Portraits by Cade Martin

Operation Rolling Thunder was the code name for an American aerial bombing campaign during the Vietnam War. U.S. military aircraft attacked targets throughout North Vietnam from March 1965 to October 1968.

Over 2,000 aircraft attacked thousands of targets, dropping more than 7 million tons of bombs. The gradual and sustained aerial bombing campaign ranks as one of the most massive in U.S. history.

For years, in the face of so many loud voices taking stock and making record of this controversial war, the men who flew the missions have been notably silent.

Over War is a portrait series that reveals the scope and reality of the conflict from their unique vantage point flying over the war below.

They have shared their history and their experience mainly amongst themselves. A living brotherhood holding tight to what they saw over the course of a war. While the war is long over, they remain shaped by what they witnessed.

Now, with this project, they let us in. Their silence is broken.

These are the Thunderchief F-105 Air Force pilots of Operation Rolling Thunder.

ED “MOOSE” SKOWRON United States Air Force

“My heroes growing up were soldiers and pilots. They played big roles in the movies and stories of the time, making aviation look exciting and romantic. I daydreamed and sketched airplanes through my early childhood. This led to building and flying models until finally in high school, I got a chance to take flying lessons.”

Gerald McGauley
GERALD McGAULEY United States Air Force

“In my junior in year of high school, 1952, the Korean War was in full swing. Our fighter pilots were picking up where the aces of WW2 left off. Now in jets engaging in dog fights with the MIGs of North Korea and China. I wanted in. Went directly from high school to flight school. My all-time childhood dream come true.”

JOHN MORRISSEY United States Air Force

“I finished first in my class, giving me first choice of assignment. I went to “Gun School” at Luke AFB in Phoenix. There, I was in a class of seven. Three years later only three of us were still alive… and this was before the war had begun.”

WILLIAM HOSMER United States Air Force

“In 1955, after a year and a half of flight school I began training to become a fighter pilot. That led to assignments in F-84 and F-100 squadrons in the US, Japan, and on Okinawa. Then, after ten years of experience we reequipped and became combat ready in the new F-105 Thunderchief.”

F-105 Thunderchief Reunion
BEN BOWTHROPE United States Air Force

“The F105 – It was the sweetest thing you’d ever want to wrap your hands around. Once you got it airborne the sensation was like flying a Cadillac. 52,000 pounds, 65 ft long, 38 ft wingspan. Couldn’t turn with a MIG, but could out run them. Great airplane.”

Robert Nesbitt
ROBERT NESBITT United States Air Force

“Operation Rolling Thunder… the top brass had a list of the 250 most strategic targets, numbered and prioritized. They started us on number 250 and worked their way up to the most strategically important target that would be the last one to strike. In my opinion, that’s a totally defeatist mindset.”

Frosty Sheridan
FROSTY SHERIDAN United States Air Force

“I arrived in sunny Vietnam with 9-hours of Weasel training. During the prior two weeks, my new squadron had lost two planes and one crew. I remember drinking a beer at the O’Club bar in the midst of about fifty young warriors, wondering if I’d really have the guts to do what they were doing day in and day out.”

Clifford "Ted" Reese, Jr.
TED REES United States Air Force

“We soon realized there was no plan… no exit strategy. There was no intention of ending or winning. We were just there waiting for the Joint Chiefs of Staff to give us the target of the day. No end in sight. This was where I wanted to be, except now I was a 28-year old Captain, with a family. Yeah, I wondered if I’d made a stupid mistake.”

John Piowaty
JOHN PIOWATY United States Air Force

“We have since learned that our target list was shared through Switzerland with the enemy to ensure no civilians were harmed. Well, that’s no way to win a war. The enemy would move out and set up somewhere else, ready to hit us on our way in and out. And, sometimes… Chiefs of Staff would send us in 5 days in a row.”

Mike Thomas
MIKE THOMAS United States Air Force

“I caught a ‘Golden Beebe’ in my engine… had to eject. My wingman told me I had a trail of fire coming out of my tail pipe. Keep in mind the ejection seat is fired by a 35-millimeter shell with the lead removed… I became the projectile. When you hit the wind stream it’s like getting smacked in the face with a snow shovel.”

