Dear Editor,

One of our last missions "in country" Thailand:

We were to refuel a flight of four F-105s. All we knew was a cell of two KC-135 Tankers and four F-105 crossed the hostile fire line heading East. Wolf Flight had the names of their drivers on the side of the aircraft near the canopy rail all were of field grade rank (majors and above). We were to top them off going into the "package" and refuel them coming out on their way home. The first refueling was routine and we orbited waiting for their return. On guard channel which our radios automatically monitored came to life with "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, Wolf three just crashed!"

Our Cell leader knew instinctively that Wolf Flight would fly cap until search and rescue arrived. So he immediately turned to the East and we followed. No request for permission for HQ - we just did what was right. We never learned why he struck the ground during his bomb run -- injury, aircraft damage, or target fixation. One more pilot KIA. We found out later this was his 99th mission. So close to completing the Magic 100 with a ticket back to "The World". Fate is the hunter.

Second recollection: On another deployment with an overnight at Hickam Air Field Hawaii, in the O Club (Officer's Club) for repast and adult beverages; I saw a fellow pilot who was seated by himself. He was from A or B class - Undergraduate Pilot Training class; those were reserved for Air Force Academy Grads. These Air Academy Grads received "Regular Commissions" unlike my own which was a "Reserve" commission. The difference was that my stated "date of separation" was twenty years from my commission date - In other words, I could be held for "needs of the service" while my compatriot with a Regular Commission could resign at his will.

I asked what he was doing, he informed me "I'm going back to the World; the next war is on them. I'm resigning. " He was a Jolly Green helicopter pilot; the following item may explain why this loyal Air Force Officer had his fill of War.

The first USAF HH-3Es Sikorsky Helicopters (Jolly Green Giant) arrived in Vietnam in 1967, and they operated out of Udorn Air Base, Thailand, and Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam. (I was based at U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield as a KC-135 Copilot - temporary duty Mission "Young Tiger")During the Southeast Asia War, HH-3 crewmen were awarded one Medal of Honor, twenty-four Air Force Crosses, and over 190 Silver Stars. A quarter of a century later, HH-3Es participated in OPERATION DESERT STORM, and they provided rescue support in the early years of the Space Shuttle program. The USAF retired its last HH-3Es by 1995.

On March 14, 1968, a two-ship helicopter rescue team attempted to rescue the aircrew of a U.S. Marine Corps F-4 Phantom shot down over North Vietnam. One of the two crewmen was picked up, but heavy enemy machine-gun fire forced the rescuers to withdraw before saving the second Marine. Enemy fire had damaged Jolly Green 22, but its crew made a second attempt to rescue the stranded Marine. Meanwhile, the North Vietnamese had killed the Marine and set up an ambush for the returning rescuers. Despite intense enemy fire, Jolly Green 22 escaped the trap with 68 bullet holes, a shot-out windshield, and holes through the rotor blades.

For their efforts, the four crew members of Jolly Green 22 were nominated for the Air Force Cross, but instead, only three of the crew -- the pilot, Maj. Stuart Hoag; the copilot, Lt. Col. Gerald Lowe; and pararescueman Sgt. James Locker -- received Silver Stars: the flight engineer, Sgt. Dennis Richardson, who dangerously exposed himself to enemy fire and probably saved the helicopter, received the Purple Heart. However, the Air Force reviewed the documentation of the mission, and in 2008, retired Chief Master Sgt. Richardson received the Air Force Cross for his actions under fire in 1968.

(SEA) Southeast Asia, a lousy dirty War, but one where our Armed Forces showed exemplary courage and bravery under fire; well done thy loyal and faithful servant.

John Stiegelmeyer


Submit a Comment

Please refresh the page to leave Comment.

Still seeing this message? Press Ctrl + F5 to do a "Hard Refresh".

GB May 21, 2023, 1:57 pm I enjoyed reading this John. Thank you!
MW May 22, 2023, 11:24 pm Thanks for sharing this remembrance with us John. Lest we forget.
PK May 26, 2023, 6:53 pm John...As always, you write with character and just the right emotions. Thank you again!!