Tag Archives: Vietnam War

1 March 1972

Lieutenat Colonel Joseph W. Kittinger II, 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, in the cockpit of a McDonnell F-4 Phantom II, Udorn RTAFB, 1972. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel Joseph W. Kittinger II, 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, in the cockpit of a McDonnell F-4 Phantom II, Udorn RTAFB, 1972. (U.S. Air Force)

1 March 1972: Lieutenant Colonel Joseph W. Kittinger II, United States Air Force, and 1st Lieutenant Leigh A. Hodgdon, were flying McDonnell F-4D-29-MC  Phantom II serial number 66-7463, call sign Falcon 54. Along with a second F-4, they were assigned to a combat air patrol (MiGCAP) mission over northern Laos.

At approximately 2000 hours, Disco, a Lockheed EC-121T Warning Star airborne early warning aircraft, alerted Kittinger to the presence of several Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 21 interceptors and gave him radar vectors toward the enemy aircraft.

Lockheed EC-121T Warning Star. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed EC-121T Warning Star. (U.S. Air Force)

Colonel Kittinger reported:

At approximately 18 miles the system broke lock but it was quickly reacquired. A slow left turn ensued to keep the dot centered. Altitudes were slowly increased from 8,200 feet to 11,500 feet. The Vc on the scope was extremely difficult to interpret; however, it appeared that we were not really overtaking the target, so the outboard tanks were dropped. Heading of the aircraft changed to approximately 360° at time of firing. At approximately 6 miles the “in-range” light illuminated, followed by an increase in the ASE circle. Trigger was squeezed and crew felt a thump as the missile was ejected; however, missile motor did not ignite. The trigger was squeezed again and held for approximately 3 seconds; however missile did not fire. Trigger was squeezed again and missile #3 fired. The missile made a small correction to the left then back to the right and guided straight away. Pilot maintained the dot centered.

Approximately 5 to 6 seconds after launch, detonation was observed. Almost simultaneously, two enemy missiles were observed coming from the vicinity of the detonation. Evasive action prevented more thorough observations of detonation. The flight turned to a heading of 210°, maintained 9,000 feet, airspeed 500 knots, and egressed the area.

— Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter III at Page 87.

Joe Kittinger is officially credited with the destruction of the MiG 21.

McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 66-7463, flown by Captains Richie and DeBellevue, 28 August 1972. (U.S. Air Force)
This McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II, 66-7463, was flown by LCOL Joe Kittinger and 1LT Hodgdon when they shot down a MiG-21, 1 March 1972. Flown by several different crews, this airplane is officially credited with shooting down 6 enemy fighters. It is on display at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado. (U.S. Air Force)

Joseph W. Kittinger II is best known for his participation in experimental high-altitude balloon flights. On 2 June 1957, he ascended to 97,760 feet (29,490 meters) aboard the Project MAN-HIGH 1. On 16 August 1960, he reached 102,800 feet (31,333 meters) and then stepped off for the longest free-fall parachute jump—a record that would stand for 52 years.

Joe Kittinger flew 483 combat missions in three tours during the Vietnam War. He was shot down 11 May 1972, when his F-4D, 66-0230, was struck by a missile fired by a MiG 21. (Kittinger’s wingman shot down the MiG.) He and Weapons System Officer 1st Lieutenant William J. Reich were captured and held at the infamous Hanoi Hilton for the next 11 months.

Captain Kittinger steps off the Excelsior gondola, 102,800 feet above the Earth, 16 August 1960. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Kittinger steps off the Excelsior gondola, 102,800 feet above the Earth, 16 August 1960. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 February 1967

Captain Hilliard Almond Wilbanks, United States Air Force (26 July 1933–24 February 1967)
Captain Hilliard Almond Wilbanks, United States Air Force.