Cec Prentis
CECIL PRENTIS United States Air Force

“They had so many different kinds of guns. 37, 57, 85, 100 mill guns. 1,700 guns in place circling Hanoi. We had briefing, we knew where the guns were at… but you couldn’t avoid all of them. We had to go in and take our chances.”

Thomas Lockhart
TOM LOCKHART United States Air Force

“I remember at the time thinking, I’d rather be killed than captured. We heard about what they did to the guys taken prisoner. I’d rather die than go through that. Now, I wonder how many of my friends are dead because Washington shared our targets?”

BOB GADD United States Air Force

“Finally, on December 19th, 1972, we were allowed to take off our gloves and fight. The North was stalling on attending the Paris Peace Talks, so we were ordered to go “downtown” (Hanoi), and hit them with everything we had. After eleven days, their white flags went up and they agreed to the terms of the Peace Accords. I still feel we let them off too easily.”

Ivy J McCoy
IVY McCOY United States Air Force

“The philosophy of the war, as dictated by McNamara and the Whiz Kids… flew in the face of everything we had been taught about air power and how to use our military might. We just squandered it. We lost 58,000 soldiers and 2,000 airplanes. We could have ended that thing in six months.”

Cal Jewett
CAL JEWETT United States Air Force

“You can’t run a war from the Oval Office. I would have loved to have McNamara or Johnson on one of the flights with me.”

Bob Lines
ROBERT LINES United States Air Force

“Looking back now, the numbers are sobering. Our tour length was 100 missions… so that was 100 chances to get shot down. Roughly two thirds of us were downed. About half were killed or captured, and half rescued. If physically able, those rescued went back to the cockpit.”

John Russell
JOHN RUSSELL United States Air Force

“In spite of everything going on, the bad leadership in the Oval Office, the bad press and people out in the streets protesting, my service made me more of a patriot… an American who believes in who we are and what we stand for.”

Anthony "Tony" Cushenberry
TONY CUSHENBERRY United States Air Force

“I put my life on the line for freedom, democracy and peace. The same things the protesters in the streets at home wanted.”

Joe Steen


Jessie Henderson



Mike Lanning


James McLauchlin


Mark Yeokum


Gordon Jenkins


JC Jones


Sam Martin


Max Hatcher


Dick "Thumper" O'Conor


Tom Mason


Mack Angel


Charles "Chuck" Boyd


Robert Miller


Denny Jarvi


Lowell "Doc" Paterson


Dave Waldrop




Roger Counts



Dale Thompson


Dave Groak




Will Snell



“If there is no heaven, then just being in the same room with these men for all time would be good enough for me.”

John Morrissey Thunderchief Pilot
JOHN MORRISSEY - Thunderchief Pilot - Quote

I was 7 when the Vietnam War ended. I know what I do – as most my age – from movies and documentaries. And most of what I encountered was about the ground troops, rarely about the pilots.

So I jumped at the chance to attend one of their reunions in San Antonio. And owing to special circumstances, they welcomed us in – just me and a small crew. Over portraits, their shared, collective story was told, and it was full of revelations that might leave you speechless.

I observed lives reconnecting and experiences being relived. These reunions are where the Thunderchief pilots have maintained their shared past and let one another into all that they have been and done in the years since.

As a photographer, I have always been comfortable learning through the lens, looking for what needs to be communicated in the architecture and life in faces. Set up with my camera in a hotel room, I slowed it down so I would find time to have an ear in their conversations and an eye on their faces.

I saw joy in their friendships, heard laughter and caught pride in their lives lived. The solemn reality of Operation Rolling Thunder allows them to cherish the good stuff. Observing them, taking that closer look – I could see how valuable that is, where it fits in their stories.

Once jet-fueled cowboys, they are still walking with a swagger born of knowing themselves. Among the F-105 Thunderchief fighter pilots, there are no secrets. They all know who they are. And by capturing their faces to accompany their stories, I hope more people can know who they are. It was an honor.

CADE MARTINPhotographer
RON DAVID WALTERStory & Design Director
CHRIS BISAGNILighting Director
MATTHEW LEMKE1st Assistant
ROBERT AMADOR2nd Assistant
SUGAR DIGITALPost Production
ED “MOOSE” SKOWRONMilitary Advisor / Archival Photographer