Jack K. Clapper

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Jack K. Clapper
JKC-USAirforce.jpg JKC-USAirforce.jpg
Jack Clapper in uniform for the US Air Force, 1967
Born (1939-11-02) November 2, 1939 (age 83)
Ottawa, Illinois
💼 Occupation
👔 EmployerClapper, Patti, Schweizer & Mason
mesothelioma litigation
Fighter pilot
👩 Spouse(s)Merilou Clapper
🌐 Websitewww.Mesothelioma-Attorney.com

An F-100 fighter jet pilot, Jack Clapper flew sorties as part of the Misty FAC (forward air controller) program in the Vietnam War. Misty's primary mission was to fly F-100s at low altitudes and locate enemy targets along the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos. There were 155 pilots assigned to fly the Misty between June 1967 and May 1970. Of the 155 Mistys, 34 were shot down. Clapper was shot down during an early morning Misty sortie and was at the center of a daring and dangerous day-long rescue mission, after which he received a Purple Heart.[1] He is also a leading attorney in litigation concerning mesothelioma.[2][3][4]

Early life and education[edit]

Jack Clapper was born on November 2, 1939 in Ottawa, Illinois. He attended Ottawa Township High School and graduated in 1956. In 1959, after one year at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, he joined the United States Air Force.[5]

Air Force career[edit]

In 1959, Clapper completed a program called Aviation Cadets, which allowed qualified applicants to become officers without having graduated from a four-year college or university. In 1960 he was a navigator on B-52s and was stationed at Walker AFB in Roswell, New Mexico. Clapper subsequently was promoted to First Lieutenant and also became a radar navigator.[5]

As a result of outstanding performance, he was promoted early to the rank of Captain in 1964. One of his assignments included Operation Chrome Dome in which he flew 24 hours carrying nuclear bombs in case of a potential Russian attack during the Cold War. These missions required navigation in the vicinity of the North Pole using celestial navigation, long before GPS had become available. While flying as a radar navigator, Clapper earned his civilian pilot's license in Roswell, New Mexico.[5]

In 1967, Clapper was accepted into the Air Force pilot training program at Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas. The training began with flying Cessna 172s, and then progressed to the T-37, a small twin-engine jet, nicknamed the "Tweety-bird", because of the high-pitched sound of the engine. Clapper learned to do basic maneuvers, steep turns, and fly in formation.[5]

After four months, Clapper began to train in twin-engine supersonic jets called the T-38 Talons. The T-38 had tandem seating, flew very fast, and was extremely maneuverable. Clapper learned to fly aerobatics, including loops, aileron rolls, Immelmans, and barrel rolls in the T-38. He also was trained and became qualified to fly under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR).

F-100 pilot

Clapper graduated at the top of his pilot training class and was given his choice of assignments. He chose Cannon AFB in Clovis, New Mexico so he could fly F-100s, the Air Force's first supersonic fighter jet.[5] The F-100 Super Saber was a sleek, swept-back-wing, supersonic jet fighter built by North American Aviation. About 2000 F-100s were built before production ended in 1959. The Air Force chose F-100Ds to perform throughout the world in aerial precision flights. The USAF Thunderbirds flight demonstration team operated F-100Ds from July 1964 until November 1968. Over 19 million people viewed the famed "Thunderbirds," a six aircraft team, as they performed precision airborne maneuvers.

The F-100D was a single-engine, single-seat fighter jet. Intended to be a fighter-bomber, the plane was equipped with weapons and in-flight refueling systems. In training to fly the F-100, Clapper learned how to make precision weapons delivery involving bombs, rockets and strafing. He also became proficient in refueling in-flight from a KC-135 aircraft.


In November 1968, Clapper was sent to the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing at Tuy Hua Air Force Base in the Republic of Vietnam. Tuy Hua is on the shore of the South China Sea, just north of Cam Rahn Bay. Clapper was assigned to attack enemy targets, such as bridges, river barges, road junctions, and areas used by infiltrating enemy soldiers. His initial missions, known as "sorties," were mainly short flights in South Vietnam, sometimes to repel enemy attacks on our soldiers who were under attack on the ground.

