Charles B. "Chuck" DeBellevue is America's top ace from the Vietnam War, and the first US Air Force weapons systems officer (WSO) to become an ace. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, DeBellevue was commissioned in 1968 through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) program at the University of Southwestern Louisiana where he initiated the pursuit of his lifelong goal of becoming a military pilot. He continued that pursuit by attending undergraduate navigator training in 1969 at Mather Air Force Base, California. After graduating, he was assigned to the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, as a McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom II WSO. In 1971, he was sent to the renowned 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Udorn Royal Thai Air Base.
As a WSO with the Triple Nickel, DeBellevue scored six aerial victories over North Vietnamese MiGs. He gained his first four victories while crewed with Steve Ritchie, who became the first US Air Force Vietnam ace on 10 May 1972 at the onset of Operation Linebacker. DeBellevue became the second Air Force ace when he downed two MiGs on 9 September 1972. Shortly after acquiring the enemy aircraft on radar, DeBellevue and pilot, John Madden, "Olds 1," merged with two MiG-19 Farmers. They downed the first MiG-19 shortly after the merge with two heat-seeking AIM-9J Sidewinder missiles. Following an intense visual engagement exceeding 9 Gs, they shot down the second MiG-19 with another AIM-9J. Extremely thick anti-aircraft fire soon filled the sky. Short on fuel, "Olds" flight egressed for safety. Altogether, DeBellevue logged 550 combat hours while flying 220 combat missions, 96 of which were over North Vietnam.
In 1972, DeBellevue received the MacKay Trophy for the most significant Air Force Mission of the Year and the Veterans of Foreign Wars' National Armed Forces Award for his outstanding aerial prowess. Following the Vietnam War, DeBellevue entered pilot training at Williams AFB, Arizona. He returned to the Phantom II as a pilot and held various flying and staff positions including as the 432nd Combat Support Group Commander at Misawa AB, Japan, and 95th Air Base Wing Commander at Edwards AFB, California. While at Edwards, DeBellevue and his wife Sally were the 1994 AFMC nominees for the General and Mrs. Jerome O'Malley award for the top Wing Commander and spouse in the Air Force.
DeBellevue completed his final assignment as the Commander of AFROTC Detachment 440 at the University of Missouri. After 30 years of distinguished service, he retired in 1998 as a colonel and as the last American ace on active duty. His decorations include the Air Force Cross, three Silver Stars, three Legions of Merit, and six Distinguished Flying Crosses. Currently, DeBellevue is the Director of Business Development for DEL-JEN Services Group, a service support company.
On 8 May 1972, President Nixon halted peace negotiations with North Vietnam and authorized the Air Force to strike targets in the heart of that country, an area defended by over 200 MiGs. During Operation Linebacker, the North Vietnamese Air Force lost at least 40 MiGs in air battles to McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantoms. Of these, Triple Nickel crews downed 15 and sister squadrons in the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing downed another nine. In a squadron of warriors, Chuck DeBellevue led the way!