The President of the United States of America, authorized by Section 8742, Title 10, United States Code, awards the Air Force Cross to Captain Travis H. Scott, Jr., for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as Aircraft Commander of an HH-3E helicopter near Dak Nay Puey, Republic of Vietnam, on 15 April 1970. On that date, Captain Scott was engaged in the rescue of a crew of a United States Army helicopter which was shot down by enemy ground fire. With display of great skill and professional airmanship, Captain Scott made two earlier attempts to position his helicopter, but each time he was driven off by heavy ground fire, which inflicted damage to his helicopter. After assessing the damage to his helicopter, and assuring that his crew was able to continue with the mission, Captain Scott requested and received permission to make a third rescue attempt. In this attempts, the helicopter was severely damaged by an intense burst of heavy automatic weapons fire. Captain Scott heroically struggled to keep his crippled helicopter airborne and, with sheer determination and a deep concern for his fellowmen, he crash landed his helicopter in order to save the lives of his crew and passengers. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship and aggressiveness in the face of an opposing armed force, and in the dedication of his service to his country, Captain Scott reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Captain Travis Henry Scott, Jr., was also posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Air Medal (his fifth award) for this action. He had previously been awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters (three awards).
AIR FORCE CROSS
MAJOR TRAVIS WOFFORD
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Major Travis Wofford (AFSN: 0-61477), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as Co-Pilot of an HH-53 ¹ Rescue Helicopter Pilot of the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, 3d Air Rescue and Recovery Group, DaNang Air Base, Vietnam, in action near Dak Nay Puey, Republic of Vietnam, on 15 April 1970. On that date, Major Wofford was engaged in the rescue of a crew of a United States Army helicopter which was shot down by enemy ground fire. Although Major Wofford was wounded by enemy ground fire during two earlier rescue attempts, he chose to continue with the rescue operations. On the third attempt, the helicopter was severely damaged by an intense burst of heavy automatic weapons fire. When the helicopter lost power and crashed, Major Wofford, with complete disregard for his personal safety and despite his painful injuries, freed himself from the wreckage and then attempted to free the pilot, who was instantly killed on impact. He then observed the other members of the crew engulfed in flames and, with sheer determination and a deep concern for his fellow men, he rushed to their aid, extinguished the flames and then dragged the aircrew members to a place of safety from which they were rescued. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Major Wofford reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Major Wofford was also awarded the Purple Heart. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a rescue carried out the previous day. He also received the Cheney Award for 1970. His other medals include the Silver Star, Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters (three awards), the Air Medal with one silver and one bronze oak leaf clusters (six awards), the Air Force Commendation Medal, Presidential Unit Citation with oak leaf cluster (two awards), and the Gallant Unit Citation with two oak leaf clusters (three awards).
¹ The above citation incorrectly references Major Wofford’s aircraft as an HH-53. It was a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, call sign “Jolly Green 27.” This helicopter, 66-13280, was one of two HH-3Es to fly non-stop from New York to Paris, 31 May 1967.
30–31 March 1979: That Others May Live. On a dark and stormy night in the Yellow Sea, between China and the Korean Peninsula, the 160 foot (49 meter), 3,000 ton (2,722 Metric tons) Taiwanese freighter Ta Lai ran aground. As 20 foot (6 meters) waves battered the stranded ship, rocks punched through the hull. It was taking on water and sinking. Her crew of twenty-eight men were in danger.
Detachment 13, 33rd Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, at Osan Air Base, 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Seoul, the capital of the Republic of South Korea, answered the distress call.
Major James E. McArdle, Jr., United States Air Force, and his crew of four, flew their helicopter, “Rescue 709,” a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, serial number 67-14709, through the darkness and gale-force winds to the stranded vessel. These men were just completing there regular 12-hour duty schedule when the distress call came in, but no other crews or helicopters were available.
In addition to Major McArdle, the aircraft commander, the crew consisted of 1st Lieutenant Van J. Leffler, pilot; Sergeant James E. Coker, flight engineer; Staff Sergeant Tony Carlo and Sergeant Mark Zitzow, pararescue jumpers (“PJs”).
