Jay E. Riedel was born 19 November 1939 in Freeport, Long Island, New York, and received his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mathematics from the University of Buffalo, Buffalo, New York, and his commission as a Second Lieutenant through AFROTC in July 1961. Colonel Jay E. Riedel retired 1 April 1992 after thirty years of active service to his country. His last assignment was Senior Air Force Representative to the United States Army Infantry, Ft. Benning, Georgia. Memories of a Fighter Pilot is a collection of as many of his personal recollections as he can remember that would be of a significant interest to most readers. They are as accurate as he remembers them. Many will make you laugh, some will water your eyes, and some will have you gripping your chair with white knuckles. "I have experienced many of life’s ups and downs, and I hope all who read of these episodes will be entertained, yet glean some information that may be of use in their own lives. It was quite a... More > ride." Foreword by General Chuck Horner.< Less
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By Stephen Perry
Oct 27, 2011
Reading Colonel Jay Riedel’s wonderful book “Memories of a Fighter Pilot” is like having a conversation with an old friend. To me it was as though I was curled up in an overstuffed chair with a steaming cup of coffee sharing stories with Jay. So much of the Colonel’s story was familiar to me that I felt as though I was there when he was collecting stamps and coins with his father, making gunpowder from the ingredients he bought from the local pharmacy and flying his balsa wood airplanes. I had participated in these and many of the other activities Jay described in the carefree days of his youth. Jay is one of those brave men I described in my book “Bright Light.” “These brave men had lived in our neighborhoods, attended our schools and churches and had done all the things that American kids do. But these brave men were different in a very special way…they had heard the call of their country and had stood proudly to accept their responsibility as United States citizens.” Jay’s book... More > details the birth of his dream of being a fighter pilot and the long wait and vigorous training that took him there. His FIRST tour over Vietnam in 1964 was flying in a KC 135 tanker used to refuel the fighters over North Vietnam. It was his destiny that he would be trained as a fighter pilot and return to Vietnam in 1969 as the pilot of an F100 fighter. He flew missions of Close Air Support (CAS) for troops on the ground. It was quite interesting to me as a SOG recon team leader who called for CAS many times during combat operations in Laos to hear the pilot’s side of the story. Jay’s combat experience in the air was quite different from mine on the ground but it was every bit as dangerous. Colonel Riedel also describes his participation in Search and Rescue (SAR) missions. The SOG code name for SARs was Bright Light and they were the most dangerous for both the air and ground crews involved. The North Vietnamese (NVA) understood our respect for human life and our military principle of leaving no man behind. The NVA would often set up ambushes and anti-aircraft guns in areas where pilots went down. The enemy would lay and wait patiently to kill more Americans as they returned for their fallen comrades. On his third deployment to Vietnam in 1972 Jay was flying A7D jets. In addition to CAS and SAR missions he flew HOBO escorts. These were escorting helicopters during ground force insertion and extractions. In addition to these duties, the Colonel and his squadron flew bombing missions over North Vietnam. The stories of those raids are both informative and chilling. Dodging anti aircraft guns, surface to air missiles and MIG fighters with Soviet pilots was no job for the weak hearted. The remainder of Jay’s book details assignments in South Korea and the United States and finally his retirement in Georgia. Colonel Riedel dedicated thirty years of his life to serving in our armed forces. His service cost him dearly in many sad and personal ways. He lost much because of his dedication to duty. From what I have learned from his book, he is a man of honor and integrity who stood for justice and freedom when his country needed him. I wish him every blessing in his retirement. “Memories of A Fighter Pilot” is an interesting portrait of a great American. I encourage everyone to get a copy and learn what it means to fight for freedom and justice.< Less
