Our Pedros, rotors of wood, men of steel
The HH-43 deployment to war
The HH-43 was the first USAF SAR bird put into the Vietnam and Laos wars. The deployment demands we explain some acronyms and infrequently used unit designations. Having read the earlier history will help you put the next discussions into context, but there is some additional history you'll need.
February 1, 2005
The organization of the Army Air Forces and then the US Air Force was very fluid during and following WWII. Indeed, a fellow from the Netherlands named Johan Ragay has done very exhaustive work at USAF archives to chronicle when and where HH-43s were deployed to Southeast Asia. If you visit his summary, you will see that he divided the deployments into five periods, or rounds, during the period 1964 and 1975. We'll not go through all that, but instead just get you started with the first round. His summaries are well done, and we recommend you go through them at your leisure.
As mentioned early on, the HH-43 was the first USAF SAR bird put into the Vietnam and Laos wars. That was done in June 1964, to Nakhon Phanom (NKP) Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB) . It was also the last USAF rescue helicopter to leave Vietnam, leaving Danang AB, Republic of Vietnam (RVN) after the peace treaty was signed in January 1973. We also believe it was the very last USAF SAR aircraft out of the region, leaving Utapao RTAFB in April 1975.
Here's a good example of why we say this. Lt. General George C. Kenney, Commander 5AF and then Commander, Allied Air Forces Southwest Pacific, arrived in the Pacific in July 1942, took a look around, and said this about the overall set-up:
"It (5AF) turned out to be another scrambled outfit.... With so many lines of responsibility, control, and coordination that it resembled a can of worms as you looked at it...."
General Kenney’s initial assessment of command arrangements during WWII could also be applied to the command arrangements in Korea and Vietnam. In all three cases, we neglected to establish centralized command and control of air power, which caused air resources to be spread out, and as a result we lost the advantage of having concentrated airpower. That's why this history is so important to understanding what the Pedros and others faced in Vietnam. It was a problem in WWII and Korea and was not solved when we entered Vietnam and Laos.
To help tell the Pedro story, we want to highlight three numbered air forces in the Pacific: the 5th, 7th, and 13th Air Forces.
The "Philippine Department" had existed for many years prior to the outbreak of WWII, and was the outlying US Army command in the Pacific. In 1941, it was essentially a service and supply outfit. With the US expecting war with the Japanese, in July 1941, Lt. General Douglas MacArthur was appointed Commander, United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), which included all those in the Philippines Department and any Philippine Army troops inducted into the US Army.
In August 1941, the Philippine Department Air Force was established and activated at Nichols Field, Philippines a month later, but was truly a token force. It was redesignated the Far East Air Force (FEAF) in October 1941 and moved to Darwin, Australia, in December 1941 following the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines. It was redesignated the 5th Air Force (AF) in 1942 by direction of General Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff, and moved to Brisbane, Australia.
Lt. General George C. Kenney (third from right) at the "Third Slug" Bar of the 3rd Bomb Group, Australia. In September 1942, he became commander, 5th Air Force, headquartered in Brisbane, Australia, and in 1943 became the Commander, Allied Air Forces Southwest Pacific Area. Photo courtesy of 5th Air Force USAAF in Australia, 1942-1945.
The 5AF was responsible for the Southwest Pacific region, and between 1942 and 1945 flew and fought its way to end the war to set up its headquarters in Japan in 1945.
This is a P-51D-20NA, the "Dirty Old Man", 342nd Fighter Squadron, 348th Fighter Group, 5th Air Force, presented by the North American P-51 Mustangs.
Interestingly, the FEAF was brought back in 1944 and the 5AF became part of it. The FEAF would eventually become the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) and move to Hawaii where it remains to this day. The 5AF remained in Japan and remains there today.
Bill Starke and his 44th Fighter Squadron P-38 at Guadalcanal, 1944. The 44th was known as the "Vampire Squadron," the leading fighter squadron in 13AF squadron, with 169 enemy aircraft shot down. Photo courtesy of William "Bill" Starke, 44FS, presented by Vampire Squadron.
The 13th Air Force (13AF) activated at New Caledonia in the Coral Sea in January 1943, combining many different kinds of units. It staged mostly out of tropical jungles on more than 40 remote islands, and came to be known as the "Jungle Air Force." During the course of WWII, it flew and fought its way from all these islands to Clark Field, the Philippines, in January 1946. It remained there until Mt. Pinatubo buried Clark AFB. It moved to Anderson AB, Guam where it remains today.
The B-24 Liberty Belle Crew, 42nd Bomb Squadron, 11th Bomb Group (H), 7th Air Force 11th Bomb Group (H) - 42nd Bomb Squadron, April 1945 - Jan 1946. Photo courtesy of Tom and Ann Sinton, presented by Seventh Air Force 30th Bomb Group & 11th Bomb Group Memorial Web Site.
The 7th Air Force (7AF) traces its legacy to the Hawaiian Air Force, activated in 1940 at Pearl Harbor, which was decimated by the Japanese attack. It rebuilt, and fought its way from "one damned island after another" until it struck Japan from Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The name 7AF was assigned in 1942, and changed to Pacific Air Command in 1947. That was deactivated in 1949. It was redesignated 7AF in 1954, activated in 1955, and deactivated in 1957. When 7AF was reactivated in March 1966, it opened up shop at Tan San Nhut AB, Republic of Vietnam (RVN) and served as the air component command of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), which ran the war until 1973. It then moved to NKP and was deactivated in 1975. It was reactivated in 1986 at Osan AB, Republic of Korea where it remains today.
The 5th and 13th Air Forces each had a rescue organization assigned to it. Following WWII, the 2nd Emergency Rescue Squadron (ERS) was located at Clark AB, Philippines, and subordinated to the 13th AF, while the 3rd ERS was located at Atsugi AB, Japan, and subordinated to the 5th AF in Japan.
