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NAME: Lt Col Jeffrey Feinstein, USAF, Ret.

TIMEFRAME: Cold War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War

Lt Col Jeffrey Feinstein, call sign “Fang,” is one of only five US flying aces who served in the Vietnam War, and the last member of the US military to receive flying ace status to date. His heroism throughout numerous air battles in the Vietnam War earned him a remarkable five Distinguished Flying Crosses, four Silver Stars and four Air Medals.

Feinstein was born in 1945 and grew up in Chicago. He enlisted in the US Air Force in 1963 and graduated from the Air Force Academy five years later. Although he was initially rejected from pilot school due to extreme near-sightedness, Feinstein earned his navigator wings in 1969.

In the early 1970s, Feinstein served as an F-4 Phantom Weapons System Officer (WSO) with several tactical fighter squadrons in Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. He was awarded his four Silver Stars in a span of 3.5 months immediately preceding and during Operation Linebacker against the North Vietnamese:

  •  16 April 1972: While flying over hostile territory, Feinstein took part in a flight of four F-4D Phantoms to give air defense support for fighter-bombers in the vicinity of Hanoi, North Vietnam. When a flight of two enemy aircraft attempted to attack the formation, Captain Feinstein led his element against the hostile formation and shot down the second aircraft. While consistently dodging the threat of surface-to-air missiles, Feinstein’s courageous actions kept the hostile aircraft from attacking friendly aircraft.
  •  31 May 1972: Feinstein served as element lead in a flight of four F-4s on a Combat Air Patrol mission to provide support for a strike force that had gone to attack vital targets close to Kep Airfield in North Vietnam. Over the course of the mission, Feinstein’s flight protected the strike force by engaging 11 hostile aircraft. Feinstein then defended his own crew by shooting down a MiG-21 that was attacking the lead element.
  •  18 July 1972: Feinstein took four fighter aircraft on an air superiority mission to provide support to a strike force over North Vietnam. After a flight of enemy fighters attacked the earlier air defense flight during its egress from the target area in a low fuel state, Feinstein responded by attacking both planes at great risk to himself. After a high speed, low altitude chase, he shot one of the aircraft down. The citation notes that due to “this selfless action, the earlier friendly flight egressed safely and the strike force was able to accomplish its mission unhindered by hostile aircraft.”
  •  29 July 1972: Feinstein led four Phantoms on a Combat Air Patrol to protect strike aircraft that were attacking targets outside Hanoi. At great risk to his life, Feinstein provided protection for the strike aircraft, which were under heavy anti-aircraft fire. He shot down another one of the Vietnamese MiGs in this flight as well.

In addition to the Silver Stars, Feinstein earned five DFCs:

  • 30 September 1971: Feinstein led four fighters to provide cover for chaff bombers from hostile Vietnamese aircraft. They then carried out an air strike mission near Hanoi, in North Vietnam. When two hostile aircraft attempted a high altitude, supersonic attack on the chaff flight, Feinstein aggressively engaged them, made them break off their intercept, and nearly shot down both aircraft in a dogfight over hostile territory.
  •  9 June 1972: Feinstein was leading four Phantoms on a combat air patrol mission to support a strike force over North Vietnam when two enemy aircraft threatened to disrupt the strike force. Disregarding his own safety, Feinstein pursued both and likely destroyed one of the hostile aircraft, enabling the strike force to accomplish its mission.
  • 12 June 1972: Feinstein was put in command of three flights of tactical strike aircraft against many heavily defended targets in North Vietnam. Under extremely heavy anti-aircraft artillery fire, “he successfully directed these flights in the destruction of two large petroleum areas, ten trucks, and numerous other enemy supplies.”
  • 26 July 1972: While flying over hostile territory, Feinstein controlled six flights of strike aircraft in the heavily defended Quang Khe region. In spite of difficult weather conditions and heavy anti-aircraft artillery fire from the North Vietnamese, he led the destruction of a petroleum pumping station, two ferry landings, a river craft storage area, and a large river craft.”
  • 9 September 1972: Feinstein directed four F-4s on a combat air patrol mission to support a strike force that was attacking the northeast railroad in North Vietnam. At great risk to his own safety, he disrupted an attack by four hostile aircraft and gave valuable assistance that “directly contributed toward the successful recovery of a downed aircrew.”

While locked in a friendly high-stakes competition with fellow fighter pilots and WSOs, Feinstein gained Ace status (and an Air Force Cross, as well as splitting the 1972 Mackay Trophy with the other two aces) when shooting down a MiG-21 on 13 October 1972. That citation reads, “While protecting a large strike force attacking a high priority target deep in hostile territory, Captain Feinstein engaged two enemy aircraft and destroyed one as they attacked the vulnerable chaff-dispensing flight. Having destroyed one of the aircraft and realizing that his wingman was coming under fire, Captain Feinstein continued his attack on the second enemy aircraft. This courageous and aggressive maneuver negated the immediate threat to his wingman and caused the second MiG-21 to flee the area in which he would constitute a threat to the strike forces.”

When he returned to the US from Vietnam, Feinstein was given a waiver for his near-sightedness and earned his command pilot wings, to go with his parachutist and navigator wings. He then served as a flying weapons instructor. Toward the end of his career, Feinstein served in combat once again during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, this time as the Airborne Command Element Director of an E-3 Sentry AWACS. Lt Col Jeffrey Feinstein retired from the Air Force, a legend of air power, in July 1996. His awards include: the Air Force Cross, Silver Star (4 awards), Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat “V” (5 awards), Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal (4 awards), Aerial Achievement Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal.

Originally published in the Tishrei 5783 Jewish-American Warrior