Joining Misty FAC[edit]

In September 1969, Clapper joined the Misty FAC (forward air controller) program. Misty's primary mission was to fly F-100s at low altitudes and locate enemy targets along the Ho Chi Minh trail, mainly in Laos. Misty was an all-volunteer organization that flew F-100Fs, a tandem two-seat model –having two pilots allowed for an additional set of eyes to look for targets. There were 155 pilots assigned to fly the Misty between June 1967 and May 1970, when Misty disbanded. Of the 155 Mistys, 34 were shot down. There were seven killed in action and four prisoners of war. One Misty was awarded the Medal of Honor, two became Air Force Chief of Staff, two became astronauts, and one was later the first man to fly non-stop, un-refueled flight around the world.[6]

Sortie Flight - October 1969[edit]

Mayday Call

In October 1969, Clapper and co-pilot Don Muller were flying the first Misty sortie, taking off early in the day, when they encountered enemy ground fire and their engine lost power. The stricken aircraft quickly descended to less than 1,000 feet above the terrain. They broadcast a "MAYDAY" call on the radio prior to ejecting and parachuted down into the mountainous Laotian jungle terrain. The approximate time was 8 a.m.[1]

Clapper and Muller on ground

Clapper and Muller were separated by about one mile due to the programmed delay in the ejection sequence between the front and rear ejection seats. Each was equipped with a battery-powered radio and they were contacted by another FAC flying in the area that had heard their pre-ejection call and said that he would notify search and rescue. Muller informed Clapper and the FAC that his leg was badly broken and that he had heard movement nearby.[1]

C-130 rescue coordination

The Air Force maintained an airborne C-130 (code name "King") for the purpose of coordinating the rescue of downed pilots. The C-130 had the capability of remaining in the air for long periods of time without refueling. Within less than two hours King first made radio contact with the two downed pilots and then called in two A-1 Skyraiders (code name "Stormy") to get a preliminary report on enemy activity in the area. A-1 aircraft are propeller driven and can remain airborne for lengthy periods without refueling. The A-1s made contact with the downed pilots and noted their respective positions under the canopied jungle. The A-1s flew over the site of the pilots without receiving fire. King decided to call in rescue helicopters.[1]

11 a.m. - Jolly Green Giant rescue attempt

The Sikorsky CH-3C Jolly Green Giant helicopter was the primary rescue helicopter for the Air Force during the Vietnam War. The most important requirement for a search and rescue helicopter, in addition to long range, is its ability to mount a strong winch, or hoist, so the person being rescued can be lifted to safety. This is necessary because usually the helicopter cannot land, as the downed pilot may be in a heavily wooded area and may need to be lifted out through the trees. The winch was usually connected to a long cable—up to 300 feet— and could carry either a horse-collar rescue sling, a rescue basket, or, as used in Vietnam, a special heavy metal cone-like "canopy penetrator" to get through the tree branches. If the downed pilot were injured, a paramedic would be lowered down to assist the pilot into the device. The Jolly Green Giant was armed with a door gunner who used an M60 machine gun to suppress the enemy. Jolly Greens involved in rescue operations flew as a pair, with one going in low for the rescue and the second standing back in case the first encountered enemy fire.[1]

At about 11 a.m. the first Jolly Green came in. It was determined that Muller should be rescued first because of his broken leg. The Jolly Green hovered over Muller's position and lowered a paramedic. Then intense automatic weapon firing began and the helicopter was badly damaged. It managed to fly about a mile, leaving Muller and the paramedic on the ground, before crashing into a meadow. The second Jolly Green landed, picked up the crew and flew them safely away.[1]

F-4 air strikes

King called in several flights of F-4 fighter jets to bomb and strafe the area. Stormy remained at the scene to help the F-4 pilots deliver their weapons near the downed pilots without actually hitting them. After about 45 minutes of bombing and strafing by the F-4s, the original Stormys were out of fuel and two new A-1s arrived as replacements.

Muller's rescue

The second rescue attempt by a new pair of Jolly Greens was successful in getting Muller and the paramedic on board, but came under heavy fire. The rescue winch apparatus was shot away and the helicopters abandoned the rescue, leaving Clapper on the ground alone.[1] King called in almost another hour of multiple air strikes by jet fighters before asking Stormy to ascertain the enemy's capability. The Stormy aircraft drew automatic weapons fire as it flew over the area.

Gas rescue attempt

King then ordered a new method of rescuing pilots downed in Laos- the use of gas. The theory was to incapacitate everyone on the ground, including the downed pilot, and then to lower a paramedic wearing a gas mask to the ground to put the pilot into the Jolly Green rescue device.[1]

Fighter jets delivered the canisters of gas over the area. The canisters opened high in the trees and out spilled the gas. Clapper was incapacitated, but not made unconscious. There was no immediate fire as the Jolly Green hovered to attempt the rescue. However, the rotor wash quickly blew away the gas. The enemy recovered and opened fire. The Jolly Green was hit several times, but managed to escape the area without going down. It was now about 4 p.m., not long before darkness would curtail further rescue attempts.[1]

Joint air strike, rescue successful

A tropical thunderstorm moved in and heavy rain fell for the next 30 minutes. After the storm subsided, King called in more air strikes by jet fighters before ordering another release of gas. The canisters again opened high in the trees and out spilled the gas. This time, due to the rain, the wetness in the trees and foliage caused the gas to linger.