In March 1946, the Air Rescue Service (ARS) was established under the Air Transport Command to provide rescue coverage for the continental United States. By 1949 the ARS was tasked to cover the world's major transport routes. Organizationally, this meant that the rescue squadrons were taken away from the combatant, numbered air forces in the field and were subordinated to the ARS in Washington. It is important to understand that the ARS was established as a peacetime SAR capability. During 1946-1949, it expanded its mission to include disaster relief.
On the one hand, the reorganization enabled the ARS to compete in the Pentagon for its own resources and outfit its squadrons worldwide. Previously, the 2nd and 3rd ERSs had to rely on 13th and 5th AF respectively, and then the Pacific Air Force (PACAF), to argue on their behalf and compete for scarce resources. So, their bosses were tactical air forces, which almost always place their highest resource priorities on fighter aircraft and munition, leaving rescue requirements at the bottom of the list.
The numbered air forces overseas did get operational control over the ARS units deployed to their areas of responsibility, but when it came to fighting for resources, the two ERSs now had the ARS, a specialized SAR organization back home, to do their bidding.
Both the 2nd ERS and 3rd ERS were redesignated 2nd Air Recovery Squadron (ARS) and 3rd ARS respectively. Each of these soon upgraded to Air Recovery Groups, ARGs.
The 2nd ARG moved to Hawaii from the Philippines in the early 1950s. This was done as part of the move of the Far East Air Forces (FEAF) from Japan to Hawaii.
That effectively left the 3rd ARG in Japan as the major SAR organization for the Pacific Theater. It had five squadrons, four in Japan, one in Korea. With the outbreak of the Korean War, the 3rd ARG and its subordinate units found themselves no longer a “peacetime SAR” operation, but instead a combat SAR activity, known as CSAR. There is a massive difference between the two. Other peacetime SAR units from around the world were sent to Korea and subordinated to the 3rd.
The white water froths from the nose of a 38th ARS SA-16 as the pilot pours on the power in preparation for a take-off from a fresh water lake in northern Honshu, in Japan. The 38th is a unit of the 3rd Air Rescue Group and provides air and sea rescue for military and civilian air traffic over norther Honshu, Hokkaido and the adjacent Pacific Ocean areas. March 1953 Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo, presented by Air Force Link
The SA-16 Grumman “Albatross” fixed wing amphibian aircraft, lovingly nicknamed “Dumbo” by some, flew the long range rescue missions, landing behind enemy lines, or landing at sea to effect its rescues.
USAF H-19 helicopter, 3rd Air Rescue Group, is seen hoisting an unidentified airman aboard from Far East waters. 1953. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo, presented by Air Force Link
The Sikorsky H-19 flew the more tactical SAR missions. We'll underline yet again, however, that all these peacetime SAR outfits were not prepared to fight war in Korea. Of course, they did it nonetheless and did so with enormous valor.
In an essay published in the Fall 1990 Airpower Journal, Captain Edward B. Westermann, USAF, wrote this:
“By using a combination of sheer guts, good luck, and a learn-as-you-go mentality, the ARS logged hundreds of combat saves and was responsible for the evacuation of 9,898 United Nations personnel by the end of the war.”
At the end of that war, the USAF returned to its peacetime mentality for SAR operations. Westermann wrote:
“By the end of 1960, the ARS was a skeleton command.”
Remember, the strategic emphasis in the US remained on the threat of a massive nuclear exchange, and the major investments were made in the strategic forces, bombers, submarines and ICBMs. In 1955, for example, the US staged its first nationwide civil defense exercises and the B-52 intercontinental bomber deployment in the US began. The Soviets showed off their intercontinental bombers at an air show, and in 1957 launched their first successful ICBM test. Worse yet, in 1957 the Soviets launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite to orbit Earth, and followed that up by sending a dog into space, the first living creature to go there. In 1957, the National Security Council reported that the Soviet Union had achieved superiority in long-range ballistic missiles.
The net result was that once Korea was over, no one was thinking of another Korea in Vietnam, and certainly no one was thinking of a counterinsurgency style of war.
Well, Vietnam did happen and we're now ready to dig into the HH-43 deployment to that region. You will recall that the Commander-in-chief Pacific (CINCPAC) approved that in May 1964. You'll also recall that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed in August 1964.
As we walk you through the HH-43 deployments, we want to emphasize that each air base to which the "Huskies" were deployed had many different missions and many different aircraft assigned to them. Furthermore, many aircraft different than those stationed at these bases came in and out, from all services, including Air America, for a wide variety of reasons. While we can only highlight a limited number of missions assigned to these bases, please keep in mind that no matter which base, the HH-43 crews had to be able to respond to the needs of each mission, each different kind of aircraft, from each service and Air America, and do long range or shorter range SAR missions to boot. That's a tall order for a limited number of HH-43 aircraft and crews. The crewmembers truly were walking aircraft data bases to be able to adjust their responses to each event that demanded their attention.
This map, presented by Vietnam Security Police Association (USAF), shows the main 7th AF air bases in Vietnam and Thailand. It also shows the Security police outfits stationed there, but we'd like you to concentrate on the air bases, tagged in red.
The USAF plan was to initially deploy the HH-43s to Danang AB, Republic of Vietnam (RVN), southeast of the border with North Vietnam, Bien Hoa AB on Saigon's northwest corner, and Soc Trang AB (not shown on map) to the south in the Mekong River delta region. The USAF SAR deployment began in June 1964.
We earlier mentioned the deployment strategy of sending units into the theater on a temporary duty or TDY status in order to keep the official force level numbers down for permanent deployments. That's the way the "Huskies" came in.
