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Tigers: Tracking a Legend
Karl W. Richter
1st Lt. Karl W. Richter was born in Holly, Michigan in 1942 and graduated from Holly High School. He developed an early interest in aviation and be age 18 had become a skilled pilot. He was selected for enrollment at the U.S. Air Force Academy and graduated in June, 1964 with a commission as second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. He received 53 weeks of pilot training at Craig Air Force Base in Alabama and 26 weeks of combat crew replacement training at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada with qualifications in the F-105 Thundercheif. Because of his outstanding ability, he was given the honor of "high-flying" a replacement F-105 directly to Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand on April 6, 1966.
Richter was assigned to the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 388th Tactical Fighter Wing. Four days later he flew his first F-105 combat mission over North Vietnam. Because of his demonstrated proficiency, he became an element leader, flight leader and the only first lieutenant to serve as mission commander on raids into the Hanoi area. During his first 100-mission tour, he became the youngest U.S. pilot (23) and only the third F-105 pilot to shoot down a MiG. He was awarded the Silver Star and personally decorated by the South Vietnamese Premier with the Vietnamese Distinguished Service Medal.
Richter volunteered for a second 100-mission tour, the only pilot ever approved for a second consecutive tour. On April 20, 1967, he led a flight of F-105s on a defense-suppression mission. His flight destroyed or pinned-down a number of enemy anti-aircraft and surface-to-air missile positions in spite of weather which handicapped navigation and intense enemy fire allowing the strike force to destroy its important railroad target. Richter was awarded the Air Force Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor, for his heroism and skill on that mission.
On July 28, 1967, Richter was leading a new wingman on a mission over North Vietnam when he was hit by anti-aircraft fire and forced to eject. Rescue forces quickly picked him up, but he had been badly injured during his parachute landing and died aboard the rescue helicopter at the age of 24. At the time of his death, Richter flew more combat missions over Vietnam than any other airman.
In addition to the Air Force Cross and Silver Star, Richter was awarded four Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Bronze Star, 22 Air Medals and the Purple Heart. Bronze statues of Richter stand at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama and the Mall of Heroes at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The Academy's Richter Lounge, Richter Intermediary School in Holly and the VFW post in Thailand have been named in his honor as well. Portraits of Richter hang in the Academy's Harmon Hall, the U.S. Air Force Museum and the Pentagon.
1st Lt. Karl W. Richter was enshrined into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame on May 19, 2012.