Rescue 709 arrived on scene just before midnight, 30 March. While McArdle and Leffler tried to hold a steady hover over the Ta Lai as it pitched and rolled in the storm, Sergeant Zitzow was lowered 80 feet (24 meters) to the deck. Once there, he assisted the ship’s crew, two at a time, onto the rescue hoist’s jungle penetrator, and after strapping them on, all three were hoisted back to the helicopter. Sergeant Coker, who was controlling the hoist, moved the sailors into the passenger/cargo area of the Jolly Green Giant, and Zitzow was once again lowered to the Ta Lai.
With ten survivors aboard Rescue 709, the helicopter was at its maximum load. Sergeant Zitzow remained aboard Ta Lai. The crew then flew to Kwang-Ju Air Base, 150 miles (241 kilometers) south of Seoul—more than 30 minutes away—to offload the men.
After returning to the rescue scene, Sergeant Zitzow was joined on deck by Sergeant Carlo. While lifting three sailors, the helicopter’s hoist motor overheated and stopped. The sailors were still hanging 50 feet (15 meters) underneath the Jolly Green Giant. The only thing that could be done was to fly to a small island about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) away and lower them to the ground. 709 then returned to the ship, by which time the hoist was working again. They picked up several more sailors and with Carlo once again on board, made the flight to Kwang-Ju.
On the third trip, the winds, though still high, were blowing from a more advantageous direction, and the final twelve men, including Zitzow, were quickly picked up. Rescue 709 returned to Kwang-Ju and landed at 0415 hours, 31 March 1979.
For this rescue, Major McArdle was awarded the Mackay Trophy by the National Aeronautic Association, for the most “meritorious flight of the year” by an Air Force member, members, or organization. He was also awarded another Distinguished Flying Cross. Lieutenant Leffler and Sergeant Coker were awarded the Air Medal, while both Sergeants Zitzow and Coker received the Airman’s Medal.
67-14709 was built by Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation at Straford, Connecticut as a CH-3E transport helicopter and was later converted to the HH-3E configuration. It served the United States Air Force from 3 July 1968 to 19 February 1991.
During the Vietnam War, 709 operated with the 37th ARRS at Da Nang in the Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) role. Flying with the call sign “Jolly Green 22,” at least 27 airmen were rescued by this helicopter and its crews.
During that period, crewmen assigned to 709 were awarded one Air Force Cross,¹ fourteen Silver Stars (three of these had been nominated for the Air Force Cross) and an unknown number of Purple Hearts. On one mission alone, 709 took hits from at least 68 machine gun bullets.
After Operation Desert Storm, 709 was sent to The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona. After 19 years in the desert, in August 2010, she was pulled from storage and sent to the National Museum of the United States Air Force for a 6-month restoration by Museum staff, as well as technical experts from the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlbert Field, Florida.
Sikorsky HH-3E 67-14709 is on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery of the Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Colonel McArdle, her pilot during the 1979 rescue mission, was present at 709’s Museum debut, 14 December 2010.
Colonel James E. McArdle, Jr., was born at LaCrosse, Wisconsin, 2 March 1943. He attended Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, where he competed on the Swimming Team and worked on the student newspaper. He entered the United States Air Force Academy as a cadet in 1961, majoring in engineering management. Upon graduating from the Academy, 9 June 1965, he was presented the Secretary of the Air Force Award for Behavorial Sciences. McArdle was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, United States Air Force.
2nd Lieutenant McArdle trained as a helicopter pilot at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, finishing at the top of his class. After finishing advanced helicopter training at Sheppard AFB, Texas, McArdle was assigned to the 20th Helicopter Squadron, 14th Air Commando Wing, operating in Southeast Asia, where he flew the Sikorsky CH-3C transport helicopter. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, four Air Medals and the Air Force Commendation Medal.
In 1970, McArdle was retrained as a Northrop T-38A Talon pilot and spent the next four years as an instructor and check pilot at Williams Air Force Base, Arizona.
Major McArdle was assigned to the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps from 1974 to 1978. Next, he became the operations officer for Detachment 13, 33rd Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, Osan Air Base, Korea. During a 12-month period, the detachment saved 80 lives, including those rescued from the Ta Lai.
From 1979 to 1981 Lieutenant Colonel McArdle served at headquarters, Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. While there he developed combat rescue tactics and helped develop the MH-53J Pave Low and MH-60G Pave Hawk special operations helicopters.
