44th TACTICAL FIGHTER SQUADRON
KORAT AFB, THAILAND
Franklin A. Caras (Kyriakos or Kyreakos) was born on January 19, 1934, in Spanish Fork, Utah County, and was the son of the Greek immigrant Angel Caras and his wife Mary Caras (Sorenson). Angel was almost 15 years old when he left Greece around 1912 and his heritage was from Leontion village in Achaia district in Peloponnese. The couple was blessed to have 10 children, 4 boys and 6 girls. In approximately 1935, Angel Caras imported three bred Suffolk ewes from Canada. His oldest son, Earnest, wanted to begin a flock of sheep as a Future Farmers of America project. At one time the business consisted of father, Angel, sons, Earnest, Andrew, Franklin, and Jim. They called it Angel Caras and Sons. Later Angel became a Mormon and both he and his wife Mary were the first Mormon missionaries in Greece while getting back home he met his family members in his village. Franklin graduated from Spanish Fork High School and attended Utah State University in Logan where he was affiliated with ROTC and applied for pilot training in the United States Air Force on April 21, 1955, in Parks AFB, CA. An interesting detail is that when Frank was younger he lost 1/2 of his index finger on his right hand and was so concerned that he may not become a fighter pilot because this was his trigger finger! He received his Silver Wings on August 27, 1957 (Class 55-T) with AF serial, 538443573. On January 10, 1958, he was posted to Nellis AFB, NV, home of the 3595th Combat Crew Training Wing, 3595th Combat Crew Training Group. He entered the 3594th Combat Crew Training Squadron and began his operational training on F-100 Super Sabres. After he completed training, he transferred to the 44th Fighter Squadron, Black Widows, based overseas in Kadena AFB, Japan on December 29, 1959. A year later he was posted to Minot AFB home of the 4136th Strategic Wing and stayed there for almost 3 years where he earned the “We Point with Pride” award for his flying abilities and coolness through a dangerous situation.
“Captain Caras was flying number two position in a flight of two F-l00Cs that had departed Biggs AFB. During the climb, the leader signaled Captain Caras to join in close formation before penetrating the clouds. As Cpt. Caras rolled into a left turn and applied sufficient rudder to overcome the aircraft's yaw tendency, the rudder pedal froze in this deflected position. Cpt. Caras alternately applied the right and left rudder in an attempt to free the pedals. Each time the left rudder was applied the pedal would deflect a little more in that direction. This action resulted in the rudder being deflected to almost a full left position. Due to the adverse crosswind at Biggs, both aircraft were diverted to Cannon AFB, New Mexico. En route to Cannon AFB, the pilot was occasionally able to break the rudder free, only to have it freeze in some other intermediate position. At the time of landing the rudder was frozen in approximately the neutral position, so the pilot elected to attempt a landing from a straight-in approach. While the wind was more aligned with the runway at Cannon, its velocity was nevertheless about 30 knots. This would necessarily require either rudder control or nose wheel steering after touchdown to keep the aircraft on the runway. Cpt. Caras flew a long straight-in approach and touched down with the rudder locked. When the nose wheel was placed on the runway in an attempt to acquire steering, the rudder broke free, and a normal roll-out was accomplished. Investigation revealed a one-quarter-inch castellated nut lying against the rudder actuator assembly. The nut was bent out of round and showed evidence of being rolled over. The nut had found its way to a position just in front of the rudder control support, and when the left rudder was applied, the actuator rod end came forward rolling over the nut and locking the rudder. While the severity of this emergency may not be readily evident, Captain Caras was faced with the decision to either abandon the aircraft or attempt a landing. Once the decision to land was made, it became an emergency which, in addition to being a continuing one while in the air, presented the possibility of not being able to control the aircraft once on the ground. Captain Caras’ cool and disciplined handling of this emergency prevented the loss of a USAF aircraft, and earned him the recognition of the “We Point with Pride” award.”
