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War Stories

Rescue of Air Force Pilots - Shelton - 2 May 1972

by Jerry Shelton

see article "Rescue of Air Force Pilots - Miller" by Russ Miller - see SA-7 Discussion

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On 1 May 1972 we flew a mission supporting the Air Force. We circled over the gulf of Tonkin while the Air Force went into Quang Tri to rescue the Americans trapped there. We had one man CPT Bruce Riddle there. We tried several times to get him out and lost a pair of OH-6’s. We took heavy fire with each attempt.

As I remember they were going to put in a ARC Light from the beach to the citadel. Jolly Greens would then fly in to pick up the 30 plus Americas stranded inside, while F-4’s flew cover for them. We circled so far out we couldn’t see what went on. But all the Americans were rescued with the last Jolly Green taking one round.

Mission was over we all flew back to the bar and forgot about it. Next day as we get ready to go out on our regular mission. We got a call from a Air Force FAC asking if we could make a pick up of two different pilots shot down the previous day.

CW2 William Jessie took the lead and CW2 Chuck Rose and I flew the second slick. We went in at about 800 feet. On regular missions we went low level but suffered lots aircraft loss. We decided to try higher alt. Chuck and I circled waiting on Jessie to pick up the first pilot. He made it in and out we then returned him to Eagle.

While we waited to leave to pick up the second pilot I saw Jessie’s door gunner, Porterfield, run over to the pilot and hand him something.

We took off headed out to sea and them made a straight shot from the beach to Hai Lang, thats where the old and new Q1 split. As we flew over the new highway we saw the last convoy to make it out of Quang Tri. Looked like a WW11 movie. They made a perfect ambush, hit the lead vehicle and the last one. I could see a NVA standing in the back of a 5 ton shooting wounded ARVNS.

The FAC led us in giving us all the info about the LZ. Two groups each with a white cloth marking there positions. These FACs had their shit together.

Jessie picked up the lead group on the right (we were in a staggered right formation). As we set down our people jumped on, Vietnamese people started running for us. They were all in civilian attire. I told the door gunner to shot them, which he didn’t.

One of the Americans in the back that we had just picked up was yelling. Don’t fly over the tree line by that time we were taking fire. I passed on to Jessie not to fly over the tree line on our left. He turned left and flew over the tree line. We stayed low and flew down the end of the tree line and began a climb to catch up with Jessie.

I saw a explosion on the ground smoke and something that looked about 3 to 4 feet long. I tried to tell jessie that something was coming up at him but before I could say anything it hit the belly of his aircraft (oil cooler). The aircraft exploded into pieces the only thing I could recognize was the rotor system slowly turning. The blades had only the main spar holding them to the head.

We dove down low level and as we did I looked out to my right we were now heading east toward the beach, I saw a VNAF Huey parked along side Ql-1. People were setting inside the cargo compartment.

We were at 130 knots (I was a frustrated Cobra Pilot so I was squeezing all I could out of Creeping Jesus (aircraft name), when I heard Rose say "O Shit, Tanks”. You know your in trouble when it gets real quiet except for some beeping and all the instruments shrink up to the size of ping pong ball and they move around making it very difficult to find the N1 RPM and Airspeed Indicator.

We made a beautiful low level autorotation in very high rice. Some farmer (probably a communist agitator) put a rice paddy dike right in front of us. I was lucky to spot it, grabbed a hand full of pitch hoping just to clear the dike. I think we jumped up about 20 feet then with no rotor rpm left and no new ideas we hit kind of hard. We came short of landing on some bad guys who I think was a out post on the FEBA by about 10 feet. They hauled ass. Probably thought we were inserting troops. Had they stood and fought we would have lost.

We set up to the south of the aircraft waiting to see what would happen next. We were the last flyable Huey. The pilot we recovered was one 1LT Janakowski. He was real disappointed in his new surroundings. I boldly pointed out to him not to worry the CAV was here now. His reply was “That impresses the Shit out of me”.

CPT Freddie Ledfords showed up with a OH-6, they had 3 people on board with 2 M-60 machine guns and all the little goodies they used on a regular missions. Freddie took out 3 people on the first flight, troop SOP was our pilots went out first, but because I thought the LT might lose it I put him in my slot and I stayed behind. That left 4 of us.

Ledfords had a hard time taking off with 6 people. Sometime during all this the Cobras came in and put some rockets down. Chunks of people and equipment blew up as they put in the rounds. When the LT left so did our commo with the FAC on station. Army didn’t have radios for us.

In just a few minutes Freddie was back we all got on board; and he couldn’t take off. I got out of the aircraft and told him I would run for the beach and if any Cobras were around I would be happy to ride out on the rocket pods. Freddie ordered me back in I started throwing out all the unnecessary equipment. My helmet, then the ammo for the M-60. Freddie got enough wind off his nose to make it off the ground.

1LT Janakowski was the FAC that saw Bat-21 and got all that going. The other pilot we rescued that day was a air force major who was flying an A-1 Sandy. Both of these guys were flying in-support of the same mission to rescue the people from Quang Tri. When they called for help they were told to hang on they would be back tomorrow to get them. We were circling over the gulf with nothing to do, so call us in when the Jolly ’s are out of the area. The FAC’s had been reporting SA-7’s but that info didn’t get to the army. If you read the book "The Rescue of Bat 21" by Darrel Whitcomb it says the Air Force Jolly Greens wouldn’t respond and their SOP was to call the Army Helicopters, they are always around and they keep coming.