Tag Archives: Navy Cross

19 June 1968

Lieutenant Clyde Everett Lassen, United States Navy
Lieutenant Clyde Everett Lassen, United States Navy

The MEDAL OF HONOR to

Lieutenant Clyde E. Lassen, United States Navy

For service as set forth in the following

CITATION

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 19 June 1968 as pilot and aircraft commander of a search and rescue helicopter, attached to Helicopter Support Squadron Seven, Detachment One Hundred Four, embarked in USS Preble (DLG 15), during operations against enemy forces in North Vietnam.

Launched shortly after midnight to attempt the rescue of two downed aviators, Lieutenant (then Lieutenant, Junior Grade) Lassen skillfully piloted his aircraft over unknown and hostile terrain to a steep, tree-covered hill on which the survivors had been located.

Although enemy fire was being directed at the helicopter, he initially landed in a clear area near the base of the hill, but, due to the dense undergrowth, the survivors could not reach the helicopter. With the aid of flare illumination, Lieutenant Lassen successfully accomplished a hover between two trees at the survivor’s position. Illumination was abruptly lost as the last of the flares were expended, and the helicopter collided with a tree, commencing a sharp descent.

Expertly righting his aircraft and maneuvering clear, Lieutenant Lassen remained in the area, determined to make another rescue attempt, and encouraged the downed aviators while awaiting resumption of flare illumination. After another unsuccessful, illuminated, rescue attempt, and with his fuel dangerously low and his aircraft significantly damaged, he launched again and commenced another approach in the face of the continuing enemy opposition.

When flare illumination was again lost, Lieutenant Lassen, fully aware of the dangers in clearly revealing his position to the enemy, turned on his landing lights and completed the landing. On this attempt, the survivors were able to make their way to the helicopter. Enroute to the coast, Lieutenant Lassen encountered and successfully evaded additional hostile antiaircraft fire and, with fuel for only five minutes of flight remaining, landed safely aboard USS Jouett (DLG 29).

His courageous and daring actions, determination, and extraordinary airmanship in the face of great risk sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

 

Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Clyde Everett Lassen was the Officer in Charge of Detachment 104 of Helicopter Support Squadron SEVEN (HC-7), the “Sea Devils,” aboard USS Preble (DLG-15). The assignment was Combat Search and Rescue.

McDonnell F-4J-31-MC Phantom II, Bu. No. 153856, of Fighter Squadron Thirty-Three (VF-33) lands aboard USS America (CVA-66) circa 1968. This Phantom is a squadron mate of Root Beer 210. (U.S.Navy)
McDonnell F-4J-31-MC Phantom II, Bu. No. 153856, of Fighter Squadron Thirty-Three (VF-33) “Tarsiers,” lands aboard USS America (CVA-66) circa 1968. This Phantom is a squadron mate of Root Beer 210. (U.S.Navy)

On the night of 18/19 June 1968, a flight of three aircraft from the aircraft carrier USS America (CV-66) were on a bombing mission over North Vietnam. “Root Beer 210” was a McDonnell Douglas F-4J-33-MC Phantom II, Bu. No. 155546, flown by Lieutenant Commander John “Claw” Holtzclaw and Lieutenant Commander John A. “Zeke” Burns. Shortly after midnight, two SA-2 surface to air missiles were fired at the Phantom. Holtzclaw and Burns evaded them, but a third missile detonated very close to the fighter bomber, destroying the outer one-third of the right wing. With their airplane critically damaged and on fire, the two naval aviators were forced to eject over enemy territory. They parachuted into a rice paddy and could hear enemy soldiers talking nearby. Burns had suffered a broken leg as well as other injuries.

USS Preble (DLG-15)
USS Preble (DLG-15), a Farragut-class guided missile frigate. (U.S. Navy)

Aboard the guided missile frigate USS Preble (DLG-15), Lieutenant (junior grade) Clyde Lassen and his flight crew were awakened and assigned to rescue the crew of Rootbeer 210, 70 miles (113 kilometers) away in total darkness. Lassen and his co-pilot, Lieutenant (j.g.) LeRoy Cook and gunners Aviation Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class (AE2) Bruce Dallas and Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class (ADJ3) Don West, took off from Preble at 0022 hours aboard their Kaman SH-2A Seasprite helicopter, call sign “Clementine Two,” and were vectored by radar to the location of the downed aircrew. The glow of the burning Phantom could be seen from 30 miles (48 kilometers) away. They arrived on scene at 0141 hours. Holtzclaw and Burns were in immediate need of rescue as the enemy was closing in.