On January 14, 1964, he kept flying Super Sabres from Biggs AFB, TX, serving with the 4758th Defense Systems Evaluation Squadron. While there he also attended the Texas State University. In Biggs AFB he was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal for his outstanding skills, knowledge, research, and subordination of self-aided immensely in identifying problem areas in the fields of data link, and flush procedures and in developing and implementing solutions to those problems. On October 20, 1966, he returned to Nellis AFB, NV, and was posted to the 4523rd Combat Crew Training Squadron, for operational training on the Republic's mighty F-105 Thunderchief in anticipation of his transfer to Vietnam. Before joining the squadrons in front he took his Jungle Survival training in the Philippines and on December 20, 1966, he was posted to the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) in Korat AFB, Thailand, flying his first missions in the war. Later the 421st TFS became the 44th TFS and continued flying missions with its F-105s and operated from the same airbase. He continued flying missions in the North wreaking havoc on Vietnamese targets. On April 28, 1967, Captain Franklin Caras was the pilot of the F‐105D 58‐1151 Thunderchief fighter on his 67th mission over North Vietnam during the Rolling Thunder campaign. The four F-105s were heavily loaded according to his load specialist Eldred Duane Mitchell:
“The normal load for the Hanoi RR yards was 6x750 (Mk 117) bombs in the time frame of Franks flight. Use of the Mk 20 Rockeye was also used rarely. Considering the target, an ECM APS 72 was most likely carried on the left outboard pylon.”
Cpt. Franklin Caras official photos, a portrait, and a common fighter pilot pose in front of his 'Thud'. A typical F-105D mission to North Vietnam included mid-air refueling and a high-speed, low-altitude entry and exit from the target area. Though an extremely durable aircraft, F-105D pilots usually only had a 75 percent chance of completing a 100-mission tour due to the danger involved in their missions. (USAF)
The photos above, as well as the profile, show the F-105, 58-1151 in which the Greek American pilot lost over North Vietnam. The first two photos show it before the SEA camouflage applied, while the last one and the profile show it as it fought over the North, The armament in the profile is the typical loadout the Thunderchiefs carried during their Rolling Thunder missions, A short narrative of the Republics fighter is given by the respected aviation researcher, author, and engineer Dennis R. Jenkins, "Call it the 'Lead Sled', 'Ultra Hog', 'Squash Bomber', or 'Drop Forged by Republic Aviation'. But don't call it 'Thud' unless you've flown it. That's the word from proud pilots of the F-105 Thunderchief. From the total 753 F-105D/Fs manufactured by Republic, 393 were lost to various causes over Southeast Asia. The aircraft’s familiar nickname refers to the sound of an F-105 smacking into the earth. In 1966 alone, 124 F-105s plummeted from the sky, many of them onto "Thud Ridge," an infamous mountain range bristling with antiaircraft armaments just outside Hanoi. The F-105 was invented with finer things in mind. Commissioned by the Air Force as a tactical nuclear bomber, it was to stand sentry at temperate, well-tended bases in Europe and Japan. In the Cold War days of the 1950s, its designers envisioned it poised to strike against the Evil Empire of the Soviet Union, should the need ever arise. Instead, the F-105 found itself in the hot and humid jungles of Southeast Asia, not a deterrent to war, but an active participant. The F-105 gained its fame in the skies over Southeast Asia, carrying weapons it was not designed to use in a war it was not supposed to fight." (Profile Copyright by Tom Cooper, further info from Dennis R. Jenkins)
The target for that day was the Hanoi steel plant. The flight callsign was Lightning and Franklin was section leader flying as Lightning 03. His wingman was no other than the later famous and unfortunately KIA USAF hero, Karl W. Richter. The four aircraft managed to hit their target and headed back home. As he was returning from his mission he was shot down by Mig-21's cannon fire (however he was lost by an R-3S missile) and crashed into the north bank of the Black River in Nghia Lo Province. Before he crashed he was able to eject himself however he didn’t survive. His wingman was also damaged by the enemy fire in the airbrake area. According to the USAF report of loss
“On 28 April 1967, Cpt. Franklin A. Caras, pilot of an F-105D, (58-1151), the number three aircraft in a flight of four, was on a strike mission over North Vietnam. While egressing from the target area, aircrafts three and four were attacked by a Mig-21. Cpt. Caras' aircraft was observed taking hits from the Migs cannon and started smoking and losing airspeed immediately. The aircraft caught fire seconds later and number four saw Cpt. Caras leave his aircraft in the vicinity of grid coordinates ((GC) VJ 273 461. Number four aircraft did not observe a parachute or see Cpt. Caras after he ejected because he (number four) was forced to take evasive action from the Mig-21. Cpt. Caras' aircraft was observed to crash on the south bank of the black river in the vicinity of (GC) VJ 308 460. The number four aircraft remained in the area for a short time but was forced to withdraw because of heavy enemy activity. As he departed the area he transmitted the location of Cpt. Caras' crash to the flight leader and the number two aircraft, who were en route to the area. These two aircraft made several passes over the area but made no voice or visual contact with Cpt. Caras. No parachute was seen and no beeper signals were heard. Due to the hostile location, no further search and rescue efforts were conducted. During the existence of JCRC, the hostile threat in the area precluded any visits to or ground inspections of the sites involved in this case. This individual's name and identifying data were turned over to the four-party joint military team with a request for any information available. No response was forthcoming. Cpt. Caras is currently carried in the presumptive status of dead, body not recovered.”
