21 November 1970: Operation Kingpin was a mission to rescue 61 American prisoners of war at the Sơn Tây Prison Camp, 23 miles (37 kilometers) west of Hanoi, North Vietnam. There were over 12,000 North Vietnamese soldiers stationed within five miles of the prison. The ultra-secret mission was carried out by 56 U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers and 98 airmen aboard 28 aircraft.
Months of intelligence gathering, mission planning and meticulous training preceded the mission. Personnel were selected from more than 500 volunteers. Training was conducted at Duke Field, an auxiliary field at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. A full-size replica of the prison was constructed and live-fire training was conducted. Aircraft formations flew day and night, following the precise courses and distances that would be flown during the actual mission.
Originally planned for October, the mission had to be pushed back to November.
Two Lockheed C-130E(I) Combat Talons (a special operations variant of the four-engine Hercules transport), call signs CHERRY 01 and CHERRY 02, each lead a formation of aircraft for the raid. The assault group, consisting of a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, 65-12785, (BANANA 01) and five Sikorsky HH-53B/C Super Jolly Green Giant helicopters (APPLE 01–05) carried the Special Forces team. The second formation was a strike group of five Douglas A-1E Skyraiders (PEACH 01–05) for close air support. The Combat Talons provided navigation and communications for their groups and illumination over the prison.
Because there was insufficient room to land a helicopter within the prison, it was planned to have BANANA 01, flown by Major Herbert D. Kalen and Lieutenant Colonel Herbert R. Zehnder, and carrying a 14-man assault team, BLUEBOY, crash-land inside the perimeter. The Special Forces soldiers were tasked to locate and protect the prisoners and to kill any guards that might interfere. The larger helicopters first fired on the guard towers with their miniguns and then landed their soldiers outside the prison. The A-1 Skyraiders bombed and strafed nearby foot and vehicle bridges to stop reinforcements from making their way to the prison.
Once inside the prison, it was quickly discovered that there were no American POWs there. The assault forces then withdrew. The total time from the beginning to the end of the assault was just 26 minutes. One American soldier suffered a gunshot wound to the leg. The crew chief of BANANA 01 broke an ankle when it was hit by a falling fire extinguisher during the crash landing. As expected, BANANA 01 was written off. Between 100–200 North Vietnamese soldiers were killed.
During the withdrawal from the area, North Vietnam fired more than 36 surface-to-air missiles at the aircraft. None were hit, though one Republic F-105G Wild Weasel, 62-4436, call sign FIREBIRD 05, was damaged by a near miss. This aircraft ran out of fuel just short of its tanker rendezvous and the crew bailed out over Laos. They were rescued by Super Jolly Green Giants APPLE 04 and APPLE 05, after they had been refueled by an HC-130P Combat Shadow, LIME 02.
Although meticulously planned and carried out, the mission failed because the POWs had been moved to another prison camp, closer to Hanoi (“Camp Faith”). Three days after the raid on Sơn Tây, they were again moved, this time to the infamous Hanoi Hilton.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pride in presenting the Air Force Cross (Posthumously) to Staff Sergeant Eugene Lunsford Clay (AFSN: 18497841), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as an HH-3E Flight Engineer of the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, 3d Air Rescue and Recovery Group, DaNang Air Base, Vietnam, in action in Southeast Asia on 9 November 1967. On that date, Sergeant Clay attempted the night extraction of a ground reconnaissance team after his helicopter had been severely damaged. Two other helicopters had been shot down and a third extensively damaged in previous attempts. During the rescue attempt, Sergeant Clay unhesitatingly exposed himself to hostile fire to assist the survivors to the aircraft. The hostile forces closed in quickly, and as the damaged helicopter departed, it was shot down. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Staff Sergeant Clay reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Action Date: November 9, 1967
Service: Air Force
Battalion: 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pride in presenting the Air Force Cross (Posthumously) to Captain Ralph Wayne Brower (AFSN: 0-3109303), United States Air Force (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as an HH-3E pilot of the 37th Aero Space Rescue and Recovery Squadron, 3d Air Rescue and Recovery Group, DaNang Air Base, Vietnam, in action in Southeast Asia on 9 November 1967. On that date, captain Brower attempted the night extraction of a ground reconnaissance team. Despite full knowledge that two helicopters had been shot down and a third severely damaged by intense, accurately directed hostile fire, Captain Brower, with determination, indomitable courage, and profession skill, established a hover on a steep slope within one hundred yards of hostile weapons positions and brought the wounded survivors aboard. The hostile forces closed in quickly, and as the helicopter departed, it was shot down. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Captain Brower reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Action Date: November 9, 1967
Service: Air Force
Battalion: 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron
Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Air Force, 37th ARS Da Nang AFB, Republic of Vietnam.
