Freedom Fighters: Mark Christman

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - It's been almost a half a century since Mark Christman flew F-1-11s in Vietnam. But a visit to Tyler's Historic Aviation Memorial Museum is a good chance to show his family what the iconic fighter bomber is all about.

"Back then it was kind of a new plane and they were looking for people to put in the airplane and I got it," says Christman. "It's 40 something years old."

Christman had joined the Air Force in 1969 and only a few years later was on his way to Vietnam for his first combat tour.

"I had two combat tours in Vietnam back in 19...first one was 1972. I went over in '72, did a six-month tour, came back and went back for over a year," recalls Christman.

A series of bombing missions called 'Linebacker' were going on when Christman arrived in Vietnam.

"Linebacker was going on when we got there in September. We participated in Linebacker for probably two months and then in December of '72 they started Linebacker 2 when the B-52s started to participate in the bombing of North Vietnam and we were obviously involved in those as well as the  F4s and whatever else was over there," says Christman.

Most of the bombing in North Vietnam had been done in the daytime, but since the Vietcong used night time to repair runways and other damage, night time bombing was also necessary, and the F1-F11s were perfect for the job.

"Our biggest threat was guns, triple A fire, and surface to air missiles, recalls Christman.

Christman says the most dangerous time was the last two minutes of their bomb runs.

"Obviously, they knew we were coming so they, they would just shoot straight up in the air with the hopes of maybe hitting an airplane," says Christman.

And, at times the American planes were hit. Christman lost some of his best friends in those bombing runs.

"I think we lost six airplanes over a period of about three or four months," says Christman.

After two tours of duty in Vietnam and 78 combat missions, Christman was assigned to a two-year exchange program with the Australian Air Force, and after twenty years in the U.S. Air Force, Mark Christman retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1989.

Copyright 2017 KLTV. All rights reserved.