Alton Evening Telegraph from Alton, Illinois on June 27, 1968 · Page 17
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June 27, 1968

Alton Evening Telegraph from Alton, Illinois · Page 17

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Alton, Illinois
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Thursday, June 27, 1968
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Page 17
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, JUNE 27, 1968 ALTON EVENING TELEGRAPH By JOHN f . WHEELER Associated Press Writer »A NANG, Vietnam (AP) ~ A doomed Marine pilot, crumpled below his parachute deep In tnetny temtory, became unwitting bait for a huge Viet .Cong ambush against helicopters. Enemy troops pointedly ig. aored the flier, who lay with a broken leg and arm, trying to call in Air Force rescue helicopters. The Viet Cong were dig- glng in all around the pilot, just out of sight and earshot, waiting. When the camouflaged choppers arrived with their fighter- bombers escorts, they suspected a trap at once. They had seen many before. But traps are part of the business and pilots of the Jolly Green Giant rescue ships never questioned their next move- try and get their man out. In the past year, the 37th Aerospace Recovery and Rescue Squadron has rescued more than 250 men from North and South Vietnam. The cost, three helicopters and eigh't killed of the 21 crews assigned to the squadron. Many of the saves were called miracles by the men who were picked up and those who did the job. This time there was no miracle along the ridge line overlooking the A Shau Valley hard on the Laotian frontier. Unless it could be said; as some did later, that it was a wonder things weren't worse. After fighter-bombers hit the area, the first camouflaged helicopter dipped its nose and sliced in for a rescue attempt. Withering groundfire greeted the chopper as It neared the Leatherneck pilot, and 1 the craft shuddered under the impact of the bullets. The pilot pulled up and fighter-bombers went back to work; A second chopper slowed above the downed man but heavy fire raked the twin-ongine craft. One of the spotter plane pilots called in, "Your left side is on fire, Jolly Green. Get outta there." The pilot tried, pulling his stricken craft up and away from the trap and limping to the east. The fire diminished, but the bird's rotors began turning more and more slowly and the chopper fell. When it hit the ground, a huge fireball consumed the fragile craft. The four men aboard presumably were killed instantly. Back at the Da Nang base the radioed news of the disaster first brought shock and then a mass of volunteers to go after their friends and the Marine jet pilot. Capt. Jerry Griggs, Kannapol- 1s, N.C., and his crew were next at the scene. He said: "After the Skyraiders worked over the area, we went in. When we started to hover over the Marine, It seemed the whole right side of the countryside erupted with groundfire. I could feel the hits on the aircraft." Griggs' ship also caught fire but the copilot, Capt. Harry Hagen Jr., of Seattle, Wash., reported later: "Somehow we got away." 1 Away from the ridgeline trap, but far from home free. The severely damaged helicopter tried to land some distance away "and the whole place blew up in our face. There were so many streams of tracers that it looked like 1,000 red pencils drawing lines in front of us," Hagen said. With luck, a great deal of luck, this crew limped into the Marine base at Khe Sanh. By now the Marine on the ground had stopped his radio transmission. With the odds against them, the rescue men might have assumed he was dead. Maj. Harvie L. Stringer, Cookeville, Tenn., who escorted Griggs to Khe Sanh, returned and "figured most of the big guns were silenced and that it was worth another try." Two skyraiders prece Stringer's craft, two were on each side and two followed him into the pickup zone. Despite all the bombing and strafing runs, no one was too surprised when Sgt. Robert Baldwin, 28, Burkburnett, Tex., the flight engineer, shouted: "Pull up! pull up! They're shooting." Baldwin and Sgt. Steve North' em, 21, Riverside, Calif., began pouring machine-gun fire into the Viet Cong positions, killing eome of the enemy and forcing the rest to keep their heads down. Northern, the pararescue medic, was at the helicopter's door waiting to go down via a cable hoist to pick up the downed pilot Then "the whole hill opened up on us," he re- One of the covering fighter bombero radioed, "Get awty from Uw ridge, Jolly. Get awa; tlw ridge. CbarU« \a all Downed Marine Pilot Becomes Viet Cong Bait fire was only 20 yards from the downed pilot. Maj. Stringer reported that he downed Marine was crum- )led up and not moving, but it Ominously tbe center of the was decided to try one last time. The results were about the same. Heavy fire, the rescue chopper hit several times before being forced to abandon the effort. The total cost of the operation was four Jolly Green men pre* sumed killed, one chopper de- stroyed, one neavfly damaged and two moderately damaged. tt Was a bad day—but it was almost a glorious day. Other jolly Greens from Da Nang had rescued five pilots. The sixth would have made ft record for one day. 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