The US Air Force’s 22nd Special Operations Squadron was based in Thailand during the Vietnam War, flying the A-1 Skyraider. They flew interdiction missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and also supported other operations, such as the rescue of downed aircrews.
On December 5-7, 1969 one gallant airman would not leave a downed comrade to the hands of the enemy. He repeatedly exposed his plane to ground fire at great risk to himself and because of his skill and courage, the rescue was ultimately successful. That airman was Major Thomas E. Dayton, and for his heroism, he received our Nation’s second-highest honor: the Air Force Cross.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Major Thomas E. Dayton (AFSN: 0-29982), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as an A-1 Tactical Fighter Pilot of the 22d Special Operations Squadron, in action in Southeast Asia, from 5 December 1969 to 7 December 1969. On those dates, Major Dayton exerted all the courage and flying skill at his disposal in a fiercely opposed attempt to rescue a fellow airman from one of the most heavily defended areas in Southeast Asia. During the first two days of this largest search and rescue mission attempted in Southeast Asia, Major Dayton escorted helicopters into the search area on four separate occasions. Despite intense hostile fire during low altitude and slow speed required in this protective role, he repeatedly attacked hostile positions throughout the valley. Designated On-Scene Commander on the third day, Major Dayton continued his heroic rescue efforts with great vigor and determination despite the fact that fifteen previous attempts had failed, and with full knowledge that each return would again place his life in jeopardy. Notwithstanding these tremendous obstacles, Major Dayton persisted in his efforts, with the realization that the successful application of airpower would be the deciding factor. During the final rescue attempt, Major Dayton had to hold an orbiting position over the survivor to divert air strikes away from the survivor’s position. Braving hundreds of rounds of hostile fire during these three days, Major Dayton took control of the recovery operation at its lowest ebb and heroically challenged and mastered this successful, unparalleled rescue mission. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, Major Dayton reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Major Dayton also was decorated with the Silver Star (October 8, 1969) and three Distinguished Flying Crosses (10/6/1969, 12/11/1969, and 2/7/1970) for his Vietnam service. The records at Military Times show that he continued his service to our Nation and the defense of liberty into the 1980s, attaining at least the rank of Colonel, and twice receiving the Legion of Merit for outstanding service. The 22nd Special Operations Squadron is today inactive with the USAF, and has no descendant unit.
To Thomas E. Dayton, and all the brave men and women who have defended us in the skies, we say thanks.