THE DA NANG
JOLLY GREEN GIANTS
Captain William B. Byrd Jr. served with
the 37th ARRS at DaNang from 12 December 1967 to 12 December 1968. He
flew CH-3E and HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopters and was awarded
two Silver Stars during his one year tour of duty. Bill Byrd won the
first Silver Star on 30 March 1968, on the some mission that saw
Major Joe B. Green awarded the Air Force Cross.
The North Vietnamese had shot down a Marine H -34 in the AShau Valley the previous day. Three more Marine helicopters had crashed in the area while making rescue attempt s and the eight survivors had spent the night fighting off attacks by North 'Vietnamese regulars. Some of them were wounded. The Marines asked the Jolly Greens for help and Joe Green led a flight of four HH-3Es into the valley.
By the time the flight reached A Shau, two more Marine UH-1E gunships had joined the four birds already down and the number of survivors had increased to 14. Hovering in a "safe" area while two Army gunships softened up the enemy defenses, Green's Number 2 bird took heavy ground fire and limped back to Hue to check the damage. The survivors were 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 and the enemy fire was so intense that the wounded waved Green away when he made his first pickup attempt.
Low clouds were preventing ground attack aircraft from assisting the Jolly Greens, but Joe Green made a second approach from the south-west, dropping over a hill on an East approach to the hover. Heavy ground fire greeted them, despite the best efforts of two Army Cobra gunships to suppress the enemy fire. While the Flight Engineer lowered the hoist with the two-man jungle penetrator, the enemy tried to nail the helicopter with a B-40 rocket. Green recalled, I was sitting in the right seat when the rocket came over my right shoulder from about 1 o'clock, I assume it was a B-40 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 through the rotor blades.
By the time the four most seriously wounded were on board, the Jolly Green had been hurt and warning lights were on everywhere. With his aircraft almost out of fuel, Green headed for Hue as his pararescueman worked on a Marine with a serious leg wound. Back at the crash site the clouds lifted enough for A-1s to pound the enemy surrounding the remaining ten survivors and Jolly Green 3 and 4 completed the pickup, still under heavy fire Captain Bill Byrd picked up four of the survivors despite receiving battle damage and was later awarded the Silver Star for his day's work.
Bill Byrd was called to a pilot down in the sea on Monday 15 April 1968. Despite President Johnson's ban on bombing missions north of the 19th Parallel, planes were still being brought down and the Jolly's were still very much in demand. On this day 88 missions were flown at targets below the 19th Parallel and four planes were lost. This was probably due to the North Vietnamese moving more AA guns south to below the 19th Parallel. Two Air Force F-105s were downed by heavy AA fire near Dong Hoi. North Vietnam's southernmost port and military center and two Navy F-4Bs collided at night on the way home to their aircraft carrier. Five of the six men aboard the four lost planes were rescued.
Bill Byrd's Jolly Green Giant plucked an F-105 pilot to safety 12 minutes after he ejected after nursing his crippled aircraft from Don Hoi 'feet wet' over the sea. The pilot, Colonel David W. Winn, the deputy commander for operations recalled, 'After I was hit, I pulled of the target and headed out to sea. When the aircraft became unflyable I ejected'. He was picked up almost immediately by an HH-3E flown by Captains John B. McTasney and Bill Byrd. They were airborne within five minutes of the alert call and were directed to the pilot by an HC-130H rescue co-ordinating aircraft. Sergeant Angus C. McDaugall the PJ, jumped into the sea to assist Winn and Airrnan First Class Holye L. Sykes Jr. the Flight Engineer, helped hoist them aboard in the speedy pickup. McTasney recalled, "We were hovering over him about two minutes after he hit the water. There were three to four foot waves but it was pretty calm, so we set down in the water". The second F -105 did not make it to the coast and the pilot was still missing. The four downed planes raised to 825 the number of US aircraft reported lost over North Vietnam to that date.
Bill Byrd won his first Oak Leaf Cluster to his Silver Star on 3-4 May 1968 as an HH-3E co-pilot in the A Shau Valley. During this period he repeatedly attempted the rescue of a Special Forces Road Watch team that was in imminent danger of being overrun by enemy forces encircling their position in the valley. Despite intense and accurate hostile fire, Captain Byrd persistently attempted to rescue all survivors. On the third attempt, his aircraft sustained battle damage of such severity that an emergency landing was necessary. He nursed the crippled aircraft to a landing on a bomb cratered field in the valley. Fortunately the 1st Cav arrived before the North Vietnamese. He later counted 52 hits in his aircraft.