As operations officer of the 67th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at RAF Woodbridge, Suffolk, England, McArdle supervised three detachments. Next, Lieutenant Colonel McArdle assumed command of the 41st ARRS at McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, California, 7 August 1984. At that time, unit’s primary assignment was special operations support, the only helicopter squadron so assigned in the U.S. Air Force.
Colonel McArdle’s final assignment was as Inspector General at McLellan Air Force Base. He retired from the U.S. Air Force on 1 August 1991 after thirty years of service.
The SH-3A Sea King (Sikorsky S-61) first flew 11 March 1959, designed as an anti-submarine helicopter for the U.S. Navy. The prototype was designated XHSS-2 Sea King. In 1962, the HSS-2 was redesignated SH-3A Sea King. Many early production aircraft were upgraded through SH-3D, SH-3G, etc. In addition to the original ASW role, the Sea Kings have been widely used for Combat Search and Rescue operations. Marine One, the call sign for the helicopters assigned to the President of the United States, are VH-3D Sea Kings.
The Sikorsky HH-3E (Sikorsky S-61R) is a development of the SH-3A. It 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.
¹ Sergeant Dennis Martin Richardson, United States Air Force
“As the basket was lowered a fifth time to pick up the two remaining men, a huge wave hit the awash stern of the TERRY T knocking the last two crewmen – the master and the engineer – into the water downwind of the helicopter and the ship. With the lives of the two crewmen suddenly threatened by the turbulent seas and the ship drifting down upon them…”
TODAY IN COAST GUARD AVIATION HISTORY — 26 OCTOBER 1980: HH-3F #1484 assigned to Air Station Cape Cod, MA and crewed by LTJG John P. Currier (AC); LTJG Robert L. Abair (CP); AM1 David L. Seavey and AE2 Gordon R. Warren (AV) was launched at 3:40 AM in response to the 110-foot fishing vessel Terry T out of New Bedford sinking with 10 crewman aboard. The eastern-rigged scallop trawler was 80 miles southeast of Nantucket in 30-foot seas, blowing snow and 60 knot winds gusting to 80 knots. The Terry T reported “4-feet of water in the engine room” (i) and requested dewatering pumps to help control the flooding. (ii)
That weekend, a coastal storm wreaked havoc when high winds and heavy seas lashed the Massachusetts coast line, damaging scores of small work and pleasure craft. (iii) The 31-year-old skipper, Roland Farland, said the Terry T was water tight when it was checked about 10 PM Saturday night as it rode out the severe coastal storm 70 miles east-south east of Nantucket. But when he checked the boat again shortly after midnight, water was flooding the engine room. (iv)
“We got three pumps going but we couldn’t contend with the water,” Farland said. (v)In the Interim, the Terry T had been in frequent radio contact with the Coast Guard through the Nantucket Lightship and by 3:30 AM had informed the Coast Guard they would have to evacuate. (vi) Currier, the most junior Aircraft Commander at the unit, noted he “got stuck” with duty that night because there was a wardroom party planned. It turned into a busy night, The #1484 aircrew had already flown on several SAR cases that evening including evacuating Coast Guard members from the Buzzards Bay Entrance Light due to structural concerns caused by the adverse weather. (vii) Currier described their return to base from the last case, “We went back into the air station and I remember shooting an instrument approach at 120 knots indicated airspeed and doing less than 20 knots over the ground.” He added, “We came in, landed and taxied into the lee of the hangar to shut the rotor head down and those guys were taking care of the post-flight and my wife was at the wardroom party. So when we got back into the wardroom at about 8 o’clock at night she said ‘You’re not going out again are you?’ and I said, ‘No way—nobody’s out there.’ ” (vii)
About 3:40 in the morning the aircrew was awakened by Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) Boston saying there was a scalloper taking on water and unable to control flooding about 80 miles southeast of Nantucket. The aircrew described it as an interesting launch because it was still blowing 60 knots (which exceeded the main rotor start limit)—so the duty crew dragged the helicopter about halfway out of the hangar to start the turbine engines and engage the rotor system. They did it in this manner because when a helicopter first starts, the rotors are flexible and droop under their own weight. Strong winds can cause the blades to flap up and down when they are at slow RPM causing them to contact the tail boom or fuselage and do serious damage.
