Most fighter-bomber missions meant to knock out enemy defense systems during the Vietnam War only involved one fly-by — the pilots knew there were few chances of escaping enemy aircraft if you executed more than one pass. Air Force Col. Merlyn Dethlefsen knew that when he took charge of a daring raid over a North Vietnamese steel plant in 1967, but he ignored the status quo to make sure the mission was a success. For that, he earned the Medal of Honor.
Dethlefsen was born in Greenville, Iowa, on June 29, 1934. As the son of a farmer and a schoolteacher, he did well at academics, graduating with honors from high school in 1951 when he was just 16.
Dethlefsen went to Iowa State University for about two years before deciding to join the Air Force in 1953. He started aviation cadet training the following year and was commissioned as