MEDAL OF HONOR

CAPTAIN HILLIARD A. WILBANKS

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1896, in the name of Congress, has awarded in the name of The Congress, the Medal of Honor, posthumously, to CAPTAIN HILLIARD A. WILBANKS, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

As a forward air controller near Dalat, Republic of Vietnam, on 24 February 1967, Captain Wilbanks was pilot of an unarmed, light aircraft flying visual reconnaissance ahead of a South Vietnam Army Ranger Battalion. His intensive search revealed a well-concealed and numerically superior hostile force poised to ambush the advancing rangers. The Viet Cong, realizing that Captain Wilbanks’ discovery had compromised their position and ability to launch a surprise attack, immediately fired on the small aircraft with all available firepower. The enemy then began advancing against the exposed forward elements of the Ranger force which were pinned down by devastating fire. Captain Wilbanks recognized that close support aircraft could not arrive in time to enable the Rangers to withstand the advancing enemy onslaught. With full knowledge of the limitations of his unarmed, unarmored, light reconnaissance aircraft, and the great danger imposed by the enemy’s vast firepower, he unhesitatingly assumed a covering, close support role. Flying through a hail of withering fire at treetop level, Captain Wilbanks passed directly over the advancing enemy and inflicted many casualties by firing his rifle out of the side window of his aircraft. Despite increasingly intense anti-aircraft fire, Captain Wilbanks continued to completely disregard his own safety and made repeated low passes over the enemy to divert their fire away from the Rangers. His daring tactics successfully interrupted the enemy advance, allowing the Rangers to withdraw to safety from their perilous position. During his final courageous attack to protect the withdrawing forces, Captain Wilbanks was mortally wounded and his bullet-riddled aircraft crashed between the opposing forces. Captain Wilbanks’ magnificent action saved numerous friendly personnel from certain injury or death. His unparalleled concern for his fellowman and his extraordinary heroism were in the highest traditions of the military service, and have reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

General Orders: GB-50, February 8, 1968

Action Date: 24-Feb-67

Service: Air Force Reserve

Rank: Captain

Company: 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron

Regiment: 21st Tactical Air Support Group

Division: Nha Trang Air Force Base, Vietnam

Captain Hilliard A. Wilbanks' widow was present this Medal of Honor. It is on display at the Museum of Aviation, Robins Air Force Base, Warner Robins, Georgia.
Captain Hilliard A. Wilbanks’ widow was presented this Medal of Honor. It is on display at the Museum of Aviation, Robins Air Force Base, Warner Robins, Georgia.

Hilliard Almond Wilbanks was born at Cornelia, Georgia, 26 July 1933. He was the first of four children of Travis O’Neal Wilbanks, a farm equipment salesman, and Ruby Lea Wilkinson Wilbanks. He attended Cornelia High School, graduating in 1950

On 8 August 1950, Wilbanks enlisted in the United States Air Force. He served as an air policeman. In 1954, Airman 1st Class Wilbanks was selected for Air Cadet–Officer Candidate School. He was a Distinguished Graduate, and on 15 June 1955, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and awarded his pilot’s wings.

He was then assigned as a flight instructor in the Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star. Wilbanks was promoted to first lieutenant, 15 December 1956.

Also in 1956, Lieutenant Wilbanks married Miss Rosemary Arnold at Greenville, Mississippi. They would have four children.

Lieutenant Wilbanks attended the Maintenance Officer School at Chanute Air Force Base, Illinois, and was then assigned as a maintenance test pilot for the North American Aviation F-86 Sabre at Eielson Air Force Base, Anchorage, Alaska. He was promoted the rank of  captain in 1961.

Captain Wilbanks was next assigned to Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas, Nevada, where he was a maintenance officer for the Republic F-105 Thunderchief.