Written by Bernie Weisz Historian, Vietnam War Pembroke Pines, Florida, USA e mail address: BernWei1@aol.com December 4, 2010 Title Of Review: "A Fighter Pilot's Biggest Accomplishment In Vietnam: Turning The Tide Of A Ground Battle From Near Disaster Into Success." Ostensibly written by Jay E. Riedel as a loose collection of personal remembrances ranging from his earliest childhood memories all the way into his golden years of retirement, the reader will discover a golden treasure chest of historical artifacts as seen through the eyes of a combat hardened fighter pilot at the height of the Vietnam War. Jay Riedel commenced writing "Memories of a Fighter Pilot" on December 20, 2001 and finally finished this memoir in 2010. The reason Riedel titled this book as such was because almost all of his photos, records, diaries and personal memorabilia were lost, the rest vindictively thrown away by an ex wife incensed over their divorce. Reidel outwardly states this book... More > will never win a Pulitzer Prize, be a best selling piece of literature nor be the motivating factor for a major motion picture. Rather, Riedel felt he had a few life-altering experiences that he wanted to jot down for his extended family that they would enjoy reading in "the good old days" of grandpa Jay's life. However, his vision for his family has been greatly exceeded and surpassed in allowing the student of America's role in the Vietnam War a perspective rarely experienced nor told elsewhere. Jay Riedel was born on November 19, 1939 in Freeport, NY, just two months after Adolf Hitler's Germany and Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union jointly fulfilled their "Pact of Steel" pledge to each other and invaded Poland simultaneously, thus igniting World War II. There was no military lineage in his family, as Riedel's father was a tool and die maker and his mother was a registered nurse. Riedel's family first lived in Bellmore, NY, and then when Jay was 4 the Riedel's relocated to Montrose, Pennsylvania. Jay and Paul, his eight year older brother, had an uneventful childhood. The most influential occurrence in Jay's life was building and flying with Paul rubber band powered balsa wood airplanes. Jay commented: "It was at this time in my life-only four years old-that I decided this was what I wanted to do. Fly!" The Riedel's continued to move, again uprooting to Binghamton, NY from 1944 to 1948 and then in 1949 on to North Lansing, NY. It was there that Jay's father took his son on a $5 airplane ride that reinforced the desire to be a pilot. The Riedel's would move once more to Ithica, NY, where Jay would reside until he went to University of Buffalo, NY, eventually earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics. With the desire stronger than ever to fly in the back of his mind, Riedel temporarily took a job as a computer programmer at Bell Aerosystems with the end result volunteering for the U.S. Air Force in March of 1962 as a second Lieutenant. Reidel came one step closer to being a fighter pilot by attending flying school at Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, TX. In August of 1963 he was assigned as part of the Cold War's "Strategic Air Command to KC-135 air refueling tankers at Loring Air Force Base in Maine. Commenting on that experience, Reidel wrote: "Flying the KC-135 was a great experience, but I had not forgotten my goal to fly fighters." Jay Reidel was on the Loring flight line in base operations planning a flight to support a "chrome dome" B-52 nuclear airborne alert mission on November 22, 1963, the day Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. Reidel's reaction: "I honestly believed it was the beginning of World War III, and we wouldn't be coming back from this mission." Between the Zapruder film showing J.F.K. being shot from a bullet to his right front, the activity on the "grassy Knoll" and inclusive ballistics reports, Riedel boldly wrote his doubts about Lee Oswald's role as sole assassin: "What an incredible cover-up!" An event that would occur when Reidel was 25 years old would have lasting implications and ultimately result with a wall in our nation's capital with 58,169 names inscribed on it of Americans that lost their lives in this conflict. President Lyndon B. Johnson and his Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara, grew concerned in early 1964 that South Vietnam was losing its fight against the North. To put military pressure on Hanoi, which directed and provided military support for the Viet Cong in the South, Johnson and McNamara believed that naval forces could be used to help compel Ho Chi Minh to cease his support for the Viet Cong. The U.S. Navy armed South Vietnam with a fleet of fast patrol boats, trained their crews, and maintained the vessels at Danang. In covert operations directed by American officials in Washington and Saigon, the patrol boats bombarded radar stations on the coast of North Vietnam and landed South Vietnamese commandoes to destroy bridges and other military targets. Most of these missions failed for one reason or another. As a result, L.B.J. ordered the Navy to focus more attention on the coast of North Vietnam in its longstanding "Desoto Patrol operation," which utilized destroyers in intelligence-gathering missions outside the internationally recognized territorial waters and along the coasts of North Vietnam. In early August of 1964, the destroyer "USS Maddox" steamed along the North Vietnamese coast in the Gulf of Tonkin gathering various types of intelligence. Shortly before this, South Vietnamese patrol boats had bombarded targets further to the south