On 30 March 1968, Air Force Captain Jerry Griggs was the Pilot in Command (i.e. AC) and I was the pilot of a HH-3E Jolly Green from the 37th ARRS at Da Nang. We were part of a flight of four Jolly’s led my Major Joe B. Green in the A Shau Valley to help rescue some downed air crews.
As I understand it, the NVA shot down a Marine helicopter in A Shau on the 29th. As bad luck would have it, by the end of that day three more Marine helicopters were down in the same area. I don’t know all the details about this but I would like to know more. There were eight survivors who spent the night fighting off NVA attacks. The thought of living through that still scares me to death!!
That evening the Marines asked for some help from the 37th ARRS. The rescue operation was planned for mid-day on the 30th in the hope that the weather in the valley would lift enough to allow the jets to provide some fire support. It was about noon when we arrived. We actually thought that the area was a former LZ because of all the equipment on the ground. The ceiling was still too low for the jets to operate, so they only had armed helicopter support. Two Marine UH-1E gunships had been shot down so now there 14 survivors.
While we waited for two Army gunships to work over the area, our number 2 bird took heavy ground fire and was forced to leave for Hue to check for serious damage.
The survivors had congregated around a couple of shell holes on the side of a hill. The seriously wounded were in one hole and the able-bodied survivors were manning a defensive perimeter. The site was ringed by 150 foot high trees. The enemy fire was so intense that the Marines waved Major Green away when he made his first pickup attempt.
Major Green made a second approach from the southwest, dropping over a hill on a fast approach to a hover. They continued to receive heavy ground fire despite the best efforts from two Army Cobras to suppress the enemy fire.
By the time the four most seriously wounded were on board, the aircraft had been hurt to the point that Major Green had to withdraw to Hue.. As he departed the pickup point he warned everyone that the enemy had fired a B-40 rocket at them. He said something like: “I was sitting in the right seat when a rocket came over my right shoulder from about our 4 o’clock. I assume it was a B-40 rocket since a phosphorous trail appeared momentarily just outside the cockpit. It was probably fired from about 200 yards out and I guess it passed right the rotor blades”.
The clouds lifted enough for some A-1’s to pound the enemy surrounding the remaining ten survivors. Jerry and I were the next of go in and we were able to pick up four more. The Cobras set up a Daisy Chain to provide continual cover fire. The third Jolly Green got the last six guys. We were more than glad to leave the area!!
Joe Green and Jerry Griggs, in my opinion, were probably the best pilots in our Detachment and certainly the bravest men that I have ever met. They both received the Air Force Cross for this mission and they deserved every bit of it!!
I think it would be interesting to have all of the Air Force, Marine, and Army guys involved in this battle meet at the VHPA Reunion next summer.
Bill Byrd, 67-68, 37th ARRS