The crew of Clementine 2, left to right, Lt. (j.g.) Clyde E. Lassen, AE2 Bruce Dallas, ADJ3 Don West, Lt. (j.g.) LeRoy Cook. (U.S. Navy)
The crew of Clementine Two, left to right, Lt. (j.g.) Clyde E. Lassen, AE2 Bruce Dallas, ADJ3 Don West, Lt. (j.g.) C. LeRoy Cook. (U.S. Navy)

Holtzclaw and Burns were on a hillside covered with very tall trees, making it impossible for the Seasprite to land. Parachute flares dropped by supporting aircraft illuminated the area. The pickup would have to be made using a “jungle penetrator” attached to the helicopter’s rescue hoist. But the single-engine helicopter was already fully loaded with its four-man crew and their weapons and ammunition. It could not pick up both fliers while hovering out of ground effect above the trees. Lassen ordered his co-pilot to dump fuel to reduce the weight.

As Lassen hovered into position to make the hoist pickup, the overhead flares went out leaving the jungle totally dark. Unable to see, Lassen collided with a tree causing damage to the horizontal stabilizer and the right side cabin door. He narrowly avoided a crash.

Clementine Two moved away while they awaited the arrival of another flare aircraft. They were soon engaged by enemy ground fire and the helicopter gunners returned fire with their M-60 machine guns.

On several occasions, Lassen landed the SH-2A in a rice paddy to pickup Holtzclaw and Burns, but enemy gunfire prevent them from reaching the helicopter, which repeatedly had to pull back.

Finally, the crew of Root Beer 210 found their way to the bottom of the slope and Clementine Two landed in a rice paddy about 60 yards (55 meters) away. A fierce firefight between the North Vietnamese soldiers and the gunners of the Navy helicopter took place. Lassen held the Seasprite in a hover to prevent it from sinking into the mud. The gunners jumped down to assist Holtzclaw and Burns aboard. As soon as they were loaded, Lassen immediately took off and left the area, climbing to 4,000 feet (1,220 meters) and headed toward the South China Sea, twenty miles (32 kilometers) away. They had only thirty minutes of fuel remaining. During the flight the right cabin door, which had been damaged when the helicopter hit the tree, came off, falling away into the darkness.

USS Jouett (DLG-29)
USS Jouett (DLG-29), a Belknap-class guided missile frigate. (U.S. Navy)

Clementine Two was too far away to make it back to Preble, so they turned toward USS Jouett (DLG-29). Commander Destroyer Squadron One, Captain Robert Hayes, commanding Jouett, turned his ship toward the shore and proceeded at full speed, turning on all the ship’s lights so that Lassen would be able to find it. Jouett came within 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) of the beach. With almost no fuel remaining Lassen made a straight-in approach and landing.

For his actions on 19 June 1968, Lieutenant Clyde Everett Lassen was awarded the Medal of Honor. Lieutenant (j.g.) LeRoy Cook received the Navy Cross. AE2 Bruce Dallas and AE3 Don West each received the Silver Star.

Kaman UH-2A Seasprite Bu. No. 149764, photographed November 1967. Lieutenant (j.g.) Clyde Everett Lassen flew this helicopter during the rescue of 19 January 1968. (U.S. Navy)
Kaman UH-2A Seasprite Bu. No. 149764, photographed November 1967. Lieutenant (j.g.) Clyde Everett Lassen flew this helicopter during the rescue of 19 January 1968. (U.S. Navy)

“Clementine Two” was a Kaman UH-2A Seasprite, Bu. No. 149764 (c/n 66). The UH-2A is 52 feet, 2 inches (15.90 meters) long, with an overall height of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.11 meters). The four-bladed main rotor has a diameter of 44 feet (13.41 meters). The helicopter’s empty weight is 6,100 pounds (2,127 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight is 10,200 pounds (4,627 kilograms). It is powered by a single General Electric T68-GE-8B turboshaft engine producing 1,525 shaft horsepower.

The Seasprite has a cruise speed of  120 knots (222 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 140 knots (259 kilometers per hour). The maximum range is 582 nautical miles (1,078 kilometers). Its service ceiling 17,400 feet (5,305 meters).