of Maddox's patrol area. Hanoi reacted by directing its navy, which had not been able to catch the fast patrol boats, to attack the slow-moving American destroyer. On the afternoon of August 2, 1964, North Vietnam dispatched three torpedo boats against the Maddox, which missed their mark. Only one round from enemy deck guns hit the destroyer; it lodged in the ship's superstructure. The North Vietnamese naval vessels were not so lucky. The Maddox hit the attackers with shellfire, and "F-8" Crusader jets dispatched from the aircraft carrier "USS Ticonderoga" strafed all three North Vietnamese patrol boats, leaving one completely disabled. President Johnson, surprised that the North had reacted so aggressively, decided that the U.S. could not retreat from this clear Communist challenge. The Maddox was reinforced with the destroyer "USS Turner Joy" and directed to continue intelligence-gathering mission off North Vietnam. On August 4th, the 2 warships reported that they were attacked by several fast craft far out to sea. U.S. leaders in Washington were persuaded by ambiguous interpretation of special intelligence and reports from the ships that North Vietnamese naval forces had attacked the two destroyers. Recent analysis of that data gathered on August 4th now makes it clear that North Vietnamese naval forces did not attack Maddox and Turner Joy that night in the summer of 1964. This brings up woeful memories of President George Bush's claims of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" which were never found. regardless, L.B.J. responded by ordering the Seventh Fleet carrier forces to launch retaliatory strikes against North Vietnam. On August 5th, 1964, aircraft from carriers USS Ticonderoga and Constellation destroyed an oil storage facility in North Vietnam and sank about 30 enemy naval vessels along the North Vietnamese coast. On August 7th, 1964, the U.S. Congress ratified the "Tonkin Gulf Resolution", which gave L.B.J. the ability to use military force as he saw fit against the North Vietnamese Communists. Within four months of this resolution, L.B.J. deployed to South Vietnam major U.S. ground, air, and naval forces and America's long, costly debacle in Vietnam was officially "on". In November, 1964, Jay Riedel flew KC-135 refueling tankers "across the pond" to Vietnam, refueling F-4 Phantoms as they made their way to S.E. Asia with a stopover at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. Riedel and his gaggle of KC-135 tankers took off from Clark, flew west across South Vietnam and Thailand, then turned north and flew over Vientiane, Laos to refuel the F-4's before they flew in on strikes over North Vietnam. Debunking the supposed myth that Laos was a neutral country during the conflict, Riedel explained how Laos in reality fit into the scheme of this war: "Laos was a neutral country, and did not wish to be involved in the expanding war in S.E. Asia. However, no one honored that choice, and the North Vietnamese used Laos to bring supplies down on what became known as the Ho Chi Minh trail. The North never admitted that they were in Laos, but they were. It was also a fact that we had already lost aircraft over Laos being shot down-that certainly did not happen by the neutral people of Laos." During the entire conflict, the U.S. fought a secret war in Laos against the communist forces there, called the "Pathet Lao" in support of the Royal Laotian Government from 1962 through 1973. Laos was in the North Vietnamese sector of operations, where the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao jointly linked up and fought battles against the U.S. supported noncommunist Laotians. Both the U.S. and North Vietnam were not supposed to be in Laos under the 1962 Geneva Agreement. The CIA managed this secret war militarily in Vientiane, Laos. President Johnson authorized the CIA to manage and conduct military operations that included U.S. military aircraft and personnel, but excluded the U.S. military from any decision making in their use. The separate though interrelated bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail that bordered Vietnam, Hanoi's pipeline of supply to their forces in South Vietnam, was under the control of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV). When hostilities concluded, American POWs known to have been held captive by the communist Pathet Lao were abandoned in Laos in 1973. When the United States withdrew the last of our fighting forces from Vietnam on March 28, 1973, Americans that were then prisoners from secret operations in Laos during the Vietnam War were abandoned to the Lao Patriotic Front The Paris Peace Agreement was signed on January 27, 1973 and the names of POWs captured in Vietnam were given to U.S. representatives. Although North Vietnamese forces controlled over 85% of the territory in Laos where Americans were missing in action and had advisors attached to all Pathet Lao units, the North handed over a list containing only nine Americans and one Canadian POW captured in Laos and held by the North in Hanoi. These were