During the 1980’s there were mulitple terrorists acts across western Europe, for which the Libyan regime bore much of the responsibility. After the April 5, 1986 bombing of a West Berlin nghtclub, which injured several American servicemen, President Reagan had had enough. He ordered a military strike on Qadaifi’s HQ, hoping to decapitate the regime.
I am not going to recount in detail the specifics of the mission. However, I do want to stress FOUR key points:
1. The main strike component was delivered by F-111s (Aardvarks) flying from England. Our “so-called” allies then; France, Spain, and Italy, REFUSED TO ALLOW OUR AIRCRAFT TO OVERFLY THEIR AIRSPACE. THEY ALSO REFUSED LANDING RIGHTS ON THEIR BASES FOR REFUELING. THIS ADDED OVER 2,800 MILES ROUND TRIP, AND MULTIPLE AIR-TO-AIR REFUELINGS, TO THE RAID PROFILE.
As the current NATO mission in Libya appears to be coming to an end, remember well the perfidious nature of our supposed allies.
2. One F-111 was lost over Libya, later determined to have been hit by a Libyan SAM. The after-action reports strongly suggested that crew fatigue, due to the extended outbound flight ( the F-111s had to leave England, fly out into the Atlantic, around France and Spain, then into the Med via Gibraltar) and the stresses of several mid-air refuelings, could have diminished the ability of the crew to detect, and then avoid, the SAM.
3. The F-111 that was lost had a two man crew:
Capt. Paul F. Lorence, USAF
Capt. Fernando L. Ribas-Dominicci, USAF
Libya claimed to have recovered the bodies of the two pilots. After the raid, Libyan television showed a USAF helmet with the name “Lorence” stenciled on it. It appeared authentic.
Additionally, and of even greater import, an American, William C. Chasey (a former USMC officer) was in Libya in 1988 as an unoffical envoy of President Reagan, to see if relations between the two countries could be somewhat “normalized.”
He states that he saw the wreckage of the downed F-111, and also TWO flight suits and TWO helmets, with the pilots’ names stenciled on them.
4. On Christmas Day, 1988, due to the personal intervention of Pope John Paul II, the Libyans offered to return the remains of Capt. Lorence. When the body was examined, it was determined that death was by drowning, consistent with the fact that the plane had gone down in the Gulf of Sidra. HOWEVER, IT WAS LATER DETERMINED THAT THE REMAINS WERE NOT THAT OF CAPT. LORENCE, BUT RATHER THAT OF CAPT. RIBAS-DOMINICCI. Whether this was an additional cruel joke by the Libyans, or a possible “honest” mix-up on their part, has yet to be determined. Capt. Lorence’s remains are thus presumed to be somewheres in Libya to this day.
Given that there appears to be irrefutable evidence that the Libyans recovered both the downed aircraft AND the remains of BOTH pilots, once things have stabilized to some extent in Libya, there is no higher priority for the US government and the USAF than to make every effort to locate Capt. Lorence’s remains, and return them home to his family, and a grateful nation.
There are no doubt many members of Qadafi’s former regime who would now be eager to curry favor and tell us what happened, and help us to locate the gravesite.
Capt. Lorence needs to “come home” for the last time, and we must also remind ourselves that in today’s dangerous world, allies can be fickle, self-serving, and often, sadly, lacking.