Saluting one of our many Jewish military heroes
By JEANNE F. SAMUELS (Thu, Nov 10, 2011)
In his remarkable and factual book, “The Ravens,” author Christopher Robbins chronicles the cloak-and-dagger story of “The Men Who Flew in America’s Secret War in Laos” (Crown Publishers).
He prefaces it with thumbnail descriptions of the Ravens, “the skilled and incredibly brave men,” whose stories he tells.
Of Houstonian Fred Platt, he writes: “FRED ‘MAGNET ASS’ PLATT: A Texan with attitude, who took so many hits in his aircraft [on 111 different combat missions], his colleagues said he had a magnet in the seat of his pants. He survived the hell of crashed landings and being shot down only to enter a nightmare journey of recovery back in the USA.”
On this Veterans Day, we salute the man whose buddies originally dubbed him “Cowboy” – Capt. Alfred “Fred” Platt, U.S. Air Force Retired.
A 1958 graduate of San Jacinto High School, Platt graduated from The University of Texas in 1963 and went directly into Air Force Officer Candidate School. He was scheduled to go to pilot’s school, but not enough slots were open at that time, so he was sent to traffic control.
It was Platt’s hope to serve in Southeast Asia, but was told that couldn’t be done. So, he took leave in 1964 and wrote a study on why officers weren’t allowed to go to Southeast Asia. He said his letter impressed the chain of command, which proceeded to send his boss, not him, to Southeast Asia, much to his boss’ chagrin.
Platt’s original desire was fulfilled a year-and-a-half later, when he was sent to pilot school. He earned his wings and was commissioned on his birthday, Feb 4, 1964. (He was born in Houston on Feb. 4, 1941.) Coincidentally, the first time he was shot down in Southeast Asia was on Feb. 4, 1969, and on another Feb. 4 – in 1972 – he was retired from the military.
While stationed in Arkansas, flying B-52s, Platt was good enough to be assigned to the newer models, but wasn’t allowed to fly the combat missions. Since he had his mind set to take part in combat airstrikes in Southeast Asia, he volunteered to go over as a Forward Air Controller. It took him only 10 days to complete the six-month course and he went directly from flying the B-52s to flying the O-1s (Bird Dog – propeller aircraft). “The O-1,” he explained, “is the air boss who controls all air sorties. Flying around finding targets on your own or going to an area which is preplanned for targets.” The transition not only found him flying at a drop in altitude, but dropping from Mach forces to speeds of only 60 mph.
Platt was to spend his 28th and 29th birthdays in Laos. Early on, a CIA recruiter came to his base and told him, “We want you.”
Platt revealed that “We were Air Force pilots who were ‘sheep dipped’ so we could stay in the Air Force and not be identified as such.”
“At first, I went to a CIA operation in Thailand. When it was cancelled,” he said, “I went to another that was going on in Laos, where there was an extremely high loss rate. No longer in the Air Force, I never ever would say I was a CIA agent. I was an operative.” He worked under government control, but not directly for the CIA. The operations officer in his area was his boss.
“We worked closely with the Air America people, but were considered a separate Black Operation and not under direct Air Force control. We worked for a feudal tribesman, who worked for the U.S. government and was an operational head who specked out operations. His troops kept North Vietnam from taking over the South.”
Platt explained that Air America was an offshoot of the Flying Tigers. In Laos it was the civilian airline that hauled supplies. “Roughly 5 percent of Air America was doing the Black Ops, taking road-watch teams and dropping them off deep in enemy territories,” he recounted. “They flew highly valuable people and cargo.”
Shot down 10 times, the derring-do Raven Platt was rescued from behind enemy lines three times. It was the final crash landing that left him paralyzed from the neck down. During his long and painful recovery, the always brash and outspoken Platt, in braces and still on crutches, took issue with a colonel, fending off a punch the man threw at him and responding by kicking the superior officer in the chin. The incident threatened a court-martial.
In his book, author Robbins writes, “At the 432nd Central Base Personnel Office, Platt was told that a large awards and decorations file waiting to go through had been held back, and a court-martial was being considered. ‘If they court-martial me, I’ll scream holy hell and demand a civilian trial. …’ Platt had already been awarded a Silver Star, three Purple Hearts and three DFCs [Distinguished Flying Crosses], and had been recommended for a whole collection of other medals, which were now variously downgraded or dropped. Even so, he received 48 decorations from his time in Laos.”
Today, now able to walk, retired Raven Alfred “Fred” Platt is commander of the International Post of the American Legion.
On this Veterans Day, 11-11-11, the Jewish Herald-Voice salutes him and all who have served our country.