the only POWs from Laos to be released. The U.S. knew that the Pathet Lao had information on many of the American POW/MIAs in Laos. Of the 10 POWs released under the Vietnam agreement, none were from Pathet Lao POW camps, and the Pathet Lao insisted that they held prisoners in Laos that would be released by themselves. During the Paris Peace negotiations that ultimately ended the war, Henry Kissinger had reiterated that the North Vietnamese would be responsible for all prisoners in Southeast Asia. This had been one of the points Le Duc Tho, the North Vietnamese negotiator, would not agree to, claiming that Laos was a sovereign nation and would be responsible for their own prisoners. Although the North Vietnamese did then and possibly now influences the POW/MIA policy of Laos, efforts for the release of known POWs from the Pathet Lao failed. American POWs known to have been held captive by the communist Pathet Lao were abandoned in Laos in 1973. When the U.S. withdrew the last of our fighting forces from Vietnam on March 28, 1973, Americans that were then prisoners from secret operations in Laos during the Vietnam War were abandoned to the Lao Patriotic Front, and never heard from again. With that in mind, Riedel commented the following as he looked out the window of his KC-135 as his air tanker flew north over the Plain of Jars: "I remember thinking that, if we were shot at, we had no armament-nothing to shoot back with. The only armament on a KC-135 was four scared guys with switchblade survival knives. It was also duly noted that, although we wore parachutes, we didn't have ejection seats." As already mentioned, no one ever captured by the Pathet Lao during the Vietnam War was ever released. Only two Americans escaped and were retrieved from the Pathet Lao. They were Navy Lt. Charles Klussman, who was shot down on June 6, 1964 over the Plain of Jars, Laos, who had the fortunate distinction of being the first POW to ever escape from the Pathet Lao, and Navy Pilot Dieter Dengler, who was shot down on February 2, 1965. Dangler later went on to write a memoir about his tribulations during the war entitled "Escape From Laos." Riedel made another astute observation of the Vietnam War, the one-sided "Rules of Engagement". During the war, U.S. forces positioned in South Vietnam could only be used militarily for air defense in Laos when authorized by the Commander in Chief. Only air defense forces were authorized to engage and destroy hostile North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops in Laos. Hot land pursuit could only be conducted as necessary in South Vietnam and Thailand. Known as the "Ho Chi Minh Trail", the North had a logistical system that ran from North to South Vietnam through the neighboring kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia. The system provided support, in the form of manpower and materiel, to the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army operating to the south of the 17th parallel during the Vietnam War. This trail was a complex maze of truck routes, paths for foot and bicycle traffic, and river transportation systems. The trail was mostly in Laos, and developed into an intricate maze of dirt roads, foot and bicycle paths, and truck parks. There were numerous supply bunkers, storage areas, barracks, hospitals, and command and control facilities. This was all concealed from U.S. aerial observation by triple canopy jungle and man-made camouflage that was constantly expanded and replaced. By 1973, trucks could drive the entire length of the trail without emerging from the canopy except to ford streams or cross them on crude bridges built beneath the surface of the water. Despite diligent U.S. anti-infiltration efforts to destroy this trail, in 1966 between 58,000 and 90,000 communist troops came from North Vietnam to fight in the south, including at least five full enemy regiments. There is a passage in Riedel's book that speaks volumes as to why America's military efforts never translated into victory, particularly in regard to Laos and the "Rules of Engagement." Riedel insightfully revealed the following conversation which took place in 1964: "I remember one Friday night in particular I was downstairs in the Stag Bar (a pilot's club at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines where KC-135's and B-52's staged) talking with some fighter pilots who were there blowing off some steam from that day's mission. They were relating how they were assigned to take a four-ship flight of fighters up to hit a small insignificant target, such as a little footbridge across a stream. On the way they would pass a truck supply convoy heading south on the Ho Chi Minh trail. They reported the activity and asked permission to attack it. In every case, permission was denied. They dropped their bombs on the footbridge, and came home. Most fighter pilots aren't world renowned Rhodes Scholars; however, they ain't no dummies, neither! Even they could figure out that if our Rules Of Engagement didn't change, there was no way in hell we would win this