Clementine 2 was armed with two M60 7.62 mm machine guns.

88 UH-2As were built 1959-1960, before production shifted to a twin-engine variant.

Seasprite 149764 was lost in the South China Sea, 7 January 1969.

Commander Clyde E. Lassen, U.S. Navy, died in 1994. The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG-82) is named in his honor.

USS Lassen (DDG-82)
USS Lassen (DDG-82). (U.S. Navy)

Highly recommended: “Clementine Two: U.S. Navy night rescue over North Viet Nam,” by C. LeRoy Cook, at http://www.vhpa.org/stories/clem2.pdf

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 November 1943

LCDR William H. ("Butch") O'Hare, United States Navy
LCDR Edward H. (“Butch”) O’Hare, United States Navy, ca. April 1942. (U.S. Navy)

26 November 1943: At sunset, Lieutenant Commander Edward Henry O’Hare, United States Navy, Commander Air Group 6, took of from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) as part of an experimental three-plane night fighter team. The U.S. Navy task force was operating in the waters northeast of Tarawa, supporting Operation Galvanic.

USS Enterprise (CV-6) during Operation Galvanic, 22 November 1943. (U.S. Navy)
USS Enterprise (CV-6) during Operation Galvanic, 22 November 1943. (U.S. Navy)

Two Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters of VF-2, piloted by O’Hara and Ensign Warren Andrew Skon, flew formation with a radar-equipped Grumman TBF-1 Avenger torpedo bomber, call sign “Tare 97,” flown by Lieutenant Commander John C. (“Phil”) Phillips, commander, Torpedo Squadron 6 (VT-6).

Butch O’Hara was flying his personal airplane, Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat, Bu. No. 66168. The Hellcat was marked with “00” in white on both sides of its fuselage, the traditional identification of an air group commander’s (“CAG”) airplane.

The Avenger’s radar operator would guide the two fighters to intercept the groups of Japanese Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” torpedo bombers that had been making nightly attacks against the ships of Task Force 50.2.

Two Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters, Summer 1943.(U.S. Navy)
Two Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighters, summer 1943. (U.S. Navy)

The night fighter team engaged several enemy bombers, with the TBF’s pilot, Phillips, credited with shooting down two G4Ms with his Avenger’s two forward-firing .50-caliber machine guns. O’Hare and Skon both fired on other enemy bombers with their Hellcats’ six machine guns.

At about 7:30 p.m., the TBF was flying at about 1,200 feet (365 meters), staying below the cloud bases, while the two F6Fs rejoined the formation. The TBF’s gunner, Al Kernan, saw both Hellcats approaching to join on the the Avenger’s right wing. When O’Hara was about 400 feet (120 meters) away, the gunner saw a third airplane appear above and behind the two fighters.

A Japanese G4M opened fire on O’Hara’s fighter with it’s 7.7 mm (.303-caliber) nose-mounted machine gun. Kernan returned fire with the TBF’s turret-mounted .50-caliber machine gun. The G4M quickly disappeared in the darkness.

Grumman TBF torpedo bomber. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman TBF torpedo bomber. (U.S. Navy)

Butch O’Hara’s F6F was seen to turn out of the formation, passing to the left underneath Skon’s fighter. Skon called O’Hara by radio but there was no response. The CAG’s Hellcat went into a dive then disappeared in the darkness. Skon tried to follow O’Hara, but had to pull out at about 300 feet (90 meters) to avoid crashing into the ocean.

Neither O’Hara or his airplane were ever seen again. He is believed to have gone into the water at 7:34 p.m., 26 miles (42 kilometers) north-northwest of the carrier Enterprise.

Mitsubishi G4M Type I bomber, called "Betty" by Allied forces.
Mitsubishi G4M Type I bomber, called “Betty” by Allied forces.

Lieutenant Commander Edward H. O’Hare was listed as Missing in Action. One year after his disappearance, the status was officially changed to Killed in Action.

One of the best known fighter pilots in the United States Navy, Butch O’Hare was a hero to the people of America. He had been awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in combat during the early months of the war, nominated for a second Medal of Honor, and awarded the Navy Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart.

