countryside along every road and trail in Korea. On the preceding night, August 4th, the North Koreans had managed to establish a minimal beachhead across the summer-shallow Naktong River and, although we were able to stop all daylight movement across the river, the tanks, troops and artillery that had crossed during darkness were moving steadily toward their objective—our nearby base at Taegu. Just a few more miles and they would be within artillery range of our primary airstrip.”
Sebille, leading a flight of 67th Squadron Mustangs out of Ashiya, wound up with but three airplanes when his wingman [Lt. Ken Barber] was forced to return to Ashiya with a rough engine.
“Captain Martin Johnson, his element leader, with Lt. Charles Morehouse on his wing, were informed by the pilot of a T-6 Mosquito spotter, of enemy armor hidden inside several houses in the village of H’amchang. Enemy armor so close to Taegu made our military position “very precarious,” to say the least,” Biteman noted.
Sebille understood the critical tactical situation—perhaps the very success or failure of the US/UN stand in Korea depended on the effectiveness of his fighters.
After the T-6 spotter aircraft fired a target-marker smoke rocket identified the huts that were hiding the Red armor, Sebille began a medium angle dive bomb run. He planned to drop both of his 500-pound GP (general purpose) bombs on the first run. Only one of Sebille’s bombs released on his first attack. The 500-pounds of extra, unbalanced weight under his left wing may have contributed to his near-miss on the target, Biteman noted. The enemy armor was still firing at Sebille’s other element as they attacked nearby targets.
Sebille came down the slot for the second time. The Red gunners had a clear shot at him as he made his bomb run. Just before he reached the release point, Sebille called over the radio that he was hit, and pulled up sharply to the left once more. His flight heard a garbled comment over the radio that included, “I’ll get those dirty bastards…”
He continued his turn, diving straight toward the armored carrier, fired his six rockets in salvo, and held his finger on the trigger to keep his machine guns firing the whole way down. Instead of pulling up when he reached the 2000 foot danger level, he continued to bore in—1000 feet—500 feet—he dove his airplane and his remaining bomb into the target,” Biteman recalled.
The Fighter-Bomber Final Mission Summary for Mission No. 26 of 5 August 1950 noted, “Major Sebille in Aircraft number 394, sustained flak damage and made dive on half track, destroying target, aircraft and self and numerous enemy troops.”
Lou Sebille had, to be sure, “got the bastards…!”
“We pilots speculated at the time,” Barber explained, “whether or not Sebille was mortally wounded or just stubborn and hard headed enough to crash his plane into the enemy. Most of us never thought much about being ‘heroic’ or ‘saving America,’ while we were on a mission. We just wanted to do a good job at hand.”
“This should take nothing away from Lou Sebille’s action. Very often, in fact mostly, we pilots were at the mercy of those who wrote our citations. The good writers usually got theirs accepted. Being ‘lucky’ always trumps being ‘good.’”
[Note: Lt. Col. Biteman prepared a series personal recollections entitled “Korean Tales, Unsung Heroes of the Korean Air War.” He was also a founder and first President of the 18th Fighter Wing Association, Biteman placed many of these stories on the Association’s web site. Some of these stories and others by 18th Wing alumni may also be found in “Hot Shots: An Oral History of the Air Force Combat Pilots of the Korean War,” by Chancey and Forstchen (Morrow).