war. This was November, 1964. It didn't improve much, and sure enough, eleven years and 58,000+ of our good men and woman later, this was the only war in our nation's history that we lost. Are Vietnam veterans bitter? Beyond words!". It is also interesting to mention a quote Reidel used by Joe Patrick, an Air Force Vietnam Veteran and fellow member of Reidel's "80th Fighter Squadron Headhunters'Association," of whom he is the president of. Patrick wrote a scathing denunciation of the conduct of the war, claiming that the military should have been allowed to run it's own ball game, not be subservient to those in Washington who knew nothing of how to fight a war successfully. Riedel prefaced Patrick's article by stating: It's quite basic knowledge that, if you need brain surgery, you get a brain surgeon to do it-not plumbers." Patrick furthered that thought as follows: "The war in Vietnam was a strange war, indeed. It was a conflict that should not have been lost. But the men who ran that war were politicians and bureaucrats, not military professionals. Men like Secretary of Defense Robert Strange McNamara and President Lyndon Baines Johnson, along with Department of Defense bureaucrats, civilian and military, called all the shots. America lost her first war ever because bureaucrats 10,000 miles away from the fighting played a kind of "war monopoly" game, in which the stakes were not play money but the lives of men sent out to die in the rice paddies and skies of Vietnam. Called to testify in a civil suit after the war, McNamara said under oath that he had decided as early as December 1965 that "the war could not be won militarily. "During the war, President Johnson would talk by telephone to then Air Force Major John Keeler about what to say during the "Five O'clock Follies," the daily press briefing held every afternoon in Saigon. As Keeler put it, Johnson called so that the press officer could "get the party line." The political agenda in America was obviously more important than the bloodshed on the hills around Khe Sanh. Johnson often bragged, "Those boys can't hit an outhouse without my permission." Seeing the war heating up in Vietnam, Jay Reidel was afraid that he would never achieve his dream of being a fighter pilot. He issued the following thoughts: "During this time (1966), the war in Vietnam was escalating. More and more pilots were being called to go. USAF personnel came out with a policy that allowed any pilot to volunteer for duty in Vietnam. This was my chance! I volunteered for "F-anything"-to fly any fighter. Finally, his big break came. Riedel received an assignment to F-100 fighter pilot school at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona in 1968 and made the transformation to his lifelong quest in August of 1969. There, he was assigned to the 510th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Bien Hoa Air Base in South Vietnam. Although this lasted only for two months, in October he was reassigned to the 615th tactical Fighter Squadron at Phan Rang Air Base, serving until July, 1970 as an F-100 instructor pilot. Unfortunately for Reidel, the war was being phased down. Called "Vietnamization", the Nixon administration was making a stern effort to extricate the U.S. from this conflict and turn the entire war effort over to the South Vietnamese. Captain Reidel's tour of duty in S.E. Asia ended and he sadly returned to the U.S. to assume multiple duties at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base in South Carolina. A brand new A-7D squadron was activated, with Riedel training pilots how to fly this new warplane. However, Reidel's toughest assignment was yet to come. Despite peace negotiations between Washington and Hanoi being fruitless, U.S. patience to end the war was reaching it's end. In October 1972, President Nixon's National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, concluded a secret peace agreement with North Vietnam's Le Duc Tho, the special adviser to the North Vietnamese delegation to the Paris Peace Conferences from 1968-73. After reviewing the agreement, South Vietnamese President Thieu demanded major alterations to the document. In response, the North Vietnamese published the details of the agreement and stalled the negotiations. Feeling that Hanoi had attempted to embarrass him and to force them back the table, Nixon ordered the bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong in late December 1972. "Operation Linebacker II" was the December 19 to 29th, eleven day bombing ordeal of North Vietnam. On January 15, 1973, after pressuring South Vietnam to accept the peace deal, Nixon announced the end of offensive operations against North Vietnam. The Paris Peace Accords ending the conflict were signed January 27, 1973, and were followed by the withdrawal of the remaining American troops. The terms of the accords called for a complete cease fire in South Vietnam, allowed North Vietnamese forces to retain the territory they had captured, released US prisoners of war, and called for both sides to find a political solution to the