In 1966, Captain Wilbanks attended the Forward Air Controller school at Hurlburt Field, Florida. He deployed to the Republic of South Vietnam in March 1966. He was assigned to the 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron. He used the call sign, “Walt 51,” and flew 487 combat missions before his final flight, 24 February 1967.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Captain Hilliard Almond Wilbanks, United States Air Force Reserve, had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, Air Medal with nineteen oak leaf clusters (twenty awards), the Air Force Commendation Medal, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal with bronze star (for service during the Korean War and Vietnam War), the Vietnam Service Medal, and the Air Force Reserve Medal. The Republic of Vietnam awarded him its Anh Dũng Bội Tinh (the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross) with silver star, and Chiến Dịch Bội Tinh (Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal).

Captain Wilbanks’ remains were recovered and returned to the United States. He was buried at the Fayette Cemetery, Fayette, Mississippi.

A Forward Air Controller Cessna O-1G Bird Dog, serial number 51-12824. This is the same type airplane as Captain Wilbanks’ O-1G, 51-5078. (U.S. Air Force)

Captain Wilbank’s airplane was an O-1G Bird Dog, serial number 51-5078 (c/n 21983). It was manufactured as an L-19A by the Cessna Aircraft Company, Inc., at Wichita, Kansas, in 1951. The airplane was later upgraded to the O-1G configuration. It is a single-engine, tandem-seat light airplane which was developed from the company’s 4-place Model 170. The prototype, Cessna Model 305, N41694, made its first flight on 14 December 1949.

The O-1G is 25 feet, 9.5 inches (7.861 meters) long, with a wingspan of 36 feet, 0 inches (10.973 meters), overall height in 3-point position of 9.1 feet (2.8 feet). The airplane has typical empty weight of 1,716 pounds (778 kilograms), depending on installed equipment, and a maximum gross weight of 2,800 pounds (1,270 kilograms).

The O-1G Bird Dog was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 471.239-cubic-inch-displacement (7.772 liter) Continental O-470-11 six-cylinder horizontally-opposed direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 7:1. The O-470-11 was rated at 190 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., at Sea Level, and 213 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for take off (5 minute limit). 80/87 octane aviation gasoline was required. The engine had a dry weight of 391 pounds (177 kilograms). The airplane was equipped with a fixed pitch two-blade McCauley propeller with a diameter of 7 feet, 6 inches (2.286 meters).

The O-1G had a maximum cruise speed of 85 knots (98 miles per hour/157 kilometers per hour), and never exceed speed (VNE ) of 165 knots (190 miles per hour/306 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 20,300 feet (6,187 meters).

Cessna built 3,431 Bird Dogs between 1949 and 1959. Only about 300 are believed to remain airworthy today.

A U.S. Air force )-1 Bird Dog Forward Air Controller rolls in on a target. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 February 1966

Brigadier General James M. Stewart, United States Air Force Reserve, 1968. (Bettmann/CORBIS)

20 February 1966: Brigadier General James M. Stewart, United States Air Force Reserve, flew the last combat mission of his military career, a 12 hour, 50 minute “Arc Light” bombing mission over Vietnam, aboard Boeing B-52 Stratofortress of the 736th Bombardment Squadron, 454th Bombardment Wing. His bomber was a B-52F-65-BW, serial number 57-149, call sign GREEN TWO. It was the number two aircraft in a 30-airplane bomber stream.

A Boeing B-52F-65-BW Stratofortress, 57-0144, drops bombs during an Arc Light strike. (U.S. Air Force)

The aircraft commander was Captain Bob Amos, and co-pilot, Captain Lee Meyers. Other crew members were Captain Irby Terrell, radar navigator, Captain Kenny Rahn, navigator, and technical Sergeant Demp Johnson, gunner.

Brigadier General James M. ("Jimmy") Stewart, USAFR (center) with the crew of B-52F Stratofortress 57-149, at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, 20 February 1966. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General James M. (“Jimmy”) Stewart, USAFR (center) with the crew of B-52F Stratofortress 57-149, at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, 20 February 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

Jimmy Stewart was a successful Hollywood actor. He had an interest in aviation since childhood, and he earned a private pilot license in 1935, then upgraded to a commercial license in 1938. He owned his own airplane, a Stinson 105, and frequently flew it across the country to visit his family.