Place and date: Khesanh, 9 November 1967.
Entered service at: Colorado Springs, Colo. Born: 9 May 1930, Chicago, Ill.
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Capt. Young distinguished himself while serving as a helicopter rescue crew commander. Capt. Young was flying escort for another helicopter attempting the night rescue of an Army ground reconnaissance team in imminent danger of death or capture. Previous attempts had resulted in the loss of 2 helicopters to hostile ground fire. The endangered team was positioned on the side of a steep slope which required unusual airmanship on the part of Capt. Young to effect pickup. Heavy automatic weapons fire from the surrounding enemy severely damaged 1 rescue helicopter, but it was able to extract 3 of the team. The commander of this aircraft recommended to Capt. Young that further rescue attempts be abandoned because it was not possible to suppress the concentrated fire from enemy automatic weapons. With full knowledge of the danger involved, and the fact that supporting helicopter gunships were low on fuel and ordnance, Capt. Young hovered under intense fire until the remaining survivors were aboard. As he maneuvered the aircraft for takeoff, the enemy appeared at point-blank range and raked the aircraft with automatic weapons fire. The aircraft crashed, inverted, and burst into flames. Capt. Young escaped through a window of the burning aircraft. Disregarding serious burns, Capt. Young aided one of the wounded men and attempted to lead the hostile forces away from his position. Later, despite intense pain from his burns, he declined to accept rescue because he had observed hostile forces setting up automatic weapons positions to entrap any rescue aircraft. For more than 17 hours he evaded the enemy until rescue aircraft could be brought into the area. Through his extraordinary heroism, aggressiveness, and concern for his fellow man, Capt. Young reflected the highest credit upon himself, the U.S. Air Force, and the Armed Forces of his country.
The remaining crew members of Jolly Green 26 died in the crash. They were Captain Ralph Wayne Brower, the helicopter’s co-pilot; Staff Sergeant Eugene Lunsford Clay, flight engineer; Sergeant Larry Wayne Maysey, Pararescueman. The soldiers that “Jolly 26” had just rescued, Special Forces Master Sergeant Bruce Raymond Baxter and Specialist 4 Joseph George Kusick, both of U.S. Army Reconnaissance Team UTAH, were also killed.
Captain Brower, Staff Sergeant Clay and Sergeant Maysey were each posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross for “extraordinary heroism” during the rescue.
Gerald Orren Young was born at Chicago. Illinois, 19 May 1930. He was the son of Orren Vernon Young and Ruth Vesta Bovee Young.
Gerry Young enlisted in the United States Navy, 24 May 1947, and trained as an aviation electriciann’s mate. He was discharged 29 February 1952. Young reenlisted 6 August 1955 and served until 15 July 1956, when he was selected as aviation cadet in the United States Air Force. He graduated flight school and was commissioned a second lieutenant, U.S. Air Force, 18 June 1958. Lieutenant Young trained as helicopter pilot. He was sent to the Marshall Islands for his first operational assignment, flying in support of the Operation Hardtack I nuclear weapons test series, from June through December 1958.
After a little over one year of duty in Japan, Lieutenant Young returned to the United States to support strategic missile bases at several locations. In August 1967 Young was reassigned to the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. He flew 60 combat missions in the HH-3E.
Following the 9 November 1967, Captain Young was hospitalized for several months. On 14 May 1968, in a ceremony at The Pentagon, President Lyndon Johnson presented the medal of Honor to Captain Young.
Major Young served with Detachment 24, 42nd ARRS, based at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, from February 1972. Det. 24 flew the twin-engine Bell UH-1N “Huey” helicopter.
He next attended the Defense Language Institute at Monterey, preparing for an assignment with the Fuerzas de Defensa de Panamá (Panama Defense Forces). While there, on 21 August 1972, Major Young’s wife, Nancy, died of a heart attack.
Following duty in Panama, Major Young completed a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Maryland. He then served as air attache to Columbia, followed by a series of staff assignments.
Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Orren Young retired from the U.S. Air Force, 30 June 1980, after more than 30 years of military service. In addition to the Medal of Honor, Colonel Young had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart, the Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters, and the Air Force Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster. He died 6 June 1990. Colonel Young’s remains were interred at the Arlington National Cemetery.