In response to orders from the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the USAF instructed the 33rd ARS in May 1964 at Naha AB, Okinawa, Japan to send two HH-43Bs, their crews and mechanics to Bien Hoa AB and two HU-16 Albatrosses to Korat RTAFB, Thailand. We're not sure how this date crunches with the fact that CINCPAC did not approve the deployment until June, but will set that aside for other business. We'll also not worry about the "Albatross" in this report, but instead concentrate on the HH-43s.
“Yankee Team” reconnaissance operations which now were being escorted by USAF and Navy fighter aircraft over Laos were incurring increasing losses, so, at the 11th hour, the two HH-43Bs were diverted from Bien Hoa to Nakhon Phanom RTAFB, nicknamed NKP (sometimes called “Naked Fanny” by those stationed there). A short time later, a third HH-43 came to NKP.
NKP flightline, 1965, three HH-43s parked on Pierced Steel Planking (PSP) ramp. Photo presented by the "Unofficial" US Air Force HH-43 "Pedro" web site.
NKP was a better location, positioned on the northeast corner of Thailand, on the Mekong River, a stone's throw from Laos, and a short flight to respond to the “Yankee Team” area of operations.
The 33rd ARS helicopters were flown by C-97 transport into nearby Udorn RTAFB, just south of Vientiane, Laos, assembled, and then flown to NKP.
These were the first USAF helicopter aircraft and crews in the Vietnam War specifically tasked with the combat SAR mission.
The aircraft reportedly arrived at Udorn in their silver “birthday” suits with bright orange painted on their nose and tails to reflect that they were rescue birds. The old hands at Udorn, Air America crews we understand, took it upon themselves to paint over that orange. We are told none of the crews HH-43 complained.
NKP flightline, 1965. Here you get a closer look at one of the HH-43 and the Pierced Steel Planking (PSP) ramp. You can see a few shacks and a tent in the center background, and a radar off to the right. Photo presented by the "Unofficial" US Air Force HH-43 "Pedro" web site.
The runway at NKP was made of Pierced Steel Planking (PSP). The base at the time consisted of a group of shacks, some fuel bladders, a few generators, and, as described by Jim Burns, a retired USAF senior master sergeant with 17 years helicopter flying experience, an “outhouse.” Burns and his HH-43 colleagues stood alert every day to support “Yankee Team” reconnaissance over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and North Vietnam.
As indicated earlier, the HH-43s were not equipped for combat. We're not sure what Major Saunders had in mind when he recommended the HH-43s be modified for combat, but at the outset, the peacetime configured birds were the ones used. And, as has been in every war in which the US fights, the air crews had to modify their aircraft themselves to go where they were going and do what they had to do.
"This was shot at NKP, Thailand , August 1964. This is the 'tail gun' we rigged up using a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) strung by ropes in the tail area of the cabin. We flew these birds without the 'clam shell' doors installed." Text and photo by SMSgt. Jim Burns, USAF (Ret.), presented by Kaman HH-43 Huskie, a web site done by Johan D. Ragay of the Netherlands.
In this photo, you see one of the crew sitting in the rear of the HH-43, clam shell doors off, BAR strapped in. Photo provided by Stephen P. Mock, MSgt, USAF (Ret.).
Among the first actions taken by the crews, they installed (tied down with bungee cords or rope) a M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) in the rear cabin door opening. The BAR had 20 round magazines, and fired only in the automatic mode, at either slow or rapid rates of speed. Reports we have seen reflect that the troops often had to hide their BARs from the brass, sometimes in nearby empty fuel drums, to avoid getting the brass bent out of shape. The brass worried that crews armed with these BARs would engage in gunship operations more than SAR operations. The SAR crews worried about going into a rat's nest unarmed, unable to suppress enemy fire while they were making their rescue. You might wonder how the crews got the BARs. GI ingenuity, a friendly trade with the Air America guys over at Udorn RTAFB was one way. Over time, other ingenious ways were employed to obtain all kinds of weapons.
The HH-43 Pedro drawn to commemorate an exaggerated example of inflight-refueling, before air-to-air refueling of helicopters came onto the scene. Drawing by Udo C.J. Fischer, a PJ from 1952-1976, presented by pjsinnam.com
You will recall that the HH-43 was designed for a 75 mi. range. That was insufficient for the SAR work up in Laos and North Vietnam, so the crews lashed drums of fuel inside the helicopter cargo bay and rigged up a way to feed the fuel to the main tank. They also pre-positioned fuel drums at Air America landing sites (Lima sites) in Laos so they could stop on the way home to top off. Or, they'd simply have to recover at one of these sites or some other "safe haven" and wait for someone to deliver them fuel to get out of there.
Furthermore, the hoist cable was only 100 feet, insufficient for deep forest penetrations. The crews scrounged up 100 foot lengths of rope to attach to the end of the hoist cable to overcome this deficiency. On occasion, the crews would pull up a downed crew member to within 100 feet of the aircraft, increase altitude to over 100 feet above the forest canopy, and then fly off to a safe place to let their “guest” down safely and get him aboard.
You will recall that the outfit at NKP consisted of men and machines TDY from Japan. So, what did they call the outfit at NKP? It was called "Det Provisional 3 PARC." What's that, you ask?
There's an interesting bit of history here, so we need to pause before continuing with the other deployments.
The Air Rescue Service had divided the world into five rescue regions and had a rescue center located in each. Please remember, these were all peacetime organizations. In the continental US, there were the Eastern (EARC), Central (CARC), and Western (WARC) Rescue Centers. Overseas there were the Atlantic (AARC) and the Pacific (PARC) Rescue Centers. Under normal circumstances, the Air Force organizes its basic units into squadrons, and, if required, detachments (Det - smaller elements) are subordinated to a squadron. In this case, however, each one of these rescue centers had detachments, an unusual organizational setup.
