As I've discussed in earlier posts, I had the opportunity to visit Lackland AFB in San Antonio a while back and there is a monument on the Parade Field with the names of all 60. I stopped at that site for a while and read through the names. Recognizing some, knowing the stories of a few, and not even an inkling of knowledge about the rest.
So, today, we're going to be discussing 1Lt James P. Fleming, recipient of the Medal of Honor for actions taken in Cambodia (yes, we were there) in 1968.
|Heroes don't look like John Wayne|
Lt Fleming was a UH-1 Pilot in the 20th Special Operations Group, AKA "The Green Hornets".
On 26 November, 1968 (Sarge and I and many of you readers were celebrating Thanksgiving on that day), he's the pilot of one of 5 Hueys and a FAC tasked with infiltrating a Green Beret team into Cambodia. That team was supposed to gather intelligence on communist activity in the area.
InFil goes well, the team is in place and the Hueys have flown off to a landing site to await exfil instructions. So, they're off on a hilltop somewhere nearby, cooling their heels and enjoying a delicious Thanksgiving dinner in the world renowned luxurious USAF accommodations provided by the cargo bay of a Huey.
|Nothing says Thanksgiving like a Huey|
Meanwhile, the Green Beret team has taken up position as a large commie force comes down the trail. Well camouflaged, the team has set up an ambush site with Claymores around the perimeter which should protect them from a small to medium attack. It will not provide much protection from a force as large as they are facing however.
So they decide to hunker down, wait it out and let them pass.
However one of the bad guys feels the need for a call of nature and steps off the trail into the jungle.
As he's downloading, he's looking about and happens to notice one of the Green Berets.
He is very shortly thereafter relieved of any future need to "visit the facilities".
But, surprise is lost and the bad guys attack.
The Green Berets return fire and detonate Claymores while starting to retreat to the river. At the same time, they call for emergency exfil. Lt Fleming and the others, fire up their Hueys and ride to the rescue.
The plan calls for the two gunships to attack first and buy some time. However, the bad guys had brought along a light antiaircraft gun which promptly severely damages one of the gunships. It makes it to the Vietnam side of the river before crashing.
The reserve slick Huey lands by them and picks them up and RTBs. The second slick develops engine trouble and returns also. It's now Lt Fleming and the second gunship. The FAC vectors Lt Fleming in to a hover along the river bank where he believes the team is located.
Lt Fleming is hovering there, taking fire and damage when he hears the Team Radioman tell him to get out of there that they're surrounded. Lt Fleming backs away from the bank and retreats down river. As he does so, he sees a very large number of bad guys attacking one area.
About this time, the Green Beret's detonate all their remaining claymores. Lt Fleming sees the detonation and realizes he now knows where the team is located. He tells the FAC to vector him in one more time.
All my fighter pilot career, I was taught that if the first attack didn't work, do not reattack. Get outta there and if you absolutely must destroy the target, come back from a different direction and attack with a different delivery method.
As Lt Fleming is positioning for another rescue attempt, the remaining gunship tells him he's got enough gas for one pass and then he's got to RTB. He does so firing everything (including, according to Lt Fleming's personal "War Story", their pistols) and leaves the area.
Lt Fleming's door gunner yells that he sees the team and directs the Lt to hover while he reaches down and hauls the 6 members of the team into the Huey. At this point, the last team member fires the last of his ammunition at the enemy, throws down his weapon and sprints to the river, diving for the open door of the Huey.
The door gunner grabs him by the back of his rucksack and hauls him onto the skid and tells Lt Fleming to retreat. OK, I'm pretty sure that wasn't his exact words and that his exact words probably included "get the" something, something, and "outta here."
Lt Fleming did so.
Several things struck me about this story.
Once again, I was reminded that very few actual heroes look like John Wayne. Most look like Lt Fleming.
|That's body armor, not a g-suit|
The first Google hit I had was on John Q Public's blog. I think he made a great point. He believes that what makes the Air Force (and the rest of the Military) such a positive force is the camaraderie. Not just the having a great time, playing Volleyball at Miramar, but the attitude "I will not let you down."
Lt Fleming in his intro to the History Channel blurb (embeded below), said basically the same thing, if a bit more eloquently. As they finished their mission brief, he said they all stood in a circle not saying anything. The unspoken agreement was the helicopter crews would drop them off and do what ever it took to get them back.
That's easy to say, and probably easy to believe... prior to takeoff.
He then said "That's my Duty, That's my Honor!" and did it.
Fortunately, I don't need to end this with my usual sign off for this type of post. Lt Fleming went on to serve 30 years in the Air Force retiring in 1996 as the Professor of Aerospace Studies, AFROTC Texas Christian University.
Live long and Prosper, Colonel!
Medal of Honor Citation
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Capt. Fleming (then 1st Lt.) distinguished himself as the Aircraft Commander of a UH-1F transport Helicopter. Capt. Fleming went to the aid of a 6-man special forces long range reconnaissance patrol that was in danger of being overrun by a large, heavily armed hostile force. Despite the knowledge that 1 helicopter had been downed by intense hostile fire, Capt. Fleming descended, and balanced his helicopter on a river bank with the tail boom hanging over open water. The patrol could not penetrate to the landing site and he was forced to withdraw. Dangerously low on fuel, Capt. Fleming repeated his original landing maneuver. Disregarding his own safety, he remained in this exposed position. Hostile fire crashed through his windscreen as the patrol boarded his helicopter. Capt. Fleming made a successful takeoff through a barrage of hostile fire and recovered safely at a forward base. Capt. Fleming's profound concern for his fellowmen, and at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.
|These are not the Decorations of a Shoe Clerk!|
* Attributed to William Edward Hickson