While seeking what happened exactly to Franklin's flight we asked for help from the expert on North Vietnamese Air Force researcher and aviation historian, István Toperczer, who gave us the following description from the NVAF point of view. On 28 April 1967, at 1534 hours a flight of MiG-21s (Dang Ngoc Ngu and Mai Van Cuong) took off and flew along the northern slopes of the Tam Dao Mountains. When it was at a point 15 kilometers north of Son Duong, the flight was ordered to turn left to Van Yen, and then to turn up north of Nghia Lo to intercept a group of F-105s that were exiting Vietnam after completing their bombing attack. The F-105s were taken completely by surprise by the appearance of MiG-21s. Dang Ngoc Ngu (No.1) spotted the target 30 degrees to his left front at a range of four kilometers. Ngu accelerated to pursue the target, and at an appropriate range he fired an R-3S missile, but the missile missed. Mai Van Cuong (No.2), stuck close to cover Ngu’s attack. When Ngu shouted that there were two aircraft to the right, Mai Van Cuong, quickly got on the tail of another F-105. At a speed of 1,100 kilometers/hour, an altitude of 2,500 meters, and a range of 1,500-2,000 meters, Cuong fired a missile that shot down one F-105. The F-105D flown by Captain Franklin Angel Caras of 44th Squadron/388th Tactical Fighter Wing was hit by the missile fired by Mai Van Cuong’s MiG-21 and exploded in an area 30 kilometers east of Na San. The pilot was listed as killed in action. In addition, the USAF records indicate that the F-105 flying in the No. 2 position in Captain Caras flight was severely damaged. After the attack, MiG-21 pilots used their high speed to pull into a climb to break off the engagement and then returned and landed safely.
The Greek American Captain was listed as Missing in Action (MIA). While Caras was missing, his name was engraved on perhaps dozens of POW/MIA bracelets. Los Angeles college students started the POW/MIA bracelet phenomenon in 1970 as a Vietnam War awareness fund-raiser. By the time the Paris Peace Accords were signed on Jan. 27, 1973, Americans were wearing more than 5 million of the bracelets as a way to demonstrate their support for the prisoners and missing. While the college group that started making and selling the bracelets, VIVA (Voices In Vital America), disbanded in 1976, today the bracelet phenomena continue under the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia. Nearly 2,000 Vietnam-era military personnel are still listed as missing, according to the group's Web site, www.pow-miafamilies.org.
"All the kids (in the family) wore those bracelets," said his daughter-in-law Jacky Caras. "Those were years of pain."
In 1988 his family was notified by USAF that their loved one was found and would return home. Caras was one of the 5 US servicemen that have been identified and returned to the United States, as the apparent result of negotiations by a US delegation to Vietnam in August 1987. According to the necropsy, Franklin was probably dead before he hit the ground. The damage to his skeleton showed that there was a powerful impact on the ground. Maybe his parachute didn’t work and there was no sign of burns of any kind which was a comfort to the family. When Cpt. Caras' remains recovered and returned in 1988, were buried in the Benjamin Cemetery, on February 20, 1988. During the burial service the family members, in turn, took off their bracelets and laid them on his casket. That day was declared by the Governor of Utah State, Norman Bangerter as Franklin A. Caras Day! Cpt. Franklin A. Caras was awarded for his service the Silver Star for his gallant actions during his missions over North Vietnam as well as the Air Medal, the Purple Heart, The Air Force Commendation Medal, The Vietnam Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Air Force Longevity Service Award, the Presidential Unit Citation and the Outstanding Unit Award. He was promoted posthumously to Lt. Colonel. He left behind his wife Kathlene Caras and four children.
