Charles Damian McGrath was born on December 16, 1948 in Maryland. He enlisted in the United States Air Force on January 6, 1970 and completed basic training that March. He volunteered for service as a Pararescueman.
Air Force Pararescue Jumpers (“PJs”) are elite troops trained in search and rescue, parachute jumping, SCUBA diving, combat medicine, and other specialty areas. They’re the men who go in on the ground to rescue and evacuate downed airmen, often right from the teeth of the enemy.
In May 1971, McGrath deployed to Southeast Asia and the Vietnam War and joined Detachment 5 of the 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand. Forty years ago today on June 27, 1972, he flew on a mission to rescue an American shot down over North Vietnam. While he was on the ground under ruthless enemy attack, the primary rescue helicopter had to withdraw due to battle damage. McGrath put the life of the downed flier above his own, and for his courage, received the Air Force Cross.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Sergeant Charles D. McGrath, United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as a Pararescueman on a HH-53C Rescue Helicopter of the 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, in action in North Vietnam on 27 June 1972. On that date, while penetrating dense jungle to rescue a severely injured American airman, Sergeant McGrath exposed himself to intense ground fire in order to drag the incapacitated survivor to a suitable recovery area. Seeing his rescue aircraft crippled by the hostile fire, he directed air strikes against surrounding hostile ground forces until he was able to secure the survivor and himself to the penetrator of a backup helicopter. Rising through constant accurate ground fire, he shielded the survivor with his own body until they were successfully recovered into the aircraft where he immediately began providing the vital medical assistance required to save the lives of the survivor and an injured crew member. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, Sergeant McGrath reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
In addition to his Air Force Cross, Sergeant McGrath also received the Silver Star and was a two-time recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross for his combat service in Vietnam. The pilot of the second helicopter, Air Force Cross recipient Captain Dale E. Stovall, received the Silver Star for this action.
After recovering from his wounds suffered during the rescue, McGrath remained in the Air Force and as a PJ until 1979 when he received an officer’s commission. He retired from the Air Force on July 31, 1990 with the rank of Captain. I believe he is still living.