#1484 took off and flew toward the last known position (LKP) about 15 miles east of the Nantucket Lightship under instrument flight rules (IFR)—flying in clouds with limited to zero visibility, navigating only by cockpit instruments. The aircraft experienced severe turbulence and Currier remarked, “The crew was holding on for dear life.” (ix)
At 4:54 AM, #1484 was approaching the Terry T‘s LKP and Currier further described the situation as, “Pitch black except for the lightning and there was sleet—so we were concerned about icing.” Helicopter pilots avoid icing like dental work. When ice forms on rotor blades, they lose their ability to provide lift, and the aircraft can no longer maintain flight. The aircrew contacted Terry T on the radio and confirmed they still wanted dewatering pumps—they concurred and reported that the fishing boat had lost steering and “was at the mercy of thirty foot seas and fifty knot winds.” (x) However, the master came on the radio a few minutes later as #1484 was inbound and said, “We got a fire in the engine room, we can’t control it and I want everybody —there are 10 of us.”
As the water level rose it produced short circuits that caused spontaneous fires in the boat’s electrical system. Farland said the crew had used four fire extinguishers and had nothing left with which to fight the fires. Then radio contact was lost. (xi) From their transit altitude, the aircrew performed an instrument approach to the water astern of Terry T. (xii) The crew used a PATCH or Precision Approach to a Coupled Hover, an autopilot maneuver that transitions the helicopter from forward flight in the clouds down to an automatic hover at 50 feet visual with the water. (xiii) This maneuver can be disorienting in the clouds at night, particularly when low over the water with little room for error. Both pilots must continuously scan and interpret the flight instruments—this is critically important—to confirm the autopilot is flying the correct profile. This maneuver was described as “dicey” due to the HH-3F’s unreliable doppler. The aircrew finally made visual contact with the trawler’s glow as the aircraft descended below 150 feet.
Currier described the challenging situation, “When we arrived in a hover, we turned on the floodlights and neither myself, nor the co-pilot nor the flight mechanic thought we could do it. The tops were blowing off the waves and going over the boat and the boat was dead in the water so it was in the trough—so it was rolling more than rail-to-rail—it was getting green water over each rail as it rolled.” (xiv) With the helicopter pointing into the strong westerly winds—Terry T‘s “bow was pointed to the right (the aircraft’s 3 o’clock position), so I had no place to go to hoist,” added Currier. (xv) Seavey had similar sentiments, “This case was the only time that I had thoughts that I might not be able to complete the hoist [due to] the combination of high winds 50–60 knots or so and 25–30 foot seas.” (xvi) The aircrew was concerned with the extreme pitch and roll of the fishing vessel and height of the rigging and other obstacles, so they initially requested that the Terry T crew disembark the vessel to the life raft. However, when the fishermen inflated the raft, it immediately blew overboard. (xvii) After careful assessment, they decided that hoisting from about 40 feet above the highest waves to an area just aft of the pilot house was their best chance of success.
With no suitable hover reference, Currier was guided only by the voice of his hoist operator, David Seavey. Initial attempts did not go well. The pilot is typically unable to see the hoist area (below and aft of the pilot seat) and must fly exclusively off the flight mechanic’s conning commands—this can be very challenging when the sole hover reference is a raging and turbulent sea surface of 30–35 foot swells. The crew was convinced that a “trail line hoist” was the right tool for the situation as it would allow the helicopter to hoist from a position offset 30–40 feet from the boat and facilitate Currier’s use of the bobbing fishing vessel as a hover reference.
A trail line is a 105-foot piece of polypropylene line (similar to a water ski rope) with a 300-pound weak link at one end and a weight bag at the other. The weight bag end of the trail is paid out below the helicopter and delivered to the persons in distress (usually vertically, but seasoned flight mechanics can literally “cast” the weight bag to a spot). The weak link is then attached to the hoist hook and the helicopter backs away until the pilot can see the hoisting area. The persons in distress can then pull the basket to their location—creating a hypotenuse or diagonal—as opposed to a purely vertical delivery.