Stewart enlisted as a private in the United States Army 22 March 1941, just three weeks after winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in “The Philadelphia Story.” Military records show that he had brown hair and blue eyes, was 6 feet, 3 inches tall, and weighed 145 pounds (65.8 kilograms).

James M. Stewart enlists as a private in the United States Army, 22 March 1941. (Los Angeles Times)
James M. Stewart enlists as a private in the United States Army, 22 March 1941. (Los Angeles Times)

Because of his college education and experience as a pilot, Corporal Stewart was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, 19 January 1942. He was assigned as an instructor pilot at Mather Field, near Sacramento, California.

Corporal James M. Stewart was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, at Moffett Field, California, 19 January 1942. (AP)
Corporal James M. Stewart was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, at Moffett Field, California, 19 January 1942. (AP)

Stewart was promoted to first lieutenant 7 July 1942. Stewart was next assigned as a pilot at the Bombardier School at Kirtland Army Air Field, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

First Lieutenant James M. Stewart, USAAF, (third from left) as a pilot at the Training Command Bombardier School, Kirkland AAF, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant James M. Stewart, USAAF, (third from left) as a pilot at the Training Command Bombardier School, Kirtland AAF, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1942. (U.S. Air Force) Update: The first student on the left has been identified as John M. “Jack” Drenan. 1st Lieutenant Drenan, a B-24 bombardier, was listed as Missing in Action on a mission to the Marshall Islands, 2 January 1944. Thanks to Mr. Patrick E. Freudenthal for the information.

After transition training in the B-17 Flying Fortress, Lieutenant Stewart was assigned as as an instructor at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho. On 9 July 1943, Stewart was promoted to captain and given command of a training squadron.

Concerned that his celebrity status would keep him in “safe” assignments, Jimmy Stewart had repeatedly requested a combat assignment. His request was finally approved and he was assigned as operations officer of the 703rd Bombardment Squadron, 445th Bombardment Group, a B-24 Liberator unit soon to be sent to the war in Europe. Three weeks later, he was promoted to commanding officer of the 703rd.

Captain James M. Stewart, USAAF, (standing, fourth from left) commanding officer, 703rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 445th Bombardment Group (Heavy), with his squadron officers and a B-24 Liberator long-range heavy bomber, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain James M. Stewart, USAAF, (standing, fourth from left) commanding officer, 703rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 445th Bombardment Group (Heavy), with his squadron officers and a B-24 Liberator long-range heavy bomber, 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

The 445th Bombardment Group arrived in England on 23 November 1943, and after initial operational training, was stationed at RAF Tibenham, Norfolk, England. The unit flew its first combat mission on 13 December 1943, with Captain Stewart leading the high squadron of the group formation in an attack against enemy submarine pens at Kiel, Germany. On his second mission, Jimmy Stewart led the entire 445th Group.

Ford B-24H-1-FO Liberator 42-7563, “Hell’s Warrior,” 701st Bombardment Squadron, 445th Bombardment Group. (American Air Museum in Britain)
Captain James M. Stewart, 8th Air Force, circa December 1943. (Imperial War Museum)

On 20 January 1944, Stewart was promoted to major, and served as deputy commander of the 2nd Bombardment Wing during a series of missions known as “Big Week.” He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Major James M. Stewart, USAAF, Group Operations Officer, 453rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), RAF Old Buckenham, 1944.
Major James M. Stewart, USAAF, Group Operations Officer, 453rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), RAF Old Buckenham, 1944.

Major Stewart was next assigned as Group Operations Officer of the 453rd Bombardment Wing at RAF Old Buckenham. He assigned himself to fly the lead B-24 in the group’s missions against Germany until he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, 3 June 1944, and assigned as executive officer of the 2nd Bombardment Wing. In this position he flew missions with the 445th, 453rd, 389th Bomb Groups, and with units of the 20th Combat Bomb Wing.