We believe that the 2nd ARG, which had earlier moved from the Philippines to Hawaii, became the PARC. Then, on April 1, 1962, Det 3 PARC was organized at Tan Son Nhut AB on Saigon's southeast corner, long before the USAF sent in any HH-43s. Det 3 PARC had no aircraft, but instead operated as a coordinating function only. It literally had to go out and find Army and Marine helicopters and persuade them to go on a SAR mission for aircrew recoveries. This could get hard if resources became short because of major ground operations that demanded these helicopters. There were instances where downed aircrews had to battle it out themselves.
Use of the nomenclature “provisional” was a holdover from the days of WWII when missions such as air-sea rescue were considered a minor part of the mission of any flying unit.
Here you see what they meant when they called the HH-43 outfit at NKP "provisional." This is a photo of the unit's sign in 1964 at NKP. Photo credit: Jim Burns, SMSgt, USAF (Ret.), presented by Kaman HH-43 Huskie. Mr. Burns took this shot of a hand painted sign that was on a post of one of the shacks about half way between the Air Rescue operations and the maintenance shacks, August 1964
In effect, with the nomenclature “Det Provisional 3 PARC,” the HH-43 deployment connoted it was not primarily for SAR, but instead local base recovery (LBR) and local base firefighting. That supported the effort to keep it as quiet as possible that they were there to do SAR. But it also fit the reality that there was little forethought or planning attached to the SAR line of work. Using TDY crews not only covered the true number of forces in the theater, but also added to the temporary image the USAF was trying to create about all this.
Of course, the reality is the HH-43Bs did all three missions. This is what makes these Pedro outfits so special. They had to take care of all kinds of aircraft running into trouble on takeoff and those limping home and fighting to land in one piece; and also dart off on a more distant mission to save downed air crews or ground combat units trapped in tough fights.
Det 2, 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Wing (AARW), Royal Air Force (RAF) Upper Heyford, England, circa 1971." Top Row (Left to Right): Sgt. Boll, SSgt. Joiner, SSgt. Jerome, Sgt. Thompson, Capt. Schildgen, Major. Whitney. Bottom Row (Left to Right): SSgt. Pimpsner, Sgt. Way, SSgt. Jaynes,. Photo courtesy of TSgt. William J. Jaynes (Ret), presented by RAF Upper Heyford.org
A standard mission crew for the LBR-firefighting mission would consist of a pilot and co-pilot, flight engineer-crew chief, an aero-medical technician, and two airborne firefighters. Things got more complicated if they had to conduct a CSAR mission.
The is Airman First Class Paul J. Volges, 24, of New York City, riding the jungle penetrator hoist on a mission of mercy. Volges, an aeromedical technician with Detachment 11, 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Tuy Hoa air base, voluntarily risked his life on three occasions to search hostile territory for crash survivors. On two occasions he was ordered to leave the scene due to approaching enemy forces. During another mission he braved enemy ground fire to run 250 yards down a beach to recover the pilots body from crashed helicopter. Assisting Volges is Staff Sergeant William O. Johnson, 29, (center), of Mobile, Alabama, flight engineer on the HH-43B helicopter. Major John J. Elliff, 33, (right), of Banquete, Texas, is the pilot and commander of Detachment 11. Photo credit: USAF photo.
If they had formally trained pararescuemen, known in the USAF as “PJs,” the crew composition would be pilot and co-pilot, one PJ and the flight mechanic. The PJ would be the one to go down on the hoist, retrieve the downed crewmember, and get him back in the aircraft. But if the unit did not have a PJ, then they might leave a couple crew members from the LBR-firefighting configuration behind and let the remaining crew, whether firefighter, flight engineer, or medic, handle the PJ's tasks. PJs did not start arriving until August 1964, they were assigned on temporary duty from Eglin AFB, Florida, they were few in number, and they served all over Southeast Asia, but mostly at NKP and Danang.
This shows firefighting training at Chanute AFB, Illinois, circa 1970. Fighting a fire with a helicopter was somewhat different from fighting fire with trucks. The prop wash from the helicopter was used to push the fire back away from the cockpit. This eliminated the heat, fire, etc. as a hazard to the aircrew in the cockpit of the aircraft. Firefighting agent for the two firefighters was limited. All of the agent was contained in what was called a "Fire Suppression Kit (FSK)," which you see at the forefront of the photo. Photo presented by The Unofficial U.S. Air Force HH-43 "PEDRO" Crash Rescue - Air Rescue Web Site
We conducted a lot of business in discussing the deployment to NKP. It gave us a chance to explain a lot of things.
Let's go next to Danang AB, RVN, fondly known to many as "Rocket City." Two HH-43s came from Det 2 CARC, Minot AFB, North Dakota, arriving in early August 1964. They formed Det Provisional 2 PARC. A third aircraft arrived sometime in October 1964.
Danang AB during October 1964 credit for this picture goes to then Capt. John Christanson, pilot, the last person at right. Presented by Kaman HH-43 Huskie, a service history compiled by Johan D. Ragay, the Netherlands
This deployment was done with a tone of secrecy. On August 7, 1964, a call came into Captain Gene Graham, the Det 2 CARC commander, saying that a contingency plan for deploying LBR detachments was to be “exercised.” Personnel were assembled, instructed that they were going on an extended temporary assignment to a classified destination, and were told what to bring. They were given no other mission-related information. In the mean time, they had to break down their HH-43s for shipment.
This is Douglas C-124 "Globemaster II," also known as "Old Shakey." One of its many colorful descriptions is, "a million rivets flying in formation." Photo credit: Randy Roth, presented by The Lathan Family History Site.
