Veterans Day Profile: Roger Ingvalson
A tale of two oaths...
“Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives.” –John Adams (1808)
It is no small irony that Election Day and Veterans Day fall in the same week.
Veterans and elected officials all have one thing in common: Upon entering service, both took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”
On 1 June 1789, the first law enacted by Congress was statute 1, chapter 1: an act to regulate the time and manner of administering certain oaths. It established the oath that all civilian and military officials take before entering into the service of our nation. Our Founders understood that the security of the Republic depended on leaders who would honor and uphold constitutional rule of law, lest the Republic would dissolve into a democratic state ruled by men.
Notably, the oath mandates the support and defense of our Constitution, a document revered not only for its timeless precepts, but for its crisp and clear language. The oath refers to our Constitution precisely as it was ratified, not the so called “living constitution” rewritten by judicial activists, who populate what Thomas Jefferson predicted would become “the despotic branch”.
Veterans support and defend our Constitution with their lives, while most elected officials debase it with all manner of extra-constitutional empowerment of the central government, and forced income redistribution to benefit the constituency groups which re-elect them. Military service personnel who violate the Constitution are remanded for Courts-Martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice while politicians who violate the Constitution are remanded for – re-election.
This Veterans Day, consider the story of one American who never violated his oath. That American is my friend and Patriot mentor, Col. Roger Ingvalson.
Roger was born in Austin, Minnesota, in the era between the World Wars. He was an all-American kid, attending local schools and then the University of Minnesota. He joined the Air Force in 1950 and earned his wings in 1953. He married Jacqueline in 1959, and they had one son. He spent the next nine years as an operations officer for fighter squadrons around the world.
In 1968, Roger was flying the F-105D with the 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron out of Korat Royal Air Force Base, Thailand. The air war over Vietnam was in its third year, and the pilot casualty list included Roger’s wingman and best friend, LtC Wayne Fullam, who was shot down in late 1967. Wayne was MIA until his remains were recovered on September 24, 1987 and identified on December 4, 1987.
On 28 May, Roger took off on his 87th combat sortie, leading a mission to destroy a bridge in North Vietnam. (Roger notes lightheartedly today that it is very important to keep the number of mission takeoffs and landings equal.) With 1600 hours in the F-105, he was confident that this mission would be a success. As he pulled off the target, an air controller requested that he hit an enemy truck convoy nearby.
Roger’s tactical preference was for high speed and low altitude engagement in order to assure accuracy. At about 0900, he located the convoy of Soviet-built trucks near Dong Hoi and rolled in at more than 500 knots. At 50 feet above the hard deck, he fired a long 20mm burst into the convoy.
Moments later, Roger recalls, “I heard and felt an explosion and my cockpit immediately filled with smoke. I hit the afterburner to gain valuable altitude, then pulled the canopy ejection handle to get rid of the smoke. I rocketed up to about 600 feet before my aircraft went into an uncontrollable roll. I pulled the ejection seat handle and squeezed the trigger. As I was catapulted out of the burning aircraft, the wind blast knocked me out, and I didn’t regain consciousness until just prior to landing on a dried out rice paddy.”
As he hit the ground, Roger’s first reaction was to feel for broken bones. “With 15 years of fighter-aircraft experience, I was fully aware of the fact that there is very little chance of survival during an emergency ejection at high speed and low altitude, without a multitude of injuries. To my amazement, I had no broken bones or other injuries.”
Roger had regularly attended church for 40 years, but he says his relationship with his Savior really began when he realized he had survived the ejection. He prayed and gave thanks for his survival as his would-be Communist captors were running toward him.
For the next 1,742 days, Roger endured torture, starvation, desolation, disease and one stretch of 20 months in strict solitary confinement.
Three years into his horrendous internment, Jane Fonda showed up in Hanoi to collaborate with Roger’s captors. She starred in a propaganda film purporting that American POWs were being treated humanely. Roger and other POWs were shown that film repeatedly in an effort to further break their spirit. Hanoi Jane even posed for photographs on an NVA anti-aircraft gun near his prison. She boasted of the civil unrest being fomented back home by leftists like her friend John Kerry who “aided and abetted the enemy” by accusing American service personnel in Vietnam of all manner of atrocities.
Roger received devastating news in late 1971, when he was told by his captors that his wife, Jackie, had died months earlier from complications related to multiple sclerosis. Roger recalls, “During the three years since capture, I had continually dreamed of her in a crippled condition. Then the night after receiving the tragic news, I had another dream of my dear wife – this time she was in perfect health, just like the day we were married. She had gained the victory from suffering and sin; whereas, I gained the peace of knowing that she was in heaven.” (His 13-year old son was taken in by Jackie’s parents.)
On 14 March 1973, after nearly five years of brutal incarceration, Roger and his fellow POWs, including future Senator John McCain, departed for Clark Air Base in the Philippines. There, for the first time in half a decade, he was given medical aid, wholesome food and clean clothes. “The Lord sustained me through 1,742 days of tragedy; nevertheless, I count my blessings. I was set free by the North Vietnamese Communists but had already been fully liberated by Jesus Christ.”
Days later he was welcomed home by family and friends, and Wayne Fullam’s widow, Dorothy “Booncy” Fullam. Throughout the war, she had been an outspoken leader in the League of Families, lobbying for information on POWs and seeking compliance by North Vietnam to the Geneva Conventions regarding treatment of POWs. Of course we now know our POWs were tortured to the edge of death. She also participated with the Billy Graham crusades, giving her powerful personal testimony.
Col. Ingvalson retired from the Air Force a couple of years after his release. His decorations included the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, a Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, seven Air Medals, and, of course, the POW Medal.
However, the most remarkable chapter in this Vietnam Vet’s story was the fact that soon after returning home, Roger married the widow of his former wingman and best friend, and they raised their combined family of four sons together. After returning to his wife’s hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Roger spent the rest of his career in prison ministry.
To Roger, and all our fellow Patriots who have served their nation with courage and great sacrifice, we offer our heartfelt gratitude. You have honored your oath to “support and defend,” as do those on the frontline in Iraq today. You have kept the flame of liberty, lit by our Founders, burning bright for future generations.
In 1918, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month marked the cessation of World War I hostilities. That date is now designated in honor of our veterans, and a focal point for national observance is the placing of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.
Let us never, ever forget.
On a personal note: It is somehow fitting, that in final edit on an essay honoring a veteran mentor this morning, I received word that my Uncle Ted – a Naval Aviator and my father’s wingman in World War II, passed into eternal life. Farewell to another Patriot Veteran of the Greatest Generation. He was one of my heroes, a gentleman who always had a smile and a great story. Thank you, Uncle Ted, for introducing your sister to my father! Fair winds and following seas – we will miss you.
Footnote: In 2011, Roger was reunited with his wingman, Wayne. In 2019, Booncy followed their departure from this life, and she will be buried between her husbands. And notably, two of Booncy’s grandsons, Haden and Jay Fullam, are now Air Force fighter pilots.