After being promoted to the rank of Colonel on 29 March 1945, he was given command of the 2nd Bombardment Wing. He had risen from Private to Colonel in four years. He received a second Distinguished Flying Cross and was presented the Croix de Guerre avec Palme by France.

Lieutenant Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, executive officer, 2nd Bombardment Wing, post mission, 23 July 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, executive officer, 2nd Bombardment Wing, post mission, 23 July 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant General Henri Valin, Chief of Staff, French Air Force, awards the Croix de Guerre avec Palme to Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant General Henri Valin, Chief of Staff, French Air Force, awards the Croix de Guerre avec Palme to Colonel James M. Stewart, USAAF, 29 January 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

Following World War II, Jimmy Stewart remained in the U.S. Army Air Forces as a Reserve Officer, and with the United States Air Force after it became a separate service in 1947. Colonel Stewart commanded Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Marietta, Georgia. In 1953, his wartime rank of colonel was made permanent, and on 23 July 1959, Jimmy Stewart was promoted to Brigadier General.

During his active duty periods, Colonel Stewart remained current as a pilot of Convair B-36 Peacemaker, Boeing B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress intercontinental bombers of the Strategic Air Command.

"Actor James Stewart, (right), a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, arrives at Loring Air Force Base, here on July 8th, for his annual two-week tour of active duty. Stewart is being greeted by Brigadier General William K. Martin, (center), Commander of the 45th Air Division. While at Loring, the actor will be given a pilot refresher course in flying the B-52 heavy bomber." (©Bettman/CORBIS)
“Actor James Stewart, (right), a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, arrives at Loring Air Force Base, here on July 8th, for his annual two-week tour of active duty. Stewart is being greeted by Brigadier General William K. Martin, (center), Commander of the 45th Air Division. While at Loring, the actor will be given a pilot refresher course in flying the B-52 heavy bomber.” (Bettman/CORBIS)

James Stewart was one of America’s most successful film actors. He made a number of aviation films , such as “No Highway in the Sky,” “Strategic Air Command,” “The Spirit of St. Louis”and “The Flight of the Phoenix.”

James Stewart on te set of "Strategic Air Command" at Carswell AFB, Texas, 1955. Stewart, a colonel in teh U.S. Air Force Reserve, portrayed "Colonel Dutch Holland" a reserve officer recalled to active duty with SAC during the Cold War.
James Stewart on the set of “Strategic Air Command” at Carswell AFB, Texas, 1955. Stewart, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, portrayed “Colonel Dutch Holland,” a reserve officer recalled to active duty with SAC during the Cold War.

During his military service, Brigadier General James Maitland Stewart was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster (two awards); the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters; the Distinguished Service Medal; and the Croix de Guerre avec Palme (France).

General Stewart retired from the U.S. Air Force on 1 June 1968 after 27 years of service.

Arc Light. (United States Air Force 110310-F-XN622-001)

Jimmy Stewart died of a heart attack at his home in Beverly Hills, 2 July 1997, at the age of 89 years. He is buried at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 February 1967

General Howell M. Estes, Jr., presents the Air Force Cross to Airman 1st Class Duane D. Hackney, 9 September 1967. (U.S. Air Force)
General Howell M. Estes, Jr., presents the Air Force Cross to Senior Airman Duane D. Hackney, 9 September 1967. (U.S. Air Force)

heroism046 February 1967: That Others May Live. Airman 2nd Class Duane D. Hackney, U.S. Air Force, 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, rescued the pilot of a downed aircraft and earned the Air Force Cross. He was the first living recipient of the Air Force Cross.

With more than 70 individual medals, Chief Master Sergeant Hackney was the most highly decorated enlisted man in United States Air Force history.