Two C-124 transport aircraft arrived, two HH-43s were uploaded, the crews boarded the aircraft, and then flew to Travis AFB, California. Following takeoff from Travis, Capt. Graham read the classified orders he had been given prior and read them to the crews: destination Danang AB, RVN, with a stop on the way for rest and fuel at Wake Island.
When the crews arrived at Danang, they learned that a handful of Grumman SA-16 “Albatross” formed the core of the USAF's SAR capability. Lending credence to the notion of being provisional at the SAR mission, the crews also found that their main job was LBR. The SA-16s were flying the deep penetration rescues and the HH-43s were used for the "local work," which included rescue missions in whatever was defined as the "local area." Do not minimize the importance or hazards associated with flying "local rescue" missions outside "Rocket City." As one HH-43 crewman put it, the region outside Danang was “Bad Indian Country.” The HH-43B had no armor and was unarmed. Some folks at Danang might have called them LBR, but in anyone else's book, they were SAR missions (all part of the "provisional" mentality).
This is a photo of a Det. 7, 38th ARRS flying out of Danang on a mission to recover a wounded Marine, west of Danang in 1967. The photo was taken by one of the crew of the second H43 on the mission. Photo courtesy of USAF Helicopter Pilot Association.
As was the case at NKP, Danang crews had to find personal weapons to take on a mission with them and use those to suppress ground fire, which was frequently heavy. Sometimes, an Army helicopter would come in to make the pickup, and the HH-43 would play the role of a helicopter gunship, suppressing fire with personal weapons while the Army Huey went in for the pickup. When we said earlier, "jack of all trades," we meant it.
We want to pause for a moment and focus on this weapons issue yet again. To make the point, we need to talk about PJs assigned to the "Jolly Greens," the HH-53s, at Danang Our going in assumption is that a PJ is a PJ is a PJ, and if the HH-53 PJs were doing what we are about to describe, so were the HH-43 PJs. Remember, the Jolly Greens were armed, the HH-43s were not.
To make a long story short, the HH-53 PJs at Danang were accumulating and hiding weapons, lots of them, and were taking them out on rescue missions. The standard issue to PJs was a .38 caliber six-shooter pistol and a M-16 rifle. The PJs' problem was that they were often caught on the ground, sometimes for extended periods of time, in very tough battle zones, and the standard issue was not going to cut the mustard. So they collected and traded for a lot of weapons for their use in these difficult situations. Well, in 1972, the war was winding down, everyone knew these guys had an armory filled with goodies, so an amnesty program was developed to turn the guns in. To keep the peace, they did turn in a lot of weapons under this program at Danang. But not everything, because they still had business to do on rescue missions. The treaty was not signed yet.
Once the treaty was signed, the PJs supposedly turned in the rest of their arsenal. It took a flat-bed truck to cart the stuff away. They posed for a picture, each PJ on the team laying out one of the weapons he kept behind. Here is that photo:
From left to right: Buck Beaucannon, Steve Jones, Larry Kimball, Bruce Johnson, Ron Charlsworth, Dennis Baker, John Carlson, Clay Hammock, Bob LaPointe, Dudley Green, Buzz Beauchamp, and Bill Bradley. Not in photo was Harwell Quillian. Photo and the story drawn from "Closing of the 37th ARRSq.," an article by Bob LaPointe, presented by the Air Rescue Association.
These included: .50 cal. heavy machinegun, 7.62 M-60 machinegun, M-79 grenade launcher, XM-148 grenade launcher, M-72 LAW rocket, M-3 silenced grease gun, 9mm "Swedish K", AK-47, AKM, M1911 .45 pistol, Browning 9mm pistol, claymore mine, various types of hand grenades and 40mm explosives and a few weapons that had been so heavily modified that they rightly had no name.
The brass might not have appreciated this. So sad, too bad, the PJs were the ones going down the hoist.
Returning to the Minot crews at Danang, they remained there for about four months, until the end of the year, when permanent crews started arriving. While the Minot TDY crews left, their helicopters stayed behind and the crews returned to Minot with no aircraft.
Well, Det Provisional 2 PARC did not stay at Danang for very long. The air assault in Laos simply commanded more SAR resources be positioned at NKP.
NKP around 10 November 1964, unloading one of the three HH-43B flown in from Danang AB, RVN by a C-124C. Photo credit: John Christianson (one of the Huskie pilots), presented by Kaman HH-43 Huskie, a web site done by Johan D. Ragay of the Netherlands.
So the outfit moved to NKP in November 1964. Det Provisional 3 PARC was deactivated, and its forces joined with the Danang organization and all of a sudden Det Provisional 2 PARC was at NKP. NKP now had, for a few days we believe, six “Huskies.” Then, the unit that originally set up shop at NKP, the group from the 38th ARRS from Okinawa, packed up and went home. So NKP went back to three aircraft.
We now want to address the HH-43 deployments to Korat and Takhli RTAFBs. The rationale for these deployments was a bit different than the deployments discussed thus far.
In August 1964, crews from Det 10, EARC at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, were ordered to Korat RTAFB, Thailand. They also brought two HH-43s and formed Det Provisional 4 PARC at Korat.
The crews of Det 10 were given short notice as well. On August 6, Det 10 received orders to leave immediately (if not sooner) for Southeast Asia. Captain Philip Prince, the det commander, worked his crew through the night to dismantle and load their two HH-43Bs on board two C-124 transports. By noon the next day, these guys were on their way to Thailand, arriving there on August 14. They were up and flying a few days later. Prince and his people must have done a fairly good job. He later commanded the Air Rescue & Recovery Service, served as the vice commander of the Military Airlift Command, and retired at the rank of brigadier general!