Lieutenant Edward H. O'Hare, United States Navy, 1942. (LIFE Magazine via Navy Pilot Overseas)
Lieutenant Edward H. O’Hare, United States Navy, 1942. (LIFE Magazine via Navy Pilot Overseas)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 October 1953

Lieutenant Commander James B. Verdin, United States Navy, in the cockpit of the record-setting Douglas XF4D-1. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Lieutenant Commander James B. Verdin, United States Navy. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

3 October 1953: Lieutenant Commander James B. Verdin, United States Navy, a test pilot assigned to NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, flew the second prototype of the Douglas Aircraft Company’s XF4D-1 Skyray, Bu. No. 124587, over a three kilometer course at the Salton Sea, California. Flying at approximately 150 feet (46 meters), Commander Verdin made four passes, with two in each direction. He set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed over a 3-kilometer course, averaging 1,211.75 kilometers per hour (752.95 miles per hour). (FAI Record File Number 9871)

The runs were measured at 746.075, 761.414, 746.053 and 759.498 miles per hour (1,200.691, 1,225.377, 1,200.656, and 1,222.294 kilometers per hour). The total elapsed time for the flight, from take off to landing at NAS El Centro, was 20 minutes, 25 seconds. The XF4D-1 burned 575 gallons (2,177 liters) of fuel.

In an interview with famed writer Bob Considine for his newspaper column, Verdin said,

“Douglas had its high priced help there at the course, and they iced my fuel for the Skyray while I took a look at the course from a Grumman Cougar,” he remembered. “They ice the fuel because that shrinks it and you can pack more in.

“We towed her out to the starting line to save the stuff. Didn’t even use blocks on the wheels after the engine was started. Just started rolling. I was in the air a little over a minute after the engine started, and headed for the measured course, 40 miles away.

“It was marked for me by smudge pots and burning tires, and orange-red markers to tell me when to turn off my afterburner, which eats fuel like crazy. About five miles short of the line I was doing 620 and turned on the afterburner. It gave me another hundred miles an hour right away, and I held her steady and low over the course. It doesn’t take long. . . about nine seconds for the just under two miles.”

—Bob Considine, On the Line—By Considine, International News Service, published in The Daily Review, Hayward, California, Vol. 62, No. 21, 20 October 1953, Page 14 at Columns 1–3

Douglas XF4D-1 Skyray Bu.No. (U.S. Navy)
Douglas XF4D-1 Skyray Bu.No. 124587. (U.S. Navy)

The Douglas XF4D-1 Skyray was a single-place, single-engine delta-winged fighter powered by a turbojet engine. It had retractable tricycle landing gear and was to operate off of the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers as a high altitude interceptor. The Skyray was designed by the legendary Ed Heinemann, for which he was awarded the Collier Trophy in 1954. Two prototypes were built (Bu.Nos. 124586, 124587). It was a delta-winged aircraft, though the wingtips were significantly rounded.

The Douglas F4D-1 Skyray was 45 feet, 4¾ inches (13.837 meters) long, with a wingspan of 33 feet, 6 six inches (10.211 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 8 inches (4.166 meters). The empty weight was 16,024 pounds (7,268 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 27,116 pounds (12,300 kilograms).

Originally built with Allison J35-A-17 turbojet engines, both prototypes later had a Westinghouse J40-WE-8 afterburning turbojet installed. The Skyray was equipped with the Westinghouse engine when it set the speed record. Production Skyrays used a Pratt & Whitney J57-P-8 afterburning turbojet.

The Westinghouse J40-W-8 was a single-shaft, axial-flow, afterburning turbojet engine with an 11-stage compressor and two-stage turbine. It produced 10,500 pounds of thrust (46.706 kilonewtons) at 7,600 r.p.m. The engine was 25 feet, 0 inches (7.620 meters) long, 3 feet, 4 inches (1.016 meters) in diameter and weighed 3,500 pounds (1,588 kilograms).

Douglas XF4D-1 Skyray Bu.No. 124587. (U.S. Navy)
Douglas XF4D-1 Skyray, Bu.No. 124587. (U.S. Navy)

The F4D-1 was the first U.S. Navy fighter able to reach supersonic speeds in level flight. The production aircraft had a maximum speed of 722 miles per hour (1,162 kilometers per hour), and service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16.764 meters). Its rate of climb was 18,300 feet per minute (92.97 meters per second) and the maximum range was 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers).

The Skyray was armed with four Colt Mk 12 20 mm autocannon, with 65 rounds of ammunition per gun. It could also carry 2.75-inch FFAR rockets, four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, or two 2,000 pound (1,588 kilogram) bombs.

