Gordon Blackman

Gordon Blackman holds a framed picture of a KC-135 tanker like he flew in the Vietnam War.

BOSSIER CITY, La. -- Gordon Blackman flew a hundred mid-air refueling missions in the Vietnam War. But one of them turned into a surprise rescue  that he kept secret -- until now.

Medals were pinned on Gordon for meritorious service. Medals that he's modest about.

"They're more like staying alive and following orders," he says.

There was the time he did not follow orders -- and probably deserves a medal for that.

"Nobody knew it. You're the first one I've told," Gordon says of the mission that took a turn.

Gordon and his crew were told not to fly over North Vietnam, where they could be vulnerable to enemy air defenses. But a pilot in a crippled fighter that was leaking fuel made radio contact.

"And he said, 'I don't think I can get completely out of here,'" Gordon recalls.

So Gordon flew his tanker over North Vietnam and found the pilot in distress.

"We hooked up to him just in time to keep his engines running. But he was still leaking so much that he said, 'You know, I don't know how this is going to work out,'" Gordon continued. "I said, 'Well, tell you what. We'll hook up with you and lock you and we'll pull you all the way back to the base.'

"He shut his engine down even. 'Cause he was leaking so much," Gordon went on to explain. "We got him all the way back to the base. We gave him a quick fill-up, what he could hold at that time. Kicked him off. He safely landed. We went on our way. And nobody said anything about it."

Because Gordon and crew had broken protocol.

"We saved the aircraft by doing it. We saved his life by doing it. And we think we did the right thing," Gordon says.

Gordon would later fly his 100th routine air refueling mission of the war. A snapshot shows a ceremonial bucket of water being dumped on him. Gordon would return to Barksdale Air Force Base and soon retired as a major after 22 years of service.

"Somebody had to do it. And so I was available and trained and so why not me?" Gordon says of his wartime missions.

Before flying tankers, Gordon was on the receiving end of those mid-air refueling missions, flying B-47's. But he when those bombers were retired, he says didn't mind the switch to the KC-135 tanker.

"I look at it from the bright side," Gordon said, noting that on the tanker, he could go get a cup of coffee, and they had a restroom on board. And he was based near his mother in his hometown of Dallas.

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