Colonel Jack Broughton: Vietnam flying ace who was cleared at a court martial but went on to criticise the US's handling of the war


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The Independent Online

Jack Broughton was a decorated US Air Force fighter pilot who flew more than 200 missions in Korea and Vietnam and later became an outspoken critic of the White House and the US’s military leaders.

As a star pilot beginning in the 1940s, he was hailed for his bravery and tactical cunning, and seemed well on his way to becoming a general. But his career ended after a high-profile court-martial during the Vietnam War. In 1967 he was accused of covering up the strafing of a Soviet freighter in the North Vietnamese port of Cam Pha by a pilot under his command.

Broughton and two of his pilots were court-martialled. All were acquitted of the most serious charges, conspiracy to violate Air Force rules of engagement that ruled certain targets off-limits. The court-martial was later expunged, but he retired, going on to  criticise President Johnson and his Defence Secretary Robert McNamara for mismanagement of the military. He blasted the restrictions placed on bomber pilots out of fear that the Soviet Union or China could be drawn into the conflict.

“We were poorly utilised, we were hopelessly misdirected and restricted, and we were woefully misused by a chain of stagnant high-level leadership that didn’t have the courage to fight the war that they ineptly micromanaged,” he wrote. His son Mark said his father never wavered in his beliefs. “He was always highly patriotic...But his feeling was, if you go to war and put people in harm’s way, play to win or get the hell out.” In retirement, he wrote several books, was a commercial pilot, and worked on safety measures for the B-1 bomber and the space shuttle Endeavour.

Jacksel Markham Broughton, pilot: born Utica, New York 4 January 1925; died California 24 October 2014.