The situation at Korat was a bit different than at NKP. Unlike NKP, which was on Thailand's northeastern edge across the Mekong River from Laos, Korat was in the center of northern Thailand, quite a bit further from Laos. The USAF had a small contingent of one officer and about 14 airmen there since April 1962. They lived with the US Army unit at the nearby Camp Friendship.
August 1964 was a big month for Korat. A tactical fighter operation started up mid-month, employing the Republic F-105 “Thunderchief,” known more affectionately to those who worked with her and near her as the “Thud.”
A F-105 "Thunderchief" taxing out for a combat mission at Taklhi RTAFB. Photo by Republic, presented by Thud Ridge Web Photo Album
The 36th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) of F-105s at Itazuke AB, Japan, was ordered, also on very short notice, on August 8, 1964 to get over to Korat as quickly as possible. The squadron launched 18 aircraft within a day, arrived at Korat on August 11, and flew their first combat sortie over the PDJ of northern Laos on August 12. One aircraft received battle damage. Two days later, an F-105 made it home but had so much battle damage she was declared a loss. This aircraft had the capacity to carry a heavy bomb load, air-to-ground and air-to-air missiles, and even a nuclear weapon. It also had a Vulcan Gatling-type canon.
The F-105s were originally sent to Korat to provide air cover to rescue missions in northern Laos, but that idea faded quickly and they were used to strike targets in support of CIA operations in Laos. The 36th subsequently moved to Takhli RTAFB, and the 35th TFS, then in Japan, came to Korat. In fairly short order, both bases hosted F-105 wings, the 6235th and the 6234th Tactical Fighter Wings (TFW) at Takhli and Korat respectively. To add to themes we have already established, the US did not acknowledge operating from Thailand until 1966.
With regard to the Takhli RTAFB deployment, two HH-43s were sent there from Det 4, 36th ARS at Osan AB, Republic of Korea (ROK), also in August 1964. Initially, the det was without facilities and operated from various “expeditionary locations” until they got a permanent location between the control tower and fire department in 1966.
This photo is from an F-105 crash in 1969 at the end of the runway at Takhli. The pilot was not injured. The firefighter is A1C Ray Bradley and the Thai is Nappal Penchan. Photo courtesy of Jack Gurner, presented by The Unofficial U.S. Air Force HH-43 "Pedro" Crash Rescue - Air Rescue Web Site
The main role for the HH-43s stationed at Korat and Takhli was to provide LBR-firefighting support to the Thuds. They needed all the help they could get. They used every inch of runway to get aloft. They have been described by their pilots as "agile as a brick!" Their missions to northern Laos and North Vietnam were extraordinarily dangerous and they frequently hobbled home with heavy battle damage. So the HH-43s at both bases were busy, and sorely needed in the local base crash recovery and firefighting modes.
HH-43F taking off from Bien Hoa AB Pedro Pad, 1965. Photo credit: Mr. Chester A. Duprey, presented by Kaman HH-43 Huskie, a service history compiled by Johan D. Ragay, the Netherlands
The deployments to Bien Hoa can get a little hard to sort out. As mentioned previously, the first batch of two HH-43 aircraft were to go there but instead went to NKP. Two HH-43s from Det 1, CARC, Glasgow AFB, Montana arrived at Bien Hoa in September 1964 to form Det Provisional 1 PARC. One of these went to Danang and then on to NKP.
During a mortar attack on Bien Hoa AB on 1 November 1964 this HH-43B was damaged. Photo credit: Joseph T. Connell (HH-43 pilot at that time), photo received via Steve Mock, MSgt, USAF (Ret.), and presented by Kaman HH-43 Huskie, a service history compiled by Johan D. Ragay, the Netherlands
Another was damaged in November. Two HH-43s also arrived at Bien Hoa in September 1964 from Det 4 WARC, Paine AFB, Washington but these two moved on to Takhli in November. An unkown number of HH-43s also arrived at Bien Hoa in September from Det 5 WARC, McChord AFB, Washington, but again moved over to Takhli in November. Four HH-43F models were received in October 1964.
It is July 21, 1966, an Ubon RTAFB-based HH-43 is sitting in tall hemp about 16 miles east of the air base. That is Captain Henry Fogg , the Ubon det commander. Commander of Det.3, 38th ARS. An F-4C fighter crashed near here the night before, damaged by a missile, with an engine fire. The F4 pilot made a crash landing, the aircraft slid for more than half a mile. The pilot, still in the front seat, survived. Despite poor weather with low visibility and low ceilings, Lt. Ron Tubbs and Capt. Jerry VanGrunsven launched a HH-43 SAR mission, found the F4 pilot, and took him back to base. The next day, investigators returned to the site to assess the situation. Photo credit: Jerry VanGrunsven, presented by Kaman HH-43 Huskie, a service history compiled by Johan D. Ragay, the Netherland
In April and May 1965, two more dets were set up at Ubon RTAFB and Udorn RTAFB, Thailand, Det Provisional 3 PARC and Det Provisional 5 PARC respectively.
HH-43 parked at Ubon RTAFB, 1972. You see two crewmembers practicing handling a patient on a litter. It is also interestying to note how the "clam shell" doors on the rear have been removed, seemingly replaced by webbing. Photo provided by John Holt, USAF (Ret) and presented by Vietnam Helicopter Pilot Association.
Here you see a Pedro on station, aloft and in position, as an F-105 "Thud" does a belly landing at Udorn RTAFB in February 1968. The Pedro was alerted that the Thud had declared in in-flight emergency (IFE) and was fully prepared to assure any fire would be handled immediately. Photo provided by Stephen P. Mock, MSgt, USAF (Ret.)
Finally, in July 1965, the USAF got rid of most this “provisional” and Det PARC stuff and formed the 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron (ARS) at Tan Son Nhut, AB, RVN. Det 1 was at NKP with three aircraft; Det 2 at Takhli with two aircraft; Det 3 at Ubon with three aircraft; Det 4 at Korat with two aircraft; Det 5 at Udorn with two aircraft; Det 6 at Bien Hoa with three aircraft; and Det 7 at Danang wth three aircraft.