conflict. It was in October of 1972 that Reidel was deployed as part of the 354th tactical Fighter wing to Korat Royal Thai Air Base in Thailand. During the Eleven Day war of Linebacker II, Reidel was part of the first A-7D's to be used in the war, taking part in the final bombing of North Vietnam. Reidel details nerve racking bombing missions of the North, observing MiG's buzzing perniciously around him, and North Vietnamese surface to air missile evasions. included is a vivid description of Riedel watching a MiG-21 shoot down an F-4 in front of him as he watched in horror. Also described are desperate search and rescue missions for downed pilots, some with disastrous results for downed American airmen. Jay Reidel's journey as an American fighter pilot was not without familial consequences, as he explained: "It was something I had decided on when I was four years old back on our farm in Pennsylvania. There was no hesitation at all on my part. However, how does a decision like that affect a wife and family? Very few wives can accept this. Very few can accept that their children's father would rather fly airplanes in combat 12,000 miles away, then be with them. Unfortunately, very few men can explain why they would want to. To me, it is beyond the family-a higher calling than the family unit. It is at the international level in an unstable world-and the fact that stronger nations that invade weaker ones must be stopped if world peace is to become a reality." What was Jay Reidel's greatest satisfaction in being a fighter pilot? He explained it cogently as follows: "As the situation of the ground troops we were supporting at the time became more critical, as in friendlies close to being overrun by a larger enemy force, my focus became more intent on helping them rather than on my own personal situation. Helping and supporting the ground troops in the close air support role gave me the greatest satisfaction over the air-to-air role of one aircraft against another of the classic "dog fight." To turn the tide of a ground battle from near disaster into success is a feeling of tremendous pride and accomplishment." Reidel covers many other subjects, such as pilot "target fixation" which was common in both helicopter fighter pilot issues. Reidel described it as such: "Pilots would get so engrossed with the target that they would not be aware of the surrounding terrain until it was time to pull off. They would release their ordinance, and start their recovery-only to look at a mountain in front of them." There are many interesting photos in this book, one showing a warplane making a low pullout where a pilot brought a tree limb back to base jammed into the leading edges of his wing! Riedel also wrote about the morality of a widely used weapon during the war, i.e. napalm. Explaining: "Napalm, or jellied gasoline, was a very good close support weapon when dropped parallel to the friendlies-never toward them, nor behind them. The fireball covered an area close to a football field in size. These were better suited for pinpoint targets, such as a cave entrance. Napalm was a controversial weapon considered to be inhumane in some circles, and has since been eliminated from our country's weapons stockpile, and from most others around the world. If you must kill your enemy, you must do it nicely." I compared the use of napalm to two other entires in Reidel's book, where Reidel wrote that there was a $10,000 bounty on American pilot's heads, and that when the VC would mortar American bases at night, the following would occur: "During an attack, none of our local Vietnamese hooch maids would be around-a sure sign that there would be an attack! They knew when to be at work and when to stay home. What a war. We were always very careful jumping into bunkers, as they were sometimes known to have sheets of cardboard with dung-tipped razor blades sticking out of them carefully hidden in the sandy floor of the bunker. If you jumped in there without your combat boots, you could get cut up and infected-quite badly." How humane is napalm? Consider Reidel's anecdote of December 23, 1972, when he was on a search and rescue mission of a downed F-111 Crewman that had gone down over the "Plain of Jars' in Laos. Reidel described what followed when they finally located the downed airman: "When we finally reached him and the rescue man in the Jolly Green helicopter could see him, he had been propped up against the wreckage of his aircraft to look like he was alive. He wasn't. He had been executed and propped up there to draw in all the search and rescue forces. After we all entered the area through a hail of anti aircraft fire, we finally returned to our base without any further losses. We were all lucky that day. It had been another flack trap. This mission again drove home the fact that taken prisoner in Laos was rare indeed. It was a sad Christmas." Was napalm fare? You decide! Regardless, this book is a must read and will give you insight into the air war in Vietnam rarely found!< Less
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