Colonel Charles B. DeBellevue is America's top "MiG Killer" of the Vietnam conflict, and is also the first USAF weapons system officer (WSO) to become an ace. DeBellevue was born in New Orleans and grew up in Louisiana. He was commissioned in 1968 through ROTC. After completing undergraduate navigator training at Mather AFB, California, in July 1969, he began F-4 combat crew training at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, en route to an assignment in the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina.
In October 1971, he was sent to the famed 555th TFS at Udorn Royal Thai Air Base. As a WSO with the "Triple Nickel," DeBellevue scored six aerial victories over North Vietnamese MiGs. He gained the first four victories while crewed with Captain Steve Ritchie, who became the first USAF Vietnam War ace. DeBellevue became the second USAF ace when he downed two MiGs on 9 September 1972 while flying with Captain John Madden on a four-ship combat air patrol. During his combat tour, DeBellevue logged 550 combat hours while flying 220 combat missions. His skill as a WSO was recognized when he and the other two USAF aces, Captains Steve Ritchie and Jeff Feinstein, received the 1972 MacKay Trophy, the Veterans of Foreign Wars' Armed Forces Award, and the Eugene M. Zuckert Achievement Award.
DeBellevue entered pilot training at Williams AFB, Arizona, in November 1972. After pinning on his new wings, he returned to the F-4 Phantom II as a pilot assigned to the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. In 1975, he moved to Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, where he served as an assistant operations officer in the 43d TFS. Major DeBellevue next attended Armed Forces Staff College at Norfolk, Virginia. After graduation in January 1980, he was assigned to the Research, Development, and Acquisition Deputate in the Pentagon. In 1982, he returned to the 335th TFS at Seymour Johnson AFB as assistant operations officer before moving to the 4th TFW as Chief, Maintenance Training Division. In January 1986, he became Assistant Deputy Commander for Operations and served in that position until he departed to attend the Army War College in July 1986. In June 1987, he was assigned to his present position as Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans at Fifth Air Force. He now lives on Yokota AB, Japan, with his wife, Sally, and their three children.
North Vietnam took advantage of the bombing halt ordered by President Johnson in late 1968 to rebuild its air force (NVNAF) and prepare its ground forces (NVA) to invade the south. In late March 1972, NVA units crossed the border into South Vietnam and sent the defenders reeling in disarray. On 8 May, President Nixon halted peace negotiations and authorized the USAF to strike targets in the heart of North Vietnam, which were now defended by over 200 MiGs flown by well-trained pilots. During Operation Linebacker I, USAF fighter aircrews made the defending MiG pilots pay dearly. From May through mid-October, the NVNAF lost at least 40 MiGs in air battles with USAF Phantoms. Of these, "Triple Nickel" crews downed 15 and sister squadrons in the 432d Tactical Reconnaissance Wing added another 9. In a squadron of warriors, Charles DeBellevue was one of the best!