A Jolly Green flew over Clapper and lowered a canopy penetrator to him. He climbed onto the device and the helicopter quickly exited the area as soon as Clapper was clear of the trees. The gunner on the rescue helicopter pulled him in the door and the rescue was successfully concluded at around 6 p.m.[1]

Clapper received some injuries during the ejection and rescue and received a Purple Heart. Clapper was promoted to Major in 1970. He separated from active duty in 1974 to attend law school.

Nerve gas scandal[edit]

Later reports in the news speculated that sarin was used in rescues in Laos. CNN and TIME reported in 1998 that the gas dropped 28 years ago in Laos was the same nerve gas used in the 1995 terrorist attack in a Tokyo subway that killed a dozen people. Although the nerve gas had been in the U.S. arsenal for years, the official policy of the Nixon Administration was "no first use of lethal nerve gas in combat. However, Admiral Thomas Moorer, USN (ret.), who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 1970, and other top military officials, confirmed the use of sarin in missions to rescue downed U.S. airmen during the Vietnam War. Moorer said that the use of the gas was justified under the circumstances.

However, in a report entitled "Operation Tailwind Review," dated July 16, 1998, the Air Force Historical Studies Office concluded that a form of tear gas known as CS, not sarin, was used in Laos during the Vietnam war. In the Air Force, CS had replaced the older, less potent CN tear gas. An Air Force directive defined CN as a "standard tear agent employed by law enforcement agencies" and CS as "an improved agent developed for military use." The tear gas was delivered by A-1 aircraft which carried the gas in canisters called CBU-19s for delivery on the target. The downed pilot himself would be deliberately gassed in some cases.

The "Operation Tailwind Review" report found that the rules in effect in 1969 identified the situations when the use of tear gas would be appropriate during search and rescue operations.

CBU-19 could be used on enemy gun or troop concentrations when the enemy was not equipped with masks or other protective equipment. In these areas it was more efficient to disable the enemy temporarily than to employ normal weapons. It was most effective in areas of widespread small arms which were normally difficult to locate and silence.

CBU-19 could be used directly on the survivor if the survivor was surrounded, had been captured, or was injured and unable to help himself and was in imminent danger from advancing enemy forces.

— "Operation Tailwind Review" (July 16, 1998)

Post-military career[edit]

In 1978, Clapper received his Juris Doctor degree from Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, California.[3] He is a pioneer in asbestos litigation and in 1980 founded one of the first law firms in California dedicated to representing victims of mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases, many of whom are military veterans.[2]

He is a member of the American Trial Lawyers' Association, the California Association of Consumer attorneys, Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, and the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association among other professional organizations.[3] He and the attorneys working with him at Clapper, Patti, Schweizer & Mason have obtained substantial jury decisions, including several multimillion-dollar verdicts.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Clapper became an avid jogger and sailor in the 1980s. He qualified for, and finished, the Boston Marathon. He also successfully finished the San Francisco and Avenue of the Giants marathons. His sailboat, Phantom, won the St. Francis Yacht Club Big Boat Series in 1990. In 1994 he and his wife, Merilou, sailed Phantom in the Pacific Cup, a race from San Francisco to Hawaii. He continues to make sailing trips to Mexico, Canada and ports along the western U.S. coast.[5]

See also[edit]

  • Operation Chrome Dome
  • Operation Tailwind
  • Asbestos and the law


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Shepperd, Major General Don (December 25, 2002). First Person Stories of the F-100 Misty Fast FACs in the Vietnam War. 1st Books Library. ISBN 978-0-7596-5254-5. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Jack K. Clapper on Asbestos Mediation". Mesothelioma Attorneys. Archived from the original on 2011-08-21. Retrieved 2011-04-03. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Jack K. Clapper". Asbestos Exposure Symptoms. Retrieved 2011-04-03.[permanent dead link]
  4. 4.0 4.1 "About Our Mesothelioma Law Firm". Clapper, Patti, Schweizer & Mason. Retrieved 2011-04-03.
  5. Nophsker (Misty 128), Gary (February 12, 2011). "Where the Mistys Are Now". MistyVietnam. Archived from the original on February 23, 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-03. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)

External links[edit]

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