This was great in theory, but not in practice as Seavey said, “The high winds caused the trail line delivery, even with the heavy weather weight bags (25 pounds) to sail aft and twice get fouled in the rigging. We backed off, discussed the situation and decided to try using the Danforth anchor—which worked.” (xviii) Being an amphibious helicopter, the HH-3F kit included a Danforth anchor (similar to any small recreational boating anchor) with a half-inch line—they used this as an improvised trail line and it worked perfectly—with one exception which would trigger problems later in the evolution. (xix)
Currier was now able to use the vessel’s radio antenna and momentary glimpses of the superstructure for visual reference. (xx) Seavey conducted four hoists with assistance from Warren, taking crewmen in the basket two-at-a-time on each hoist. (xxi) This was unusual but necessary due to fuel concerns, the need to hoist everyone before the trawler sank and the extreme difficulty involved in placing the basket on the vessel each time. Abair added, “While a series of ten one-man hoists could have been successful, it would have more than doubled the difficulty of the rescue and would have likely resulted in loss of life.” (xxii) Between hoists, Warren took the survivors aft in the cabin and provided them with blankets to get warm. Seavey gratefully described Warren’s efforts: “He assisted me during the hoists, was helping out without having to be told what I needed. He anticipated what I needed. He was the extra set of hands getting the rescue basket into the cabin and then clearly directed the survivors to the back of the cabin.” Often forgotten under these conditions was the superlative job done by Abair, a Direct Commission Aviator and veteran Marine Corps helicopter pilot, in his Safety Pilot role. He continuously scanned the system instruments to ensure the aircraft was operating normally and the flight instruments to ensure obstacle clearance and safe altitude—occasionally coming on the controls to assist. He conveyed critical information effectively in a dynamic environment without interfering with Seavey’s commands—the crew said he did a masterful job. (xxiii)
As the basket was lowered a fifth time to pick up the two remaining men, a huge wave hit the awash stern of the Terry T knocking the last two crewmen—the master and the engineer, brothers Roland and Brian Farland—into the water downwind of the helicopter and the ship. (xxiv) “I had one hand on the basket and one hand on my brother,” Farland said. (xxv) With the lives of the two crewmen suddenly threatened by the turbulent seas and the ship drifting down on them, Currier had to reposition the aircraft over the two men with only the conning commands from Seavey to guide him, With Seavey’s instructions, Currier demonstrated extreme skill and daring and maneuvered the basket into a position in the water so that the two men could literally fall into it, and they were lifted to safety—or so they thought.
At this point, the boat actually started to go down by the stern, Seavey had the basket and two men about two-thirds of the way from the boat deck to the helicopter when he realized that earlier in the evolution without aircrew knowledge, the fisherman had tied the trail line off to the pilot house rail. The helicopter was connected to the boat by the anchor line. Seavey shouted, “We’re tied to the boat, we have problems here.” (xxvi) Currier and Abair assessed the sea state then carefully descended from their hoisting altitude of 40 feet to 25 feet creating enough slack in the trail line and allowing Seavey and Warren to bring the basket into the door. At once, Seavey cut the anchor line with a knife and immediately conned, “Up, up, up” for the pilots to immediately pull power. At 25 feet, Seavey could see that the wave tops on either side were level with the helicopter. (xxvii)
After completing the hoists, it took about five minutes to secure the cabin—Seavey and Warren working together—Warren helped the Captain and crew to the rear of the cabin and secured the basket while Seavey was securing the hoist, closing the cabin door and reporting that the cabin was secured and ready for forward flight. As #1484 circled the scalloper, it had already began to founder—the decks awash with sea water. (xxviii) The flight mechanic and avionicsman administered first aid to the injured crew on the return flight that landed at 6:52 AM. Throughout the mission, Currier and his crew showed exemplary skill and courage. Currier stated, “We got them off and got back. The helicopter was pretty beat up—they actually had to change the tail rotor because of overstresses.” (xxix)
All 10 men (listed below) were saved from the Terry T—four of the survivors were from the same family. (xxx)
Roland Farland (Captain)
Elmer Beckman (Mate)
Brian Farland (Engineer)
John Santos (cook)
Donald Capps (deckhand)
George Altman (deckhand)
Ronald Charpentier (deckhand)
Stephen Farland (deckhand)
Peter Farland (deckhand)
George Johnston (deckhand) (xxxi)
“It was pretty hairy,” Roland Farland said. “I just have to commend the Coast Guard for doing such a terrific job. It was blowing good,” the New Bedford man said: “Seas were 30 feet and winds were blowing 60 to 65 miles.”