The Douglas Aircraft Company built 420 F4D-1 Skyrays. They were in service with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps from 1956 until 1964.

Douglas XF4D-1 124587 as a test aircraft for General Electric.
Douglas XF4D-1 Bu.No. 124587 as a flight test aircraft for General Electric, at Edwards Air Force Base, circa 1955. (U.S. Navy)

The record-setting XF4D-1 was transferred to General Electric in July 1955 and used to test GE’s J79 afterburning turbojet engine and the commercial CJ805.

XF4D-1 Bu. No. 124587 was returned to the Navy in May 1960. It is on display at the U.S. Navy Museum of Armament and Technology, NAWS China Lake, California.

Lieutenant Commander James B. Verdin, USN (1918–1955)
Lieutenant Commander James B. Verdin, USN (1918–1955)

James Bernard Verdin was born in Montana, 23 February 1918, the son of James Harris Verdin, a farmer, and Nellie Cambron Verdin. He entered the United States Navy as a Seaman, 2nd Class, 11 July 1941. His enlistment was terminated 7 January 1942 and he was accepted as an Aviation Cadet. He was assigned to NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, for flight training. Verdin was commissioned as an Ensign, 18 June 1942. He was promoted to Lieutenant (Junior Grade), 1 May 1943, and then promoted to Lieutenant, 1 July 1944.

During World War II, Lieutenant James Bernard Verdin, U.S.N., was a fighter pilot flying the Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat, assigned to VF-20 aboard USS Enterprise (CV-6). He was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, 25 October 1944:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant James Bernard Verdin, United States Naval Reserve, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while service as a Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Fighter Plane in Fighting Squadron TWENTY (VF-20), attached to the U.S.S. ENTERPRISE (CV-6), on a strike against the Japanese Fleet during the Battle for Leyte Gulf on 25 October 1944, in the Philippine Islands. With complete disregard for his own personal safety and in the face of intense anti-aircraft fire, Lieutenant Verdin attacked and scored a direct bomb hit on an enemy battleship. His outstanding courage and determined skill were at all times inspiring and in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

General Orders: Commander 1st Carrier Task Force Pacific: Serial 046. 31 January 1945

Grumman F6F-5 Hellcats on teh flight deck of USS Enterprise (CV-6), 30 october 1944. The aircraft carrier USS belleau Wood (CVL-24) is burning on the horizon, after being struck by a kamikaze. (U.S. navy)
Grumman F6F Hellcats on the flight deck of USS Enterprise (CV-6), 30 October 1944. The aircraft carrier USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24) is burning on the horizon. (U.S. Navy)

Lieutenant Verdin flew more than 100 combat missions during World War II and the Korean War. In addition to the Navy Cross, Lieutenant Commander Verdin was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with one gold star, and the Air Medal with five gold stars.

Verdin left the Navy in 1954 and joined Douglas as a test pilot, June 1954.

He married Miss Kathryn    and they lived in Coronado, California, near NAS North Island. They had one child. They divorced in 1948. Later, he married his second wife, Miss Muriel Carolyn Larson. They had three children and lived in Brentwood, California.

While testing a Douglas YA4D-1 Skyhawk, Bu. No. 137815, 13 January 1955, Lieutenant Commander Verdin encountered violent vibrations during a high speed run near Victorville, California. He was forced to eject, but his parachute failed to open and he was killed. His body was not found until the following day, located 2½ miles from the crash site. Verdin was 37 years old. He is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California.

Douglas Aircraft Company YA4D-1 Skyhawk, Bu. No. 137820, sister shop of Verdin's Skyhawk. (Navy Pilot Overseas)
Douglas Aircraft Company YA4D-1 Skyhawk, Bu. No. 137820, sister shop of Verdin’s Skyhawk. (Navy Pilot Overseas)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 August 1942

Major Marion E. Carl, USMC, commanding VMF-223 in 1943. The aircraft is a Vought F4U Corsair in which Carl shot down two enemy aircraft in December 1943. (U.S. Navy)
Major Marion E. Carl, USMC, commanding VMF-223 in 1943. The aircraft behind him is a Vought F4U Corsair in which Carl shot down two enemy aircraft in December 1943. (U.S. Navy)

24 August 1942: Flying a Grumman F4F Wildcat, Lieutenant Marion Eugene Carl, United States Marine Corps, a 27-year-old fighter pilot assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron 223 (VMF-223) based at Henderson Field, Guadalcanal Island, shot down four enemy airplanes in one day. They were a Mitsubishi A6M “Zeke” fighter, a Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” medium bomber and two Nakajima B5N “Kate” torpedo bombers. Carl had previously shot down an A6M during the Battle of Midway, less than three months earlier. He now had five aerial combat victories, making him the Marine Corps’ first ace.

