Medford's Jim Wise didn't know when he launched his F-4 Phantom from the deck of the USS Midway in January 1973 that he would help make history
Over the air control radio, U.S. Navy Lt. Jim Wise heard the unthinkable: a North Vietnamese MiG-17 fighter aircraft was over the Gulf of Tonkin while a Viet Cong delegation sat at the peace table in Paris.

I couldn't believe it, said Wise, a longtime Medford resident. There were only two other times during the Vietnam War when the North Vietnamese sent fighters over the Gulf of Tonkin because they knew the sophistication of our aircraft.

Wise, Lt. Victor Kovaleski, Lt. Pat Arwood and Ensign Lynn Oates of Squadron 161 were sent out in two F-4 Phantom fighters from the USS Midway aircraft carrier to intercept the MiG, a fast Russian-made plane with heavy armament.

Little did they know they would accomplish the last air combat victory of the war.

It's a testament to our superior training that we were able to do what we did because MiGs turn so fast and if they don't want to fight, they'll go, and you'll never see them, Wise said.
— Wise, a 1964 graduate of Medford High School, joined the military in 1968 after graduating from Oregon State University.

After training to be a naval flight officer at Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Fla., he served two stints in Vietnam: March to November 1971 and April 1972 to March 1973.

He launched air attacks from the Midway, including his historic run on Jan. 12, 1973.

Wise said on that day, he remembers flying through overcast skies, the hot humidity heavy on his face.

We caught up with the plane, Wise said. It saw us and rolled behind us. Then, it turned right and got in front of us. We hit it with a missile, which hit the left tail. The second missile hit the tailpipe, and the pilot ejected.

The memory of the victory is bittersweet, said Wise, now a 58-year-old golf pro at the Rogue Valley Country Club.

Later, Wise found out the MiG had been targeting a U.S. Air Force C-130 in the Gulf of Tonkin. Because of the actions of Wise and the other pilots, the Air Force crew escaped attack by the MiG.

The pilot of the MiG was found dead in the gulf.

You have an empty feeling, Wise said. You know you did what you had to do, but you know you shot somebody down. As I have gotten older, I have had to deal with those things. It's not a pleasant thing.

Fighter aircraft from the Midway scored the first and last air combat victories of the Vietnam War. The first was June 17, 1965, by Cmdr. Louis Page, Lt. John Smith, Lt. David Batson and Lt. Cmdr. Robert Doremus.

In June, about 170 members of squadrons 21 and 161 held a reunion aboard the Midway on display at the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum to mark the 40th anniversary of the first air combat victory.

Both squadrons were assigned to the Midway and they represent the start and end of the air war in Vietnam, said Jack Ensch, one of the former airmen who organized the reunion. There is a lot of historical synergy there.

Ensch shot down two MiGs during the war and was a prisoner of war for eight months in Hanoi, North Vietnam.

Wise and Ensch, good friends from the war, took a tour of the ready room, where they spent much of their time on the Midway, and visited with other friends they had made during the war.

The camaraderie developed in combat is unique to itself, Wise said.

In honor of the first and last victories, former airmen from the Midway contributed &

36;40,000 to restore one of the aircraft carrier's F-4 Phantoms, paint it with the Squadron 21 and 161's colors and mark the splitter plate with the names of the eight pilots. The plane was unveiled at the museum during the reunion.

Wise said seeing his name on the plane gave him a sense of satisfaction even though the historical significance of his success resulted from being in the right place at the right time.

Any naval officer could have done the same thing, but I happened to be the last, Wise said.

The last victory"pachen@mailtribune.com.