In a post-mission interview, Currier conveyed, “Visibility was about half a mile and it took us five hoists to get 10 people off the boat. We had to hover over it for about an hour. (xxxii) The problem with a situation like that is that you have no point of reference,” he said. “All you can see is the boat and the water, and they are both in motion. You try to keep the helicopter a stable platform, but it’s hard. I’ve been here three years and those were the worst condition I’ve seen.” (xxxiii)
Thirty-five years later, and older and wiser Vice Admiral (VADM) Currier reflected on that night. “This was not a solo pilot operation. This was a reflection of an incredibly talented flight mechanic and a solid co-pilot. Actually, I think that was my co-pilot’s first rescue mission after transitioning from the Marine Corps to the Coast Guard, and I think it was a heck of an eye-opener for him.” VADM Currier added, “In the Coast Guard we have some of the best rotary- and fixed-wing pilots there are. I can say that as the old Coast Guard aviator, but I’ve been around long enough in civil and military aviation to say our people are among the very best. They are challenged on a daily basis with missions that would be a big deal in other services. For us, they’re how we do business—night, offshore, poor visibility, terrible weather. It’s always single-ship, and it’s always single crew. It requires skill, proficiency and individual initiative.” (xxxiv)
For this nearly impossible rescue, Currier earned the Harmon International Aviation Trophy—the only Coast Guard Aviator to warn this distinction. The Harmon Trophy—the aviator’s award—is given for the most outstanding international achievements in the preceding year, with the art of flying receiving first consideration. He joined other winners such as: Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh: General Jimmy Doolittle, Major Charles E. Yeager, Howard Hughes, Major Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin and Amelia Earhart.
The Harmon Trophy was presented to him at the Old Executive Building across from The White House by Vice President Dan Quayle on 21 June 1991 (11 years after the mission). His name is inscribed on the six foot tall trophy in a glass enclosure in the National Air and Space Museum. Interestingly, Currier was never notified regarding his selection of the award, which has historically been presented by the president. The Reagan assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr., on 30 March 1981 wreaked havoc with the President’s schedule and the award presentation was overlooked. His parents while visiting the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., six years later, reportedly saw his name engraved on the trophy and asked him about it. It took another four years of action by headquarters and the Coast Guard Aviation Association before Currier received the award.
The #1484 aircrew also earned the American Helicopter Society (now, the Vertical Flight Society) Frederick L. Feinberg Award in March 1981—presented to the pilot or crew of a vertical flight aircraft who demonstrated outstanding skills or achievement during the preceding 18 months. (xxxv)
Lieutenant (junior grade) Currier and AM1 Seavey both earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for this mission, while LTJG Abair and AE2 Warren earned the Coast Guard Commendation Medal with Operational Distinguishing Device in a ceremony at Air Station Cape Cod in June 1981. (xxxvi) The Currier and Abair Citations are below. The Seavey and Warren citations have not been located.
Vice Admiral John Philip Currier, United States Coast Guard (Retired), passed away on 01 March 2020 from natural causes at his home in Traverse City, Michigan. His ashes were interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on 14 September 2021. He is recognized as the “godfather of the Coast Guard’s modern H-60 helicopter program” and received commendations for flying and rescue work over his 38-year career in the Coast Guard. He held assignments as an aviator at Air Stations Cape Cod (MA), Sitka (AK), Traverse City (MI), Astoria (OR), Detroit (MI) and Miami (FL). He held many senior leadership positions including Chief of Operations and Chief of Staff for the Pacific Area; Commander of the Thirteenth District in the Pacific Northwest; Coast Guard Chief of Staff; and finally, Vice Commandant, the Service’s second in command. From 2008–2012, just prior to his tenure as Vice Commandant, the Coast Guard Aviation community experienced a horrendous series of aircraft accidents that took the lives of 18 Coast Guard aircrewmen. The dilemma weighed heavily on Admiral Currier, but—he was the RIGHT man, in the RIGHT place, at the RIGHT time when the Service needed him most. The Service was searching for solutions—long fatigued and exasperated from attending memorial services, hearing eulogies and listening to “Amazing Grace”—he led us out of that morass to “clearer skies” with a new focus on cockpit leadership, proficiency, risk management and a “back to basics” approach when it came to tactics, techniques and procedures. He guided a structured fleet-wide operational risk assessment and directed corrective actions which yielded a remarkable improvement in aviation professionalism and safety. These efforts added to his already robust Coast Guard Aviation legacy.
