On 26 April 1967 I flew an “Iron Hand” mission from the USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14), escorting an A-4E Skyhawk on a defense-suppression sortie near Haiphong, North Vietnam. At the time, I was a lieutenant commander flying F-8E Crusaders in VF-191. My section leader on the mission was Lieutenant Commander Michael Estocin, an attack pilot in VA-192. He was a smart, aggressive aviator—one of only a half-dozen Iron Hands in Air Wing 19 qualified to counter enemy surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) with AGM-45 Shrike antiradiation missiles.
Mike was one of the few who enjoyed dueling with SAMs. He was not content merely to suppress the enemy batteries—he wanted to shoot them with Shrikes—to go for the “hard kill” instead of a “mission kill.” Only six days before, he had stretched his luck almost to the breaking point. He had attacked three sites, took severe damage to his jet, and returned to the task force only by flying hooked up to a KA-3B tanker. Even when he disconnected, he landed with his A-4 afire and streaming fuel through holes in the wings.