Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Air Force Veteran Karl Richter, the youngest pilot to shoot down a MIG in air-to-air combat during Vietnam.
Growing up in Holly, Michigan, Karl Richter never considered himself a great student. Like many others graduating high school, Richter pondered what he wanted to do for his career. During this time, Richter found his love for flying after his sister suggested he apply to the U.S. Air Force Academy. After a nomination by Michigan’s Sen. Philip Hart and Rep. William Broomfield, a surprised Richter was accepted.
Richter graduated in June 1964 and commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force. Afterward, he spent over a year and a half completing pilot training at Craig Air Force Base, Alabama, and combat crew replacement training for the F-105 Thunderchief at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. At this point, Richter could have elected to take leave. Instead, he chose to transport a replacement F-105 to Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand. There, he joined the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 388th Tactical Fighter Wing in April 1966.
Richter quickly established himself as a formidable fighter pilot during the Vietnam War. He took every opportunity to fly, going on his first mission within days of arriving in Thailand. He even turned down opportunities to use his leave to travel to Hong Kong or Bangkok in favor of flying more combat missions.
In September 1966, at 23 years old, Richter became the youngest American pilot to shoot down a North Vietnamese MiG aircraft during a mission to find surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites in North Vietnam. Richter’s most prominent mission came in April 1967 when he lead a group of F-105s charged with destroying the defenses protecting a North Vietnamese railroad facility. Despite heavy cloud cover hiding the enemy defenses, Richter led a successful mission, crippling enemy anti-aircraft artillery and missile defenses.
On July 28, 1967, while on his 198th mission, Richter approached a bridge when anti-aircraft artillery hit his aircraft. Richter passed away before rescuers were able to take him to the hospital.
He received an Air Force Cross, a Silver Star, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and 21 Air Medals.
Do you want to light up the face of a special Veteran? Have you been wondering how to tell your Veteran they are special to you? VA’s #VeteranOfTheDay social media feature is an opportunity to highlight your Veteran and his/her service.