Retired Captain Sean M. Cross served 25 years in the Coast Guard as a helicopter pilot and aeronautical engineer. Flying both the MH-60T and MH-65D, he accumulated over 4,000 flight hours while assigned to Air Stations Clear Water, FL; Cape Cod, MA; San Diego, CA; Elizabeth City, NC and Traverse City, MI, which he commanded.
“There is only one Coast Guard Aviator’s name etched on the Harmon Trophy and the story of HOW it got there should be preserved for posterity.”
i Boston AP article – multiple sources – “The ‘Terry T.” of New Bedford called for help at about 3:30 a m. when its engine room filled with about four feet of water, spokesman Mario Toscano of the Coast Guard’s Boston Rescue Center said.” – available here: https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/439301890/
ii John Currier (HH-3F Aircraft Commander) in video discussion (Exit Interview) with Scott T. Price (Coast Guard Historian) in Washington, D.C. on April 23, 2014.
iii Jack Stewardson, “10 fishermen saved; 2nd trawler overdue,” The Standard-Times, New Bedford, Mass., October 27, 1980, page 1.
iv Jack Stewardson, “It was pretty hairy, but help came for fishing crew,” The Standard-Times, New Bedford, Mass.,, October 28, 1980, page 4.
vii Gordon Warren (HH-3F Avionicsman) in phone interview with the author on September 30, 2021.
viii Currier interview
x Barrett Thomas Beard, “Wonderful Flying Machines: A History of U.S. Coast Guard Helicopters,” (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1996), page 146.
xii Currier interview
xiii Robert Abair (HH-3F Co-Pilot) in email message to author on September 30, 2021. “The term PATCH implies a coupled hover, which was not the case. All hovering was done manually. Because of the heavy seas, it was impossible to couple the aircraft to the radar altimeter. The entire mission from lift off to touch down was hand flown due to turbulence.”
xvi David Seavey (HH-3F Flight Mechanic) in email message to author on September 22, 2021.
xvii Currier interview
xviii Seavey email.
xix Currier interview
xx Beard, “Wonderful Flying Machines: A History of U.S. Coast Guard Helicopters,” page 147.
xxi Seavey email.
xxii Abair email.
xxiii Seavey email.
xxiv Staff Writer (1), “Manchester Man Cited by U.S. Coast Guard,” Manchester Evening Herold, June 22, 1981, page 20 – available here: http://www.manchesterhistory.org/News/Manchester%20Evening%20Hearld_1981-06-22.pdf
xxv Stewardson, “It was pretty hairy, but help came for fishing crew,” page 4.
xxvi Currier interview xxvii Ibid
xxviii Seavey email.
xxix Currier interview
xxx Beard, “Wonderful Flying Machines: A History of U.S. Coast Guard Helicopters,” page 147.
xxxi Stewardson, “10 fishermen saved; 2nd trawler overdue,” page 4.
xxxii Staff Writer (2), “CG pulls 10 from blazing trawler,” Cape Cod Times, October 27, 1980, page unknown
(Falmouth Public Library Microfiche retrieved on September 29, 2021 by Sue Henken). xxxiii Ibid
xxxiv American Helicopter Society International – Vertipedia. “Biography, John P. Currier, United States,” Last modified April 14, 2021. https://vertipedia-legacy.vtol.org/milestoneBiographies.cfm?bioID=428
xxxv Vertical Flight Society. “Frederick L. Feinberg Award previous recipients,” Last modified in 2021. https://vtol.org/awards-and-contests/vertical-flight-society-award-winners?awardID=3
xxxvi Staff Writer (1), “Manchester Man Cited by U.S. Coast Guard,” page 20.