Det 9 38 ARRS Pleiku AB RVN, PJ Lief Arvidson (L) and unknowns, photo presented by pjsinnam.com
HH-43 on the ramp at Pleiku AB, RVN, 1968. Photo provided by Stephen P. Mock, MSgt, USAF (Ret.), presented by Vietnam Helicopter Pilot Association.
During October 1965, Det 9, 38th ARS formed at Pleiku AB, RVN with two aircraft delivered in November. Pleiku was a most interesting place. Located in South Vietnam's Central Highlands, south of a major base at Kontum, it is remembered by many for its torrential rains and red mud. There is a fascinating history associated with this base, especially that which surrounds the many "special operations" that used this base, Army and Air Force, that dates back to 1958 when the South Vietnamese government set up its secret special service, supported by CIA. It is not our purpose to go through that, except to say that if you were stationed at Pleiku, you likely saw just about every kind of aircraft on every kind of mission fly in and out. For the Huskies, that was a special challenge to be prepared for them all. In addition, there was a great deal of fighting around Pleiku.
A Det 10 HH-43 was called to respond to a wounded sailor on this PBR. The Pedro approached the PBR from the rear and port side, then worked to match its speed with the PBR, and then lowered a stokes litter to the PBR for patient upload and hoist into the Pedro. Photo provided by Edward Cartwright and presented by pedroairrescuechopper.net.
Det 10 activated at Binh Thuy AB, RVN in October 1965, with one aircraft. This is a most interesting deployment. Bin Thuy was located in the Mekong River Delta, an area in which there were many Army, Navy and Coast Guard River Patrol Boats (PBRs) being conducted. Det 10 got a great deal of experience fetching wounded "sailors", frequently picking them up from their patrol boats while they were on the move. The det would later boast that it was the busiest rescue outfit on all Southeast Asia.
We want to highlight four air bases in South Vietnam very close to the South China Sea, northeast of Saigon, and fairly close to each other: Cam Ranh, Nha Trang, Phu Cat and Tuy Hoa.
The airfield at Cam Ranh Bay was built as a new one, activated in November 1965. During the period November 1965 through January 1966, three fighter squadrons of the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) came to Cam Ranh. This was the first TFW to convert to the F-4 Phantom II. From Cam Ranh, the wing flew close air support, interdiction, and combat air patrol missions over both Vietnams and Laos. In 1966, it took on a primary role of provide combat air patrol (CAP) protection for specialized reconnaissance aircraft flying over the Gulf of Tonkin and EB-66 jamming missions flown north of Hanoi. All this said, in 1966 USAF F-100, A-1E, and O-1 aircraft were all operating from Cam Ranh, Navy aircraft would frequently stop here as well, Army helicopters were there, and so were a variety of Air America aircraft, a challenge for the HH-43 crews who had to be ready to respond to a wide variety of aircraft and armaments. For example, here is a photo of an F-4 that ran off the runway on landing.
Photo presented by the 12TFW Association.
HH-43B's at Cam Ranh AB. Photo contributed by Kyron (KV) Hall and presented by USAF Helicopter Pilot Association.
The "Huskies" of the 38th ARS Det. Provisional 1, formed at Cam Ranh Bay, RVN, in October 1965, a month before the F-4s started arriving. Det 12 activated at nearby Nha Trang AB in April 1966. Both bases were close to major port facilities on the South China Sea, and both were major F-4 Phantom fighter bases.
Nha Trang AB also started to become a beehive for US activity in November 1965, with the arrival of the 5th Air Commando squadron (ACS) and its C-47 and U-10 aircraft set up to conduct psychological warfare missions by loudspeaker and dropping leaflets throughout South Vietnam. In its first year, the squadron flew more than 10,000 sorties, mostly low and at slow speed. EC-47 electronic reconnaissance aircraft were also here, along with the AC-47 "Spooky" gunships. In 1966 the USAF began operating a long-range special operations mission using Vietnamese and Chinese pilots and crewmembers flying C-123s under Project "Duck Hook." And then in 1969 the 17th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) arrived with the AC-119G Gunship, with aircraft stationed at Nha Trang, Phan Rang, Tuy Hoa, and Tan Son Nhut.
HH-43F at Nha Trang AB, South Vietnam, contributed by Ed Du Chene and presented by USAF Helicopter Pilot Association. Here you see the aircraft airborne and hovering while the fire suppression kit (FSK) is attached.
Det 12, 38th ARRS activated at Nha Trang in April 1966, and moved to Utapao RTAFB in February 1969. We should acquaint you with the "Positioner" shown on the above photo at Nha Trang. It's the yellow pole standing vertically in front of the aircraft. This pole helped the pilot position his hovering aircraft so the crewman below could easily attach the FSK. If you look carefully, you can see that the top two feet of the positioner pole is not yellow, but rather black. The black section is rubber. The positioner would be placed on the ground so that it was touching the side of the FSK. The pilot would lift off away from the positioner, then "walk" up to it until the bubble of his cockpit touched the rubber portion of the pole at a certain position on the bubble. He would then know that he has centered his aircraft perfectly over the FSK, making the attachment process fast and easy.
