Edward Sykes stands in front of a photo

Edward Sykes stands in front of a photo of the F-105 “Thunder Chief” fighter plane which he flew in Southeast Asia during the time of his service.

For war veterans, their experiences in combat make a lifetime impression. Ed Sykes is no different. The former fighter pilot spent almost a year in the skies over Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. He was one of the fortunate ones. 

“Luckily, I survived it,” he said. 

Many didn’t, including a best friend and roommate. Years later, Sykes went back to find the remains of his friend, which he did, and gave him a proper burial in Arlington National Cemetery. 

Sykes will be talking about that experience and other reflections from his time in the service during a Veterans Day event at First Presbyterian Church, 324 N. Baltimore. 

The event, which is open to the public, gets underway at 6 p.m. with a dinner followed by Sykes’ presentation. Much of the material will be based on a book he’s writing called “The Patch,” named after an elite patch fighter pilots got in the war after completing 100 missions. 

Organizers of the event will be asking for a free-will donation, with proceeds going to help veterans at the Wichita VA hospital. Sykes, who raises hogs and pigs, is donating the meat for meal. 

Sykes, now 76, sums up his time in Vietnam as “some good, but mostly bad.”

Rules cost lives, the war

He has harsh words for the way the conflict was conducted by political leaders. 

“The rules of engagement were terrible,” he said. “They were so restrictive, we were losing people.”

However, being in the military, you did what you were ordered to do, Sykes said. 

But winning the war wasn’t the objective, he said, which was a mistake.  

“If you send people to war, they should tell them to win,” he said. “We lost 58,000 people in that war and no one told them to win.”

Sykes and the roommate he lost, David Dinan, were both young first lieutenants. Sykes was there in 1969, at age 25. They were flying the F-105, which Sykes said was actually an aircraft that was “a little over our heads,” and normally reserved for highly experienced pilots. 

“It was a magnificent airplane, but you had to be real careful operating it,” he said of what was the biggest single-seat fighter built at the time. 

Sykes got his patch, as he logged 118 missions that year. 

They were based in Korat Air Base with the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing. Since the base was in Thailand, they needed air refueling from tankers to make it to their targets and back. 

Settled into Kansas life

Sykes, who always wanted to be a pilot since he was a little boy, went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he graduated with a degree in electrical engineering in 1967. He came to McConnell Air Force Base in 1968 before heading to Vietnam. But Kansas was going to be his new home as he came back here in 1972. After eight years in the Air Force, he joined the Kansas Air National Guard, where he served for 20 years and was its commander for 6-1/2 years. 

Sykes retired with the rank of colonel, then went on to consulting work. After retiring, his new vocation was as a “hobby farmer” on his acreage in Rose Hill, where he’s lived for 46 years. 

Sykes has traveled back to Southeast Asia four times. He’ll likely go back next year looking for more remains from two other men he knew who were killed. 

Life as a fighter pilot was a black-or-white issue. 

“You were either dead or alive,” he said. 

Some were shot down and killed, others ejected and the lucky ones were picked up. The unfortunate ones were captured. Some were tortured and killed. 

That was the past. Now, the people there are at peace and never gave him any trouble, with many admiring the American way of life, he said. 

“I didn’t experience any ill will at all,” he said. “In fact, it was just the opposite.”


(0) comments

Comment on this story.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.