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First Name: Merlyn

Last Name: Dethlefsen

Birthplace: Greenville, IA, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Home of Record: Royal, IA
Middle Name: Hans

Date of Birth: 29 June 1934

Date of Death: 14 December 1987

Rank: Colonel

Years Served: 1953 - 1977
Merlyn Hans Dethlefsen

•  Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)


Merlyn Hans Dethlefsen
Colonel, U.S. Air Force
Medal of Honor Recipient
Vietnam War

Merlyn Hans Dethlefsen (29 June 1934 - 14 December 1987) was a U.S. Air Force Colonel and a recipient of the U.S. military's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for his heroic actions in the Vietnam War.

Dethlefsen was born on 29 June 1934 in Greenville, IA. He joined the Air Force from Royal, IA, in 1955. After his commissioning as an Air Force officer, he attended undergraduate pilot training and was eventually assigned to fighter assignments.

On 10 March 1967, then-Captain Dethlefsen, flying the number three aircraft, and three other F-105s of Lincoln flight, flew ahead of a strike force of 72 fighter-bombers (F-105s from Korat and Takhli, and F-4s from Ubon) heading to the Thai Nguyen iron and steel works. Their job was to attack the surface-to-air missile complex, antiaircraft guns and a ring of automatic weapons guarding the target. On the first pass, his flight leader (F-105F 63-8335, piloted by Maj. David Everson and Capt. Jose Luna, both became POWs) was shot down by 85mm AAA fire and his wing man was forced to withdraw with severe damage. Capt. Dethlefsen then took command of the flight while fending off MiG attacks and responding to his own battle-damaged aircraft.

As he maneuvered, he evaded an intercepting Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 by flying into heavy enemy antiaircraft fire. His F-105 was severely damaged, but he determined the aircraft could still fly. Despite his nearly crippled plane, Dethlefsen made repeated strikes with his wingman, Maj. Kenneth Bell, against the enemy's defensive positions. Evading a second MiG, Dethlefsen dove through the obscuring haze to locate the missile complex when he was again hit by flak. Making a final dive bombing attack and a strafing run with 20 mm cannon fire, Dethlefsen effectively destroyed two missile sites before finally leaving for Takhli, 500 miles away. The mission was considered a success although two F-4s of the strike force were shot down.

Dethlefsen could have pulled out of the mission with honor many times: when attacked by MiGs, when he and his wingman were hit by flak, or when the smoke of battle made it difficult to locate the enemy. But he made a conscious choice to make repeated passes, each one more dangerous than the one before. For his heroic actions, Dethlefsen became the third Air Force officer to be awarded the Medal of Honor

Medal of Honor

Citation: Maj. Dethlefsen was 1 of a flight of F-105 aircraft engaged in a fire suppression mission designed to destroy a key antiaircraft defensive complex containing surface-to-air missiles (SAM), an exceptionally heavy concentration of antiaircraft artillery, and other automatic weapons. The defensive network was situated to dominate the approach and provide protection to an important North Vietnam industrial center that was scheduled to be attacked by fighter bombers immediately after the strike by Maj. Dethlefsen's flight. In the initial attack on the defensive complex the lead aircraft was crippled, and Maj. Dethlefsen's aircraft was extensively damaged by the intense enemy fire. Realizing that the success of the impending fighter bomber attack on the center now depended on his ability to effectively suppress the defensive fire, Maj. Dethlefsen ignored the enemy's overwhelming firepower and the damage to his aircraft and pressed his attack. Despite a continuing hail of antiaircraft fire, deadly surface-to-air missiles, and counterattacks by MIG interceptors, Maj. Dethlefsen flew repeated close range strikes to silence the enemy defensive positions with bombs and cannon fire. His action in rendering ineffective the defensive SAM and antiaircraft artillery sites enabled the ensuing fighter bombers to strike successfully the important industrial target without loss or damage to their aircraft, thereby appreciably reducing the enemy's ability to provide essential war material. Maj. Dethlefsen's consummate skill and selfless dedication to this significant mission were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.

Dethlefsen received his Medal of Honor from President Lyndon B. Johnson on 1 February 1968. He became the third of 12 airmen so honored during the Vietnam War.

After varying assignments, he retired from the Air Force in 1977 with the rank of Colonel.

Medals and Awards

Medal of Honor
Distinguished Flying Cross
Meritorious Service Medal
Air Medal
AF Commendation Medal
Combat Readiness Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Vietnam Service Medal with Bronze Service Star
AF Longevity Service Award
Vietnam Campaign Medal
Senior Pilot Badge

Death and Burial

Merlyn Hans Dethlefsen died of natural causes at age 53 on 14 December 1987. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, in Section 65, Lot 1626.

Honoree ID: 925   Created by: MHOH




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