The Sikorsky HH-3E (Sikorsky S-61R) earned the nickname Jolly Green Giant during the Vietnam War. It is a dedicated Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) helicopter flown by the U.S. Air Force, based on the CH-3C transport helicopter. The aircraft is flown by two pilots and the crew includes a flight mechanic and gunner. It is a large twin-engine helicopter with a single main rotor/tail rotor configuration. It has retractable tricycle landing gear and a rear cargo ramp. The rear landing gear retracts into a stub wing on the aft fuselage. The helicopter has an extendable inflight refueling boom.
The HH-3E is 72 feet, 7 inches (22.123 meters) long and 18 feet, 10 inches (5.740 meters) high with all rotors turning. The main rotor has five blades and a diameter of 62 feet (18.898 meters). Each blade has a chord of 1 foot, 6.25 inches (0.464 meters). The main rotor turns at 203 r.p.m., counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the right.) The tail rotor also has five blades and has a diameter of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.150 meters). The blades have a chord of 7–11/32 inches (0.187 meters). The tail rotor turns clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The tail rotor turns 1,244 r.p.m.
The HH-3E has an empty weight of 13,341 pounds (6,051 kilograms). The maximum gross weight is 22,050 pounds (10,002 kilograms).
The Jolly Green Giant is powered by two General Electric T58-GE-5 turboshaft engines, which have a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 1,400 shaft horsepower, each, and Military Power rating of 1,500 shaft horsepower. The main transmission is rated for 2,500 horsepower, maximum.
The HH-3E has a cruise speed of 154 miles per hour (248 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and a maximum speed of 177 miles per hour (285 kilometers per hour), also at Sea Level. The service ceiling is 14,000 feet (4,267 meters). The HH-3E had a maximum range of 779 miles (1,254 kilometers) with external fuel tanks.
The Jolly Green Giant can be armed with two M60 7.62 mm machine guns.
Sikorsky built 14 HH-3Es. Many CH-3Cs and CH-3Es were upgraded to the HH-3E configuration. Sikorsky built a total of 173 of the S-61R series.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Section 8742, Title 10, United States Code, awards the Air Force Cross to Technical Sergeant Donald G. Smith for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as a Pararescueman on a HH-3E Rescue Helicopter in Southeast Asia on 24 October 1969. On that date, Sergeant Smith voluntarily descended to the surface on a forest penetrator to assist a downed pilot. As he and the pilot were being raised, hostile fire rendered the hoist inoperative and the cable was sheared, dropping them fifteen feet to the ground. Sergeant Smith’s position was surrounded by hostile forces, and his helicopter was downed by hostile fire. Remaining exceptionally calm, his resolute and decisive presence encouraged other survivors, while his resourcefulness in controlling and directing the aircraft providing suppressive fire, resulted in the safe recovery of all downed personnel. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, Sergeant Smith reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Master Sergeant Smith’s official Air Force biography reads:
Donald Smith was born on June 7, 1935, in Prairie City, Oregon. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on April 10, 1954, and after completing basic training, he was trained as a Survival Training and Personnel Equipment Specialist at Chanute AFB, Illinois. His first assignment was as a survival training & personnel equipment specialist with the 3635th and 3636th Combat Crew Training Squadrons at Stead AFB, Nevada, from December 1954 to February 1958, followed by Fuel Supply Specialist training at Keesler AFB, Mississippi, from February to May 1958. Sgt Smith served as a fuel supply specialist with the 3242nd Maintenance Squadron and the 4135th Strategic Wing at Eglin AFB, Florida, from May 1958 to February 1959, and then with the 389th Support Squadron and the 389th Strategic Missile Wing at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming, from March 1959 to April 1963. He then attended Rescue & Survival Technician training before serving as a Pararescueman with the 54th Air Rescue Squadron (later redesignated the 31st Aerospace Rescue & Recovery Squadron) at Goose AB, Labrador, from November 1963 to March 1965, and then deployed to Clark AB in the Philippines from March 1965 to April 1968. During this time, Sgt Smith deployed to Vietnam from April 1965 to August 1966. His next assignment was as a Pararescueman with the 305th Aerospace Rescue & Recovery Squadron (ARRS) from September 1968 to July 1969, followed by service with the 37th ARRS at DaNang AB, South Vietnam, from July 1969 to June 1970. Sgt Smith served as NCOIC of Pararescue Standardization with Headquarters Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service at Scott AFB, Illinois, from June 1970 to May 1971, and then served as a Pararescueman with the 48th ARRS at Fairchild AFB, Washington, from June 1971 to February 1975. His final assignment was with the 3636th Combat Crew Training Wing at Fairchild AFB from February 1975 until his retirement from the Air Force on June 1, 1976.