From "Vietnam Air Losses" by Chris Hobson.
(Courtesy of Jim Burns)
17 May 1965
F-105D 62-4222, 44th or 67th TFS, 18 TFW attached to 6234 TFW, USAF, Korat.
Capt. J. U. Taliaferro (survived)
A Thunderchief was shot down by 37mm AAA while flying on an armed reconnaissance mission along Route 7 near Ban Kia Na in North Vietnam close to the Laotian border. Capt. Taliaferro ejected near the Song Ba River and landed on a hillside in dense jungle close to a village. Two USAF HH-43s soon arrived and one helicopter made the pick up as the other stood by and fighter aircraft pounded enemy positions. The helicopters flew over 200 miles across enemy territory, a feat made possible by the installation of extra drums of fuel in the cabin."
The successful rescue mission of Capt. Taliaferro resulted in all eight crew members on the HH-43s being awarded The Silver Star.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JIM BURNS
LOW BIRD CREW
Capt. Bruce C. Hepp AC
Capt. Stanley O. Schaetzle CP
SSgt. Roberto Rodriguez FE
A2C Richard A. Wallace PJ
PHOTO COURTESY OF JIM BURNS
HIGH BIRD CREW
1st Lt. Walter F. Turk AC
Capt. Joe E. Ballinger CP
A1C William A. Robinson FE
A2C Marvin F. Brenaman PJ
The Silver Star, as defined by law, is awarded by all branches of the armed forces to any person who, while serving in any capacity, is cited for "gallantry in action" against an enemy of the United States while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force. The required gallantry, while less than that required of the Medal of Honor or Distinguished Service Cross, must nevertheless have been performed with marked distinction.
General Hunter Harris awarding the Silver Star to (LT to RT) Joe E. Ballinger, Bruce C. Hepp, Walter F. Turk, and Roberto Rodriguez
Release NO. 42-J18-671
SILVER STARS AWARDED TO EIGHT RESCUEMAN
HQ. MATS. (MSN)—Eight helicopter crewmen have been awarded Silver Stars for valor in the rescue of a downed F-105 pilot deep in North Viet-Nam. All were members of the 38th Air Rescue Squadron at Tan Son Nhut AB, Viet-Nam, (SEE NOTE) at the time of the incident last spring.
In a ceremony at 2nd Air division Headquarters in Saigon, (SEE NOTE) Gen. Hunter Harris, Commander of Pacific Air Forces, presented the nation’s third highest combat decoration to four of the men.
Two others have since been reassigned to the U. S., one is missing in action in Viet-Nam and the other completed his service tour last month.
Honored at Saigon (SEE NOTE) were Captains Bruce C. Hepp and Joe E. Ballinger, 1st Lt. Walter F. Turk and SSgt. Roberto Rodriguez.
Now in the U. S. at Hamilton AFB, Calif., are Capt. Stanley O. Schaetzle, Western Air Rescue Center, and A2C Richard A. Wallace, 41st Air Rescue Squadron. Also at Hamilton until last month was A2C Marvin F. Brenaman. Listed as missing in action as a result of a later rescue mission is A1C William A. Robinson.
In two HH-43 helicopters last May, the men flew deep into Communist North Viet-Nam to rescue Capt. James L. Taliaferro Jr., who had ejected from his crippled F-105 in the midst of a large number of enemy troops.
Piloted by Captain Hepp and Lieutenant Turk, the Huskies were equipped with extra fuel drums, making possible the 200-mile round trip. En-route, the choppers were hindered by heavy rain and clouds. They were also forced to detour around known flak positions.
Reaching the pick-up point, the Huskie crews found fighter aircraft flying rescue cover in an attempt to suppress enemy ground fire.
Captain Hepp spotted Captain Taliaferro’s orange and white parachute and also received an electronic homing beacon signal from the downed pilot. Captain Taliaferro also set off a smoke flare to help the chopper crews locate him.
“The fighters continued their suppression attacks with 20mm cannon as we descended to make the pick-up,” Captain Hepp recalls. “As we got lower Captain Schaetzie, Sergeant Rodriguez and Airman Wallace began answering enemy fire with M-16 rifles,” he added.
The heaviest enemy fire, believed to be from a .50 caliber machine gun and small arms, was coming from about 50 yards behind and below the hovering helicopter.
The second helicopter began its descent and orbited the lