Monday, February 6, 2017

If at first you don't succeed......*

I've kind of fallen off the Band Wagon with regard to progressing through the 60 Air Force, and it's antecedents, recipients of the Medal of Honor.   (No, National Museum of the United States Air Force, not 59. There are 60 recipients.)



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
Source



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
Source

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.

But....

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.

He misses.

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
Source


 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

31 comments:

  1. Wow. Just wow.

    That extraction took some cojones!

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    1. Sí, y ellos son muy grandes y de latón

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  2. Sigh. Some people never listen, do they? "Do not reattack." I'm sure there are six Green Berets who are glad he didn't pay attention to that little gem of advice.

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    1. Well, 7 actually. And that was the point I was trying to make...sometimes the "rules" are for "guidance" only.

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  3. Thank you juvat, for making me aware of this fine American.

    Paul L. Quandt

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  4. Amazing he could fit in the pilot's seat of a Huey with brass ones that big. Quite the man indeed. Thanks for telling us the stories of these heroes.

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    1. Thanks, Aaron. Bout time for another flying update on your part, doncha' think. Inquiring minds.....Live vicariously.

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    2. Sorry, saw your posting a little later today.

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    3. No problem. Weather around here for the past while for flying has been delta sierra as you might say. We'll see if
      I get up again anytime soon.

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  5. It's good to be reminded that humans have the capacity to behave with such valor. Great post!

    My first squadron Skipper, who had seen the elephant many times in that part of the world, often said that "rules are for guidance, not compliance." He would have made a superb admiral, but as with most potentially great flag officers he retired with 26 as an O-6.

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    1. Yeah, unfortunately, the "rules are for compliance" crowd seem to have taken over the hen house and have for quite a few years. The ones that recognize that that doesn't work in our profession some, if not most, of the time, are forced out. Yes, they made great leaders and IMHO many of the problems with the current state of our profession are caused by that. It's too easy to say that the rules don't allow that to avoid making the hard decisions needed in combat as well as deciding the future path of the military.

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    2. Yeah, a perfect example of this may be seen at the blog header, above. Note that Chappie James (who was Wing CO Olds' Vice Co at the 81st TFW at RAF Bentwaters/Woodbridge) made four stars while his boss, Robin Olds made only O-7. Not to say that James wasn't a capable officer, but he wasn't the charismatic combat leader Olds was. Olds simply wasn't a good PC garrison soldier, plain and simple and his career suffered accordingly. Don't think younger officers didn't take note and shape their actions accordingly..

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    3. PS: FWIW I was temp quartered in the same BOQ WW II Quonset hut that Chappie had previously occupied, before I was sent over to the other base at Woodpeidge to join the 78th TFS.

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    4. I think I've mentioned that my Dad, a big man, got into a wrestling match with Gen James at a dining in at Webb in the mid to late 60s. I don't think he was a flag at the time or maybe just a one star. Anyhow, he got Dad in a bear hug and cracked some ribs. Ana's thesis was not required as it had already been administered..

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    5. Good gravy! iPad spell check stinks! Ana's thesis vs anathesia? 220-221!

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  6. "The Green Hornets" adopted me for one New Year's Eve at Cam Rahn Bay AB. One of them recognized my gun platoon patch, came over and invited the only Army pilot in the joint to join them at their table next to the stage. A New Year's Eve to be remembered with just one of the high points being a very drunk Donald Sutherland doppleganger "Hornet" pilot scurrying up the water tower outside the club and bombarding some senior officers with empty wine bottles strategically placed up the tower. Great hosts and true warriors, The Hornets. regards, Alemaster

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    1. I'll bet that's a great story. You should share it.

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  7. I celebrated Thanksgiving in 68. I was probably in a highchair and I don't remember it of course. As for the usual ending to these posts, it's the lucky few that live to corroborate the tale, with those MOH awardees putting themselves in harm's way and all that.

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    1. The very lucky few. I think the second portion of the video does a good job of describing that. The Colonel said he didn't feel like he was that much different than other hello drivers. Someone saw what he did and he lived. Maybe... but what he did was heroic by any measure I can think of.

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    2. There are probably tons of heroes waiting in the wings per se- plenty of guys who would have done the same thing in the same situation, they just weren't unlucky enough to find themselves in them.

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  8. OBTW, those F models with the short B cabin and the T-58 were said to be real hot rods.

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    1. Once again, you amaze me as a font of knowledge.

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    2. The Marines had three Foxtrots for SAR at Yuma late 70's-early 80's. They got shiny new 1967-built Novembers in about '83 iirc. They were very roomy and had two motors but they leaked like sieves and had an in-cabin hoist rather than the structure-mounted hoist of the F model. They also lacked the foxtrot's high end torque in hot weather (Yuma, go figure). But they smelled newish. Some of the info on the interwebs leads me to believe the Air Force bought F models with the T-58 because they had a ready supply of that engine from their fleet of HH-3's and they intended them for patrol duties in the missile fields across the fruited plain. I think most of them ended up in SE Asia though.

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    3. Well, Lord knows there are a lot of Hueys planted in fields rice paddies of SEA. Don't know how many actually took root and grew though.

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    4. FWIW, Juvat, almost 12,000 helicopters were assigned to Viet Nam during the duration of the war and a little over 5,000 were destroyed there, the lion's share being Army for obvious reasons. DoD estimates about 40,000 helicopter pilots served in RVN and a little over 8% of the names on "The Wall" were helicopter crewmembers. Although signed off as "combat losses" a large percentage of the rotary wing losses were from accidents. regards, Alemaster

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    5. Those are some sobering stats which I suspected but did not know. Thanks.

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  9. Yep, helo drivers are CRAZY... Very similar to Clyde Lassen's MOH, they never give up, they go back until the get the guys or die trying...

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    1. Well, unlike fixed wings that OVERCOME gravity, helicopters defy gravity. That requires a different mindset. BTW, the last aircraft I had my hands on the controls of was an OH-1. Actually got the thing into a somewhat stable (if you squinted real hard) hover. It was fun.

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    2. LOL, for 'versions' of stable, right?

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    3. Stability, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

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