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat at Henderson Field

Lieutenant Marion E. Carl, USMC, Naval Aviator. (U.S. Navy)
Lieutenant Marion E. Carl, United States Marine Corps, Naval Aviator. (U.S. Navy)

Marion Eugene Carl graduated from college in 1938 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Army Reserve. He soon resigned this commission to accept an appointment as an Aviation Cadet, United States Navy, and entered flight school at Pensacola, Florida. Completing flight training in 1939, he was commissioned a second lieutenant, United States Marine Corps, and assigned as a fighter pilot aboard USS Saratoga (CV-3). In early 1942, Carl’s squadron, VMF-221, was based at Midway Atoll. He fought at the Battle of Midway and shot down his first enemy airplane, a Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter. Lieutenant Carl was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions in that decisive battle.

Marion Carl was next assigned to VMF-223 under the command of Captain John L. Smith. The Marine fighter squadron was the first air unit to arrive at Henderson Field on the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomons. This was a critical airfield, originally built by the Japanese military but occupied by Allied forces. By the end of 1943 his total was 18½, making the seventh highest-scoring Marine fighter pilot of World War II.

Captain Marion E. Carl, USMC, with a Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat. (U.S. Navy)
Captain Marion E. Carl, USMC, with a Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat. (U.S. Navy)

After the War Marion Carl trained as a test pilot at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, testing jet aircraft on aircraft carriers and was the first Marine pilot to fly a helicopter. He commanded the Marine’s first jet squadron, VMF-122. At Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base) he tested the Douglas D-558-I Skystreak and D-558-II Skyrocket, setting world records for speed and altitude.

Major General Marion E. Carl, United States Marine Corps (1915–1998)
Major General Marion E. Carl, United States Marine Corps (1915–1998)

By 1962 Colonel Carl was Director of Marine Corps Aviation. As a brigadier general, he commanded the First Marine Brigade during the Vietnam War and flew combat missions in jet fighters and helicopter gun ships.

Promoted to major general, Carl commanded the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, then served as Inspector General of the Marine Corps. When he retired in 1973, General Carl had accumulated more that 13,000 flight hours.

Tragically, Major General Marion E. Carl, United States Marine Corps (Retired), was murdered in 1998, as he defended his wife, Edna during a home-invasion robbery. Mrs. Carl was wounded, but survived. General Carl is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

A Mitsubishi A6M2 Model 21 "Zero" fighter takes off from an aircraft carrier of teh Imperial Japanese Navy.
A Mitsubishi A6M2 Model 21 “Zero” fighter takes off from an aircraft carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Marion Carl shot down one of these and damaged two others during the Battle of Midway, 4 June 1942. (Imperial Japanese Navy)
Mitsubisshi A6M3 Model 22 "Zeke" in the Solomon Islands, 1943. (Imperial Japanese Navy)
Mitsubishi A6M3 Model 22 “Zeke” in the Solomon Islands, 1943. (This fighter is flown by Petty Officer 1st Class Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, one of the most successful fighter pilots of World War II.)  (Imperial Japanese Navy) 
A Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" takes off from Rabaul, 1942.
A Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” takes off from Rabaul, 1942.
Nakajima B5N Kate. Marion Carl shot down two of these light bombers, 24 August 1942.
Nakajima B5N “Kate”. Marion Carl shot down two of these torpedo bombers, 24 August 1942.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 July 1951: Medal of Honor, Lieutenant (j.g.) John Kelvin Koelsch, United States Navy

Lieutenant (j.g.) John Kelvin Koelsch, United States Navy.
Lieutenant (Junior Grade) John Kelvin Koelsch, United States Navy.
Medal of Honor Citation for Lt. (j.g.) John K. Koelsch, U.S.N. (National Archives)
Medal of Honor Citation for Lt. (j.g.) John K. Koelsch, U.S.Navy. (National Archives)

3 July 1951: With his Vought F4U-4B Corsair, Bu. No. 63056, hit and on fire, Captain James V. Wilkins, United States Marine Corps, of Marine Fighter Squadron 312 (VMF-312) stationed aboard USS Sicily (CVE-118), bailed out approximately 35 miles (56 kilometers) southeast of Wonson, North Korea. He parachuted onto a mountainside in the Anbyon Valley.