Cpt. Caras kneels in front of his heavily loaded F-105 for a photo, before another mission over North Vietnam. Although the Air Force sustained 1,741 combat deaths and lost 2,255 aircraft in the Vietnam War, statistics show a less costly air war than commonly believed. The Air Force flew more than twice the number of sorties as the Army Air Forces flew during World War II, yet had only a 0.4 loss rate per 1,000 sorties, compared to 9.7 during World War II and 2.0 in the Korean War, according to “The Air Force in the Vietnam War,” published by the Air Force Association and the Aerospace Education Association. (USAF)
Mai Van Cuong was the victor of Franklin Angel Caras when he shot him down using one of his R-3S Atol missiles. The North Vietnamese pilot achieved nine kills during a period of 12 months of combat flying with the 921st Fighter Regiment Mig-21s. He specifically shot down three F-105s (two of them are not confirmed by US Sources) and six Firebees drones, making him the top drone killer. He was also credited with a damaged F-4 Phantom II. On January 6, 1967, he was shot down by an AIM-7 Sparrow missile launched by Maj. Hirsch's F-4C Phantom II, 64-0849, while flying the Mig-21PFL Fishbed D, 'Red 4023', which can be seen in the profiles below. (István Toperczer)
These MiG 21s are assigned to the 921st Fighter Regiment. The closest, 'Red 4326', is one of the interceptors flown by Nguyễn Văn Cốc. (VPAF via https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/)
'Red 4326' & 'Red 4023' were flown in some missions by Mai Van Cuong but it's not known which fighter he flew when he shot down Caras on April 28, 1967. Having honed their piloting skills on the subsonic MiG-17 and transonic MiG-19, the Vietnamese Peoples' Air Force (VPAF) received their first examples of the legendary MiG-21 supersonic fighter in 1966. Soon thrown into combat over North Vietnam, the guided-missile equipped MiG-21 proved a deadly opponent for the USAF, Navy and Marine Corps crews striking at targets deep into the communist territory. MiG-21s focused on F-105 Thunderchiefs, the primary threat against targets in North Vietnam. The supersonic “Thud” was best countered by a supersonic interceptor, hence the 21’s emphasis on the big, capable Republic fighter-bomber. All twenty-five of the Thud’s aerial kills were MiG-17s while no F-105 downed a 21. Most of the VPAF's 12+ aces scored the bulk of their kills in the MiG-21, which was then the best fighter produced by Russia's premier fast jet manufacturer, Mikoyan Gurevich. Well over 200 MiG-21s were supplied to the VPAF. The service with the VPAF was so successful that even Americans admit it. According to notable aviation researcher and author Barrett Tilman in the 1980s the late Brig. Gen. Robin Olds said, “A MiG-21 pilot at Phuc Yen was the best flying job in the world. If I’d been one of them, I’d have got fifty of us!” (Profiles Copyright by Balazs Kakuk, further info by István Toperczer)
Gary Baker Archive
Special Thanks to Alan Rasmussen, nephew of Lt. Col. Franklin Caras for his invaluable help, István Toperczer for his contribution to this tribute, and Gary Baker for permitting us to use some of his photos. Please visit Gary's website www.burrusspta.org, a must for any F-105 fan.
1. The Daily Herald, Mar.29 issue 1965
2. The Salt Lake Tribune, Mar.14 issue 1977
3. The Daily Herald, Feb.4 issue 1988
4. The Daily Herald, Feb.4 issue 1988
5. The Daily Herald, Feb.17 issue 1988
6. Combat Aircraft 29, Mig-21 Units of the Vietnam War, István Toperczer, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 978 1 84176 263 0
7. Combat Aircraft 84, F-105 Thunderchief Units of the Vietnam War, Peter E. Davies, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 978 1 84603 492 3
8. Combat Aircraft 107, F-105 Thunderchief MiG Killers of the Vietnam War, Peter E. Davies, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 978 1 78200 805 7
9. Duel 95, USAF F-105 Thunderchief vs. VPAF MiG-17: Vietnam 1965–68, Peter E. Davies, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 978 1 47283 090 6
10. Aircraft of the Aces 135, Mig-21 Aces of the Vietnam War, István Toperczer, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 978 47282 356 4
11. Vietnam Air Losses: United States Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps Fixed-wing Aircraft Losses in Southeast Asia 1961-1973, Chris Hobson, Midland Publishing, ISBN 978 1 85780 115 6
12. Mig Aces of the Vietnam War, István Toperczer, Schiffer Publishing, ISBN 978 0 76434 895 2