His citation reads:

Air Force Cross
Air Force Cross

“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 Airman Second Class Duane D. Hackney (AFSN: 16827003), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force while serving with the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, 3d Air Rescue and Recovery Group, DaNang Air Base, Vietnam, as a Paramedic (Pararescueman) on an unarmed HH-3E Rescue Helicopter near Mu Gia Pass, North Vietnam, on 6 February 1967. On that date, Airman Hackney flew two sorties in a heavily defended hostile area. On the first sortie, despite the presence of armed forces known to be hostile, entrenched in the vicinity, Airman Hackney volunteered to be lowered into the jungle to search for the survivor. He searched until the controlling Search and Rescue agency ordered an evacuation of the rescue crew. On the second sortie, Airman Hackney located the downed pilot, who was hoisted into the helicopter. As the rescue crew departed the area, intense and accurate 37-mm. flak tore into the helicopter amidships, causing extensive damage and a raging fire aboard the craft. With complete disregard for his own safety, Airman Hackney fitted his parachute to the rescued man. In this moment of impending disaster, Airman Hackney chose to place his responsibility to the survivor above his own life. The courageous Pararescueman located another parachute for himself and had just slipped his arms through the harness when a second 37-mm. round struck the crippled aircraft, sending it out of control. The force of the explosion blew Airman Hackney through the open cargo door and, though stunned, he managed to deploy the unbuckled parachute and make a successful landing. He was later recovered by a companion helicopter. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Airman Hackney reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”

A Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant (66-13290) ot the 37th ARRS, hovering in ground effect at Da Nang, 1968. (U.S. Air Force)
A Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant (66-13290) of the 37th ARRS, hovering in ground effect at Da Nang, 1968. (U.S. Air Force)

The following is excerpted from Chief Master Sergeant Hackney’s U.S. Air Force biography:

Airman 2nd Class Duane D. Hackney, USAF, with jungle penetrator, aboard a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, Southeast Asia, 1967 (U.S. Air Force)
Airman 2nd Class Duane D. Hackney, USAF, with jungle penetrator, aboard a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, Southeast Asia, 1967 (U.S. Air Force)

“. . . His pararescue career began quickly. Three days after reporting for duty, Hackney, now an airman second class, flew his first combat mission. On his 10th mission, in April 1966, he was hit by enemy fire while pulling a wounded Marine pilot aboard his HH-3E Jolly Green Giant. Five times in the months ahead his helicopter was shot down. He earned four Distinguished Flying Crosses and 18 Air Medals for single acts of heroism. Then came Feb. 6, 1967 and the mission that would lead to the second highest award for heroism given by the U.S. Air Force.

“That morning he descended from his HH-3E to look for a downed pilot near Mu Gia pass, North Vietnam. He searched for two hours until bad weather forced a return to base. A few hours later, radio contact with the pilot was re-established and another rescue was attempted. This time, the severely wounded pilot was found. The wounded pilot hugged Hackney and said, ‘You’re beautiful.’

” ‘Hey man,’ said Hackney, ‘I’m not the stewardess.’

“Hackney carried the pilot back to the helicopter to begin their retreat. They had to hurry because it was rapidly becoming dark. Before they could clear enemy air space, anti-aircraft artillery struck the helicopter, filling the compartment with smoke and fire. Hackney strapped his own parachute on the pilot’s back and helped him get out the door. He found a spare, oil-stained parachute just as a second 37-mm antiaircraft shell ripped into the helicopter. Before he could buckle the chute, the Jolly Green Giant’s fuel line exploded, blasting Hackney through the door. Holding on to the chute with his arms, he managed to pull the cord before plummeting into the forest 250 feet below. The chute slowed his fall, but he still plunged 80 more feet to a rock ledge.

“Severely burned and pierced by shrapnel, Hackney managed to evade capture. When an A-1 Skyraider passed overhead, he fired a flare. A chopper mission was sent in and the rescuer was rescued. When he got back to Da Nang Air Base, he was told that he was the only survivor of the thwarted mission. Four other crew members and the pilot they had gone to save had died.