Severely burned and with an injured leg, Captain Wilkins was seen by North Korean soldiers along a heavily-travelled supply route. While enemy soldiers shot at him, Wilkins tried to escape by crawling up the mountainside.

A U.S. Marines F4U Corsair of VMF-312 about to land aboard an aircraft carrier during the Korean War. This is the same type fighter flown by Captain. J.V. Wilkins on 3 July 1951. (U.S. Navy)
A U.S. Marines F4U Corsair of VMF-312 about to land aboard an aircraft carrier during the Korean War. This is the same type fighter flown by Captain. J.V. Wilkins on 3 July 1951. (U.S. Navy)

Lieutenant (j.g.) John Kelvin Koelsch, United States Navy, was a helicopter pilot in charge of a detachment of Helicopter Utility Squadron Two (HU-2), stationed aboard a former U.S. Navy Landing Ship (Tank), USS LST-488. The LST had been transferred to Japan after World War II and converted to a merchant ship. During the Korean War, it and its 45-man Japanese crew were contracted to the U.S. Navy. The LST was reconverted to a helicopter support ship, designated Q-009.

A torpedo bomber pilot during World War II, Lieutenant Koelsch transferred to Helicopter Utility Squadron One (HU-1) at NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey, in 1949, and was trained to fly the Sikorsky HO3S-1 helicopter, a Navy variant of the commercial Sikorsky S-51. He had completed a combat tour aboard USS Princeton (CV-37) but rather than return to the United States with his squadron, requested a transfer to HU-2. Koelsch told his shipmates that he felt rescuing downed pilots was his mission.

A U.S. Navy Sikorsky HO3S-1, possibly Bu. No. 122715, rescues a downed flyer from Wonson Harbor, 1951. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
A U.S. Navy Sikorsky HO3S-1, possibly Bu. No. 122715, rescues a downed flyer from Wonson Harbor, 1951. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

When Captain Wilkins’ Corsair went down, Lieutenant Koelsch volunteered to attempt a rescue. Shortly before sunset, he and his rescue crewman, Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class George Milton Neal, boarded their helicopter, Sikorsky HO3S-1, Bu. No. 122715, and took off from Q-009 in a mist and low clouds.

Lieutenant Koelsch's Sikorsky HO3-S-1 helicopter, Bu. No. 122715, aboard USS Phillipine Sea (CV-47). (U.S. Navy)
Lieutenant Koelsch’s Sikorsky HO3-S-1 helicopter, Bu. No. 122715, aboard USS Philippine Sea (CV-47). (U.S. Navy)

Wilkins heard Koelsch’s helicopter approaching and moved back down the mountain toward his parachute. He saw the Sikorsky flying at about 50 feet (15 meters) below a layer of clouds. The helicopter was receiving heavy ground fire from the North Korean soldiers along the road. The Sikorsky was hit and Koelsch turned away, but quickly returned. Koelsch located Wilkins and brought the HO3S-1 to a hover while rescue crewman Neal lowered a “horse collar” harness on a hoist cable. Neal then lifted the fighter pilot up to the helicopter.

The helicopter continued to be targeted by ground fire and it was finally shot down. 122715 crashed on the mountainside and rolled upside down. Koelsch and Neal were unhurt and Wilkins suffered no new injuries. Koelsch and Neal carried Wilkins and they moved away from the enemy forces, heading toward the coast. The three Americans evaded the enemy for nine days before they were captured.

John Koelsch refused to cooperate with his captors. He was held in isolation and subjected to torture. He refused to give in but soon became very ill. Just three months after being captured, Lieutenant (j.g.) John Kelvin Koelsch died. For his actions during and after 3 July 1951, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Captain Wilkins and AM3 Neal survived the war and were eventually returned to the United States. George Neal received the Navy Cross.

In 1968, the Garcia-class frigate USS Koelsch (FF-1049) was named in honor of the first helicopter pilot to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

USS Koelsch (FF-1049). (U.S. Navy)
USS Koelsch (FF-1049), a Garcia-class frigate. (U.S. Navy)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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