From Sky to Landfall

Jun 20, 2024 • 6 min. read | By Neil Cotiaux

For the growing number of older adults who call coastal North Carolina home, retirement means lazy days at the beach, barbecues with family and friends and biking along an increasing number of walk-and-cycle trails.


For Allen Lamb, who is 92 and splits his time between his hometown of Lumberton and Wilmington’s Landfall community, retirement also means basking in the glow of a lifetime achievement award bestowed on him by fellow retirees of the U.S. Air Force for valor during the Vietnam War.


Called “Wild Weasels” because its tactics were reminiscent of the way a hunting ferret enters the den of its prey to kill it, the top-secret mission that Lamb led in 1965 meant making the first flight of a fighter jet equipped with radar-seeking missiles to pinpoint incoming Soviet surface-to-air missiles, or SAM(s). The ultimate objective? Neutralizing enemy launching pads on the ground.


“The task of a Wild Weasel aircraft is to bait enemy anti-aircraft defenses into targeting it with their radars, whereupon the radar waves are traced back to their source, allowing the Weasel or its teammates to precisely target it (SAM sites) for destruction,” according to Wikipedia.


“They’re (the Air Force) using the techniques that I developed … the Weasel became the tip of the spear. It really set the Russians back,” Lamb said in an interview following a May 3 tribute at Landfall Country Club. At the event, he was honored by representatives of The Society of Wild Weasels; his wife, Frances (shown with Lamb above); and other friends and family in recognition of the groundbreaking missions that he flew.


Photo c/o Allen Lamb

“I was asked to volunteer” before he was briefed on what the Air Force had in mind, Lamb recalled. “I ended up getting the first three and the fifth one (SAM ‘kills’). We couldn’t even keep records of anything.”


Lamb’s leadership role in the Wild Weasels came at a time when the U.S. was losing planes in a bombing campaign over North Vietnam called Operation Rolling Thunder due to the effectiveness of Soviet SAM(s) in support of Ho Chi Minh, a communist who served as president of North Vietnam from 1945 to 1969. Based in Hanoi, he had plans to overtake U.S.-backed South Vietnam.


After he died in office, the long-running Vietnamese standoff as well as diminishing public support in the U.S. for the war led to a peace accord in 1973 and an uneasy unification of North and South. When Saigon fell, it was renamed Ho Chi Minh City.


Erica Mearns, Lamb’s daughter, grew up going to Air Force reunions with her father. She describes his initial Wild Weasels sorties as “a suicide mission.” Nevertheless, he flew a total of 298 Weasels flights, with a small Bible onboard and saying a prayer before taking off.


“A Wild Weasel crewman wore a hard helmet and an oxygen mask with an integrated microphone. A survival vest held a first aid kit, escape map, survival kit and other items useful should he be shot down or forced to eject,” according to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force website. “Over the waist and legs is a g-suit, which fills with air during sharp turns to keep him from passing out from high g (gravitational) forces. On his back is a parachute. Other items normally carried included a pistol and survival knife,” the web posting added.


Lamb was accompanied on his first Wild Weasels flight by Jack Donovan, a back-seat navigator. “I couldn’t do what I did up-front without him … He was pointing out where the (Soviet) guns were coming from, (and) we could actually detect radar that was hitting us on the airplane,” Lamb said.


When Lamb was awarded the Silver Star for his leadership role in the Wild Weasels, he refused to accept it because Donovan was not also honored. Donovan, however, did receive the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions. He died in 2015 at age 82 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.


Photo c/o Allen Lamb

In addition to introducing a new tactic in electronic warfare, Lamb was the only Weasel to regain flight status after ejecting from his jet, his daughter noted, as well as the only military pilot at the time to regain that status. But he sustained three fractured vertebrae in his back and two in his neck.


“To regain flight status he had to do 100 jumping jacks, 100 situps and 100 pushups in 12 minutes,” which he mastered over six weeks, said Mearns, who also lives in Wilmington.


“From protecting his B-26 bomber as a tail gunner from Soviet MIG pilots over Korea, to being distinguished as the first American pilot to successfully destroy North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile SAM sites in an F-100 Super Sabre fighter jet, Lieutenant Colonel Lamb’s Cold War service consisted of many hazardous and diverse assignments,” reads a statement from U.S. Senator Thom Tillis that was placed into the legislative record. “Although it is difficult to narrow all of the spectacular death-defying accomplishments of Lieutenant Colonel Lamb’s career down to one specific achievement, his participation in the first ‘Wild Weasel’ strike against a North Vietnamese SA-2 SAM is particularly notable for the significant influence it had on future Air Force tactics.”


According to Business Insider, Wild Weasels tactics are being used in the Ukrainian battle with Russia. “Ukraine clearly is learning from Western military thought,” Frederik Mertens, a strategic analyst at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, told the publication, adding that Russian air defenses are a “key target.”


While much of Lamb’s 20 years of active service were dead-serious, there were some lighter moments.


Though details are hard to come by, Lamb remembers the day when he heard about a young boy who was to undergo a kidney transplant. Determined to make the young man’s wish for a furry friend come true, Lamb packed a dog into a plane and took off. When Lamb landed and delivered his four-legged passenger, astonished onlookers couldn’t believe their eyes.


“When I handed him (the crew chief) the puppy, they couldn’t believe it,” Lamb said. “That got us in a little bit of trouble, though I did it anyway.”


Local Veterans Organizations


Honor Flight of the Cape Fear Area

Since 2022, this nonprofit, all-volunteer group has honored WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War-era veterans by taking them on an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to visit veteran memorials and monuments. The next trip is slated for spring 2025. 


American Legion

Accepts veterans who served anytime since 1941 and were honorably discharged or still serving active military duty. Local posts include:

• Post 10 in Wilmington |

• Post 167 in Hampstead |

• Post 129 in Pleasure Island | and others.


Veterans of Foreign Wars

Another nonprofit veterans service organization for veterans (or those currently serving) who also served in “in a war, campaign, or expedition on foreign soil or in hostile waters.” 
The Wilmington Post 2573 |


In The Current Issue

From Sky to Landfall

Retired Lt. Colonel Allen Lamb was recently honored by representatives of The Society of Wild Weasels in recognition of the groundbreaking missions that he flew.

Flavor profiles from across state lines

There are a lot of food options in Wilmington – vegan, international and, of course, Southern – but what of those who miss their taste of home?

Dosher hospital’s growth plan

Dosher Memorial Hospital is currently undergoing significant expansion and renovation to ensure it can continue to meet the needs of the county’s burgeoning population.