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First Name: Iceal

Last Name: Hambleton

Birthplace: Rossville, IL, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Date of Birth: 16 November 1918

Date of Death: 19 September 2004

Rank: Lieutenant Colonel

Years Served:
Iceal Hambleton

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)
•  Korean War (1950 - 1953)
•  Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)


Iceal "Gene" Hambleton
Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force

Iceal "Gene" Hambleton was born on 16 November 1918 in Rossville, IL.

Hambleton served in the U.S. Army Air Forces during the last years of World War II without seeing any combat. He was recalled to active duty by the USAF during the 1950s. During the Korean War, he flew 43 sorties as Navigator in a B-29 Superfortress. He then worked during the 1960s on various USAF ballistic missile projects such as the PGM-19 Jupiter, Titan I ICBM and Titan II ICBM. Prior to the Vietnam War, Hambleton commanded the 571st Strategic Missile Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base from 1965-71.

Vietnam War

Hambleton switched from the Strategic Air Command to the Tactical Air Command and was assigned to the 42nd Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (42 TEWS) in Korat, Thailand. The 42 TEWS was equipped with EB-66C/E Destroyer aircraft that flew radar and communications jamming missions to disrupt enemy defenses and early warning capabilities.

The Bat 21 Bravo Rescue

On his 63rd mission, on 2 April 1972, Hambleton was aboard an EB-66C escorting a cell of three B-52s attacking entrance passes to the Ho Chi Minh Trail. While flying over the area north of Quang Tri at about 30,000 feet, the aircraft was destroyed by a Soviet-built SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missile. The only one of the six-man crew to eject, Hambleton parachuted in the middle of the Easter Offensive and thousands of North Vietnamese soldiers.

During the rescue operation, Hambleton used the call sign "Bat 21 Bravo." In the rescue mission, five aircraft were shot down, 11 airmen were killed in action, and 2 were captured. Nine additional aircraft and helicopters were badly damaged during the rescue attempts. U.S. Army General Creighton Abrams finally ordered that no further air rescue operations should be attempted, but ordered a ground rescue operation. Hambleton was a USAF ballistic missile expert with a Top Secret clearance and his capture by the North Vietnamese Army would have been of tremendous benefit to them and the Soviet Union.

Hambleton was finally rescued after 11½ days by U.S. Navy SEAL Lt. j.g Thomas R. Norris and ARVN commando Nguyen Van Kiet in a daring, covert, night-time infiltration 1.9 miles behind enemy lines. Norris was awarded the Medal of Honor and Nguyen the Navy Cross.

Medals and Awards

Silver Star Medal
Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Medal
Meritorious Service Medal
Purple Heart

In Media

The story of Hambleton's evasion and rescue was told in the 1980 book, Bat 21, written by Air Force Colonel William Charles Anderson. This was followed by the dramatic 1988 movie, "Bat*21", starring Gene Hackman as Hambleton and Danny Glover as a forward air controller.

A second book, The Rescue of Bat 21, based on a large amount of declassified information, was written by Colonel Darrel D. Whitcomb and published in 1998. Whitcomb was a decorated pilot and from 1972-74 a forward air controller based in Southeast Asia.

Famous Quote

"It was the most terrible day I had ever lived, I had to stand by and watch six young men die trying to save my life. Heroes, you bet they were."


Lieutenant Colonel Iceal "Gene" Hambleton died on 19 September 2004. He was cremated and his ashes given to family or friend.

Honoree ID: 2594   Created by: MHOH




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