During the Vietnam War, the United States Army‘s 1st Cavalry Division was equipped for and tasked with airmobile combat using helicopters. One of their light infantry units, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, ran up against both North Vietnamese Army regulars and Viet Cong guerillias in fighting near Hue on March 1, 1968.
The members of the United States Air Force aren’t typically associated with ground combat. That doesn’t hold for those brave airmen who volunteer for Pararescue duties and become “Pararescue Jumpers” or “PJs”.
On February 18, 1969, a Kaman HH-43 Huskie of the 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron was dispatched to try and recover the crew of a shot-down Army helicopter. The Army pilot couldn’t be extracted from the wreckage before darkness fell. The Pararescueman who went down into the jungle to perform the rescue elected to stay with his trapped brother in arms until the rescue could be effected.
Two days ago, I related the story of Lieutenant Colonel Karl T. Feuerriegel and Captain Kenneth H. Sellers, two pilots with the 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron who were decorated with the Air Force Cross for their heroism on the day the communist Tet Offensive was launched in Vietnam. For a three-day period from January 30 to February 1, 1968, another of their fellow Cessna O-2 Skymaster pilots was similarly recognized for his aerial efforts over Nha Trang.
Thomas E. Dayton was born in New York on June 3, 1933. He began his military service on July 7, 1953 when he entered the United States Military Academy, West Point. As the United States Air Force hadn’t opened their own service academy yet, he opted to join that service and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant after graduating in June of 1957. Dayton earned his pilot’s wings and in various roles flew the North American F-86 Sabre, the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger, and the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter.
When it came time for Dayton to fly into battle over Southeast Asia with the 22nd Special Operations Squadron at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, he piloted a Douglas A-1 Skyraider. The 22nd’s primary mission was to interdict and destroy enemy forces and supplies along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, as well as other attack missions and the vital role of escorting and coordinating search and rescue missions for downed American fliers. Continue reading TFH 12/5: Major Thomas E. Dayton, USAF
Robert Joseph Pruden was born on September 9, 1949 in St. Paul, Minnesota. He joined the United States Army in 1967; evidence suggests that based on his selection/volunteering for Non-Commissioned Officer candidacy and Ranger training he was a volunteer and not a draftee.
The Vietnam-era 75th Ranger Infantry Regiment (Airborne) was constituted as a number of separate specialized infantry companies to be trained and delegated to individual divisions or corps for long range patrol and reconnaissance duties. The 75th’s Company G was assigned to the 23rd Infantry Division, better known by its moniker “Americal”, for those duties in Vietnam.
Marine Observation Squadron Six (VMO-6) was first formed in the 1920s. The squadron was inactive from 1933 until November, 1944 when it was reconstituted to join the 6th Marine Division for combat in the last days of World War II in the Pacific, and saw combat on Okinawa.
The squadron and its UH-1E Huey helicopters was dispatched to Vietnam in 1965. On August 19, 1967, one of VMO-6’s helicopters was flying on escort duty for medical evacuation missions. The helicopter, commanded by Captain Steven W. Pless and with co-pilot Captain Rupert E. Fairfield, Jr., crew chief Lance Corporal John G. Phelps, and door gunner Gunnery Sergeant Leroy N. Poulson, overheard on the radio about a downed Army helicopter crew on a beach nearby. Continue reading TFH 8/19: The Most Decorated Aircrew of the Vietnam War
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.
Michael John Estocin was born on April 27, 1931 in Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania and grew up in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania – both near where I live today outside Pittsburgh. After graduating from Slippery Rock University, he joined the United States Navy in 1954 and obtained his “Wings of Gold” as a Naval Aviator.
In April of 1967, he had reached the rank of Lieutenant Commander and was a Douglas A-4E Skyhawk pilot with Attack Squadron 192 (VA-192), the “Golden Dragons”, flying off the USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) from “Yankee Station” off North Vietnam. During two raids over Communist North Vietnam on April 20 and 26, 1967 he lived up to VA-192’s motto – Be Ready, our Enemy Must Lose – flying the suppression of enemy air defenses role. Their primary weapon was the AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missile; it would home in on the emissions from enemy surface-to-air missile radars. His tenacity, courage, and devotion to duty in escorting attacking aircraft to their targets earned him our Nation’s highest honor. Continue reading TFH 4/26: LCDR Michael J. Estocin, USN
The United States Air Force‘s 776th Tactical Airlift Squadron flew the Lockeed C-130 Hercules for air logistics missions across Southeast Asia, particularly in Vietnam. With the beginning of North Vietnam’s Easter Offensive, some besieged friendly forces could only be resupplied by airdrop.
On April 15, 1972 – 40 years ago – one C-130 from the 776th was struck by heavy antiaircraft artillery en route to its drop zone. The critically wounded aircraft was aflame. The cargo of ammunition was seconds away from detonating. The gallant pilot struggled to regain control of the damaged plane and save it. The loadmaster knew that the fire would be their doom if the cargo remained aboard the plane. Both men received the Air Force Cross for their heroism. They were Captain William R. Caldwell and Staff Sergeant Charles L. Shaub. Continue reading TFH 4/15: 2 Air Force Crosses – Caldwell & Shaub
CSAR – Combat Search And Rescue. One of the more dangerous jobs in combat, as if any job is safe. CSAR forces have the role of rescuing shot-down airmen before they can be captured by the enemy. Think about it. An aircraft is shot down and the crew bails out. It reasons to believe that the helicopters that will do the extraction and the fighters and/or attack planes that will fly cover are going to encounter the same anti-aircraft batteries that shot our plane down in the first place – only the rescue forces are at even greater risk because they’ve got to get down close to the ground. These brave men and women don’t care; the lives of their comrades on the deck and running are worth it.