This is a Phan Rang HH-43 Pedro on alert. In the lower left corner, there is a warning sign, that says, "Entry Prohibited - Helicopter Cocked". That means the bird is on alert status, and many of the controls are pre-positioned for engine start. When the alarm rang, the nearby crew would race to their aircraft and routinely would get their Pedro airborne in less than 60 seconds. Photo from the collection of Jim Travis, Flight Mechanic, TSgt., USAF (Ret), and presented by pedroairrescuechopper.net
Det 1, 38 ARRS was set up with two HH-43s at Phan Rang AB, RVN on January 15, 1966, when Det 1 at NKP RTAFB moved there as the Jolly Greens took over at NKP. The Phan Rang unit worked closely with sister units at Cam Ranh Bay and Bien Hoa. It covered an area with roughly a seventy mile radius from Phan Rang AB, north to Nha Trang, east almost to the Cambodian border, half way to Bien Hoa.
Det 1, like so many other Pedro outfits, had many missions: Local Base Rescue and Fire Suppression, Air Crew Recovery, Base Support, and Training. It served three F-100 Fighter Squadrons under the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing, two squadrons of B-57 Tactical Bombers under the 8th Tactical Bombardment Wing, three squadrons of C-123 "Providers" under the 315th Special Operations Wing, the Canberra Bombers of Number Two Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force, the AC-119's (Shadow) of "B" Flight, 71st Special Operations Squadron, and Forward Air Controllers School.
An HH-43 "Pedro" amongst a ramp full of C-7 Caribou "Redtails" at Phu Cat. Photo credit: Joe Kurtyka, presented by the C-7A Caribou Association.
Det 13 set up shop at Phu Cat AB in April 1967. The 416th TFS came to Phu Cat in April 1967 as well, flying the F-100. A flight of 17th SOS AC-199 Gunships arrived in April 1970.
We might remark that the C7 "Caribou" was everywhere in Vietnam, quite notably at Cam Ranh Bay, and Phut Cat, and to a lesser degree Nha Trang, often used to move troops and supplies, but especially troops, and more than not, to forward areas, with short, unprepared strips. The aircraft once belonged to the Army, but was transferred to the USAF in 1965-1966.
This C-7A aircraft loaded with Army combat troops made a wheels-up landing after taking hostile fire. The left wing and the left landing gear were on fire. The landing was made at 3000 foot dirt runway in "Ellisville" at Phu Cat AB. All souls aboard survived. Photo credit: Joe Kurtyka, presented by the C-7A Caribou Association.
While it was a sturdy aircraft, it suffered losses. Relevant to the HH-43, many accidents occurred at a base or near it. They had problems in bad weather, and one, tryng to get to Cam Ranh, instead went to Nha Trang and struck a mountain on the way. Another was struck by enemy fire and crash-landed near Binh Thuy. A Phu Cat bird lost engine power after take-off and crashed. Another crashed near Pleiku AB when the pilot lost control as it was flying close to stall, probably during an airdrop. One swerved off the runway on landing, damaged beyond repair. One landing at Phu Cat came in short of the runway and crashed. You get the idea. We mention there were many transport aircraft flying around with troops aboard, and the small HH-43 and its small crew had to be prepared for a mass casualty situation.
The final HH-43 deployment to be discussed in this report is the one to Tuy Hoa AB in January 1966.
To the left center of this photo, taken in 1966, you can see a HH-43 sitting near a group of tents, the "Pedro Ops Center." Photo provided by Stephen P. Mock, MSgt, USAF (Ret.)
Tuy Hoa was essentially an F-100 base on the South China Sea, home of the 31st TFW. We believe that all F-100s in the wing were from Air National Guard (ANG) units mobilized as a result of North Korea's capture of the American intelligence ship Pueblo. One of the squadrons, the 188th TFS of the New Mexico Air National Guard, affectionately known as the "Enchilada Air Force," received its first F-100 in 1958. Many of the F-100s used were old and in some instances beat-up, so landings at Tuy Hoa could be "exciting." As an aside, the F-100 was known by many as "The Hun" and the "Lead Sled."
In this photo, courtesy of pjsinnam.com, you see Capt. Leo F. Dusard III (center), telling his bosses from the 31st TFW, about how quickly he was picked up by a Pedro after bailout from his F-100 after experiencing engine failure. The Pedro rescue crew was on its way to Dusard two minutes after notification.
58ARS Wheelus AB, Libya "Pick up in the Mediterranean" in April 1965, photo compliments (PJ) Aaron Farrior, CMSgt., USAF (Ret.)
In the case of each of these four bases located close to the South China Sea, a water rescue was always present. In fact, many pilots would prefer bailing out over water in this location as enemy forces did not have the capability to chase after them while bobbing in the sea. In addition, they did not risk their aircraft striking villages or bases or friendly forces engaged.
That's about as far into the deployment business we can go in this report.
In this section, we have tried to describe the deployment and highlight interesting features about each that would give you a broad brush look at the wide variety of missions the Pedros had, the wide variety of aircraft they had to worry about and know about, and the immense area of responsibility they had. During the Vietnam-Laos wars, the Jolly Greens we exposed you to in the introduction essentially operated out of two air bases, first Udorn RTAFB and then moving over to NKP RTAFB in Thailand, and Danang in South Vietnam. No one will ever short-change the work they did and the courage with which they did it. We only wish to be sure everyone understands what these little "Huskies" were doing as well, spread around South Vietnam and Thailand at 14 bases, and doing so with aircraft not designed for many of the jobs undertaken and crews that had to discard their Air Force specialty codes and simply do what the moment called for.
By the time the war ended in January 1973, the Det 7, 38th ARRS at Danang had changed to become Det 7, 40th ARRS. That unit was the last USAF rescue helicopter outfit to leave Vietnam.
The last USAF HH-43 rescue helicopter unit to leave the region was Det 5, 40th ARRS at Udorn RTAFB, which deactivated there in October 1975. The last Pedro was flown at Udorn on September 20 1975 by Fredrik Bergold, now a Lt. Col., USAF (Ret.), aboard tail nr. 559.
Let's now take a look at a few of those daily acts of bravery that came to mark Pedro history.