Harold W. Rademacher was born in Salem, South Dakota in 1930. He doesnt know how it started, but at an early age his family began calling him Buff and that nickname has stuck all the way through school, his Air Force career, and retirement, right up to the present day. After graduation from High School, Buff went away to Eagle Grove, Iowa to attend Junior College. He went to Eagle Grove primarily because he had an Uncle who was the Superintendent there, so he had a place to stay with family while going to school. The Korean War broke out (June 1950) while he was a student there.
While waiting in anticipation of being drafted, Buff went down to the local recruiting office and took the test for acceptance for flight school. He passed the test, but remained enrolled in Junior College. He watched the draft numbers coming up until they were too close for comfort, and then enlisted in the Air Force. After some months of enlisted service, in March 1951 he reported for Aviation Cadet Training at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas.
After completing cadet training, graduating in Class 52-G, he went through pilot training and crew training at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and then in late 1952, he was ordered to Korea. In early 1953, Buff reported in at Kimpo Air Base (K-14), just outside Seoul, and was assigned as an F-86 Saber Jet Fighter Pilot in the 4th Fighter Wing. After one year there, the war being over, he rotated home.
He spent a year (1954) at Laughlin Air Force Base, Del Rio, Texas, as an instructor in F-86 gunnery and in crew training, and then was transferred to Williams Air Force Base, Arizona where he served another five years as an instructor in F-86 fighters.
In 1960, Buff was assigned to George Air Force Base, California. He says, I got into F-104s and was in an accident, my back was broken and it took a year for me to recover.
His next assignment was a long tour in Europe where, from 1961-1964, he flew an F-105 Thunderchief (more commonly called the Thud) from Bitburg Air Force Base in Germany. He served during part of that assignment as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) with the Armys 1st Infantry Division. Upon rotation back home to the United States, Buff was assigned to an F-105 unit in Wichita, Kansas.
He was assigned to the 357th Fighter Squadron at McConnell Air Force Base. The squadron was not trained for use of radar back then in 1964, so a detachment, that included Buff, was ordered to do a four month TDY for training in Turkey. The timing was scheduled to have the men all home by Christmas 1964. However, late in the planning for that deployment, they were diverted and the 357th became the first F-105 unit to be sent TDY from the United States, to support the mission in Vietnam. Buffs initial temporary duty period ended without incident.
It was on his second TDY to Vietnam in 1965 when his aircraft was shot down and he was wounded. In Buffs words, On June 8, 1965 I was flight leader for four aircraft that were on a mission over North Vietnam. At about 4:30 p.m. we were all set to hit a target of opportunity, a bridge protected with air defense guns. I made a pass, drew fire and my F-105 took a single hit, but that one hit was all it took. The plane was on fire and I had to eject. My parachute came down in difficult terrain. I was fairly well beaten up with facial cuts and some other injuries, and found myself on the floor of a deep ravine with high peaks on every side. The area was densely forested; nothing could be seen but 100 foot-tall trees in all directions. I was in big trouble and I knew it, having gone down in North Vietnam at that early time in the war, my chances of being picked up and gotten out of there were really slim. The remaining three planes of the flight watched as I went down and kept that location on the ground in view. As they circled the area, my second in command called for air rescue. Unknown to me at the time, when air rescue was on the way they asked for an estimate of how long it would be before enemy troops could get to the downed pilot (me). Looking down at the really bad spot where I was located, (the best way I can describe it, I was down in the bottom of a deep hole with trees all around), my second in command was only half joking when he replied that it would take enemy troops about three weeks, at the earliest, to reach where I was on the ground. He knew air rescue would not have to contend with enemy interference, but they were going to have a tough time getting me out due to the limitations of the rescue helicopter and its equipment in making a pickup, and especially so from my unfortunate place on the ground. In those early days the big long range H-53 Jolly Green Giants were not yet available. Air rescue was equipped with small jet engine helicopters of the type in use at that time for emergencies at major civilian airports in the United States. They had limited range and were very ill-suited for air rescue service in our environment, but thats what we had in 1965. Two of those, each carrying an extra 55-gal. barrel of fuel inboard, had launched and they set down together and refueled well inside North Vietnam, enroute to my crash site. One took on just enough fuel to return to base, while the other refueled with most of what was in both barrels, and it continued on north. That helicopter arrived over my location less than two hours after my plane went down. But, I was still in plenty of trouble. There were no open areas anywhere near me and the helicopter had limited loiter time. They either had to get me out of there quick, or they had to leave without me. There was no open space for the helicopter to descend safely below the tree tops, and the hoist cable was not as long as the trees were tall. The helicopter came to a hover above me and lowered the penetrator, but it was still suspended above me after the cable was fully paid out. Without hesitation, the helicopter slowly descended, bending down the tree tops, until finally I could reach the penetrator. By 6:30, they had me out of there and on the way home. That pilot and crew had just set a new record, making the northern-most rescue ever from North Vietnam at that time in the war. They took a tremendous risk to save me and I owe them my life.
After treatment for his injuries, Captain Rademacher was returned to the United States for five days to be re-equipped with a new individually configured helmet and other items replacing those lost when his plane was shot down. Shortly after his return, the entire 357th Squadron sent pilots, including Buff Rademacher, to different bases, providing combat training for other F-105 units. Buff was an instructor pilot for the F-105s at Takhli Air Base in Thailand, but he also continued to fly bombing missions to North Vietnam himself, working on his 100 missions.
The 357th Squadron had been the last unit to deploy where the pilots had their choice of serving temporary duty for four months, or until they had been credited with having flown 100 combat missions. Buff opted for and completed 100 missions. He also did some interesting work doing leaflet drops from 45,000 feet over Hanoi.
After his return home from Vietnam, he was assigned to the 12th Air Force, and further assigned to the IG Preparation Team at Waco, Texas. Buff became the Standardization and Evaluation Officer for F-105s and visited all F-105 units in the 12th Air Force to perform practice inspections, helping them get ready for Inspector General evaluations. He was also taking college level courses.
In March 1969 he graduated with his bachelors degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha under the Bootstrap program. At about that time, 12th Air Force headquarters had moved to Bergstrom AFB in Austin, Texas, and Buffs job moved with it. After several years in Austin, during which period his wife, Patsy, owned and operated a Health Spa, Buff was reassigned to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, where he went into training for the F-111. After two years (1971-1973) at Mountain Home, Lieutenant Colonel Harold W. Rademacher, USAF, retired after 23 years service and returned to Austin. That was primarily because Patsy had stayed in Austin and continued to operate her business there. But it was also because he considered that to be his home. Today, he says, I first arrived in Texas back in 1951 and have had 60 years in the State.
Buff soon entered into a second career and worked another sixteen years for Prudential Insurance before retiring as District Agent. Today he and Patsy are both retired but remain very active as volunteers, primarily with their church, working in a program providing meals for the needy. He has been a life member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart for the past eleven years, and this month Chapter 1919 proudly salutes Patriot Harold Buff Rademacher.