“For giving up his parachute and risking his own life, Hackney received the Air Force Cross. Hackney was presented the medal by Gen. Howell M. Estes Jr., the commander of Military Airlift Command.

“Hackney continued his distinguished Air Force career, retiring in 1991 as a chief master sergeant. In 1993, he died of a heart attack in his Pennsylvania home. He was 46 years old.”

Chief Master Sergeant Duane D. Hackney, United States Air Force (195x–1993)
Technical Sergeant Duane D. Hackney, United States Air Force (1947–1993)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 January 1962

ARVN soldiers run to board U.S. Army CH-21C Shawnee helicopters. (LIFE Magazine)
ARVN soldiers run to board U.S. Army CH-21C Shawnee helicopters. (LIFE Magazine)

12 January 1962: The first helicopter assault, Operation Chopper, took place when 33 United States Army CH-21C Shawnee transport helicopters of the 8th and 57th Transportation Companies airlifted 1,036 soldiers of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) into battle against an insurgent Việt cộng (National Liberation Front) stronghold, approximately 10 miles (16.1 kilometers) west of Saigon. The landing zone was 150 yards by 300 yards and surrounded by tall trees.

A flight of U.S. Army CH-21C Shawnee helicopters over South Vietnam, 1962. (LIFE Magazine)
A flight of U.S. Army CH-21C Shawnee helicopters over South Vietnam, 1962. (LIFE Magazine)

The Piasecki Helicopter Company CH-21C Shawnee was a single-engine, tandem rotor transport helicopter. It had a flight crew of three with one or two gunners, and could carry up to 20 soldiers under ideal conditions.

With rotors turning, the ship’s overall length was 86 feet, 4 inches (26.314 meters) and it was 15 feet, 9 inches (4.801 meters) high. The rotors were 44 feet (13.411 meters) in diameter and the fuselage was 52 feet, 7 inches (16.027 meters) long. The empty weight was 8,950 pounds (4,059.7 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 15,200 pounds (6,894.6 kilograms).

The forward rotor turned counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right side.) The rear rotor turns the opposite direction. Normal operating speed for the main rotors was approximately 250 r.p.m. The counter-rotating rotors cancelled out engine torque, eliminating any need for a tail rotor.

The H-21 was powered by a single air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 863C9WD1 (R-1820-103) nine-cylinder radial, mounted inside the fuselage at midship, and drove the front and rear rotors in opposite directions through drive shafts and gear boxes. The Wright R-1820-103 engine was rated at 1,275 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m., and 1,425 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., for takeoff. This direct-drive engine had a compression ratio of 6.80:1 and required 100/130 aviation gasoline. The engine was 4 feet, 0.50 inches (1.232 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.95 inches (1.396 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,350 pounds (612 kilograms). Wright built 971 R-1820-103s from November 1950 through 1957.

The CH-21C had a maximum speed of 127 miles per hour (204 kilometers per hour) and a range of 265 miles (427 kilometers). It’s service ceiling was 19,200 feet (5,852.2 meters).

A U.S. Army CH-21C Shawnee over the Landing Zone west of Saigon, 12 January 1962. (U.S. Army)

The Piasecki H-21 Workhorse was developed for the U.S. Air Force as an air base support and search and rescue helicopter in cold weather operations. A total of 707 were built for the U.S., France and Germany, as well as civil operators. 334 were built for the U.S. Army as the H-21C Shawnee, redesignated CH-21C in 1962.

Its performance in the hot and humid climate of Southeast Asia was limited, restricting the troop load to 9 soldiers. It was withdrawn from service in 1964 when the Bell HU-1A Iroquois began to replace it. All CH-21Cs were retired when the CH-47 Chinook assumed its role in 1965.

ARVN troops wait while a U.S. Army CH-21C Shawnee lands. (LIFE Magazine)
ARVN troops wait while a U.S. Army CH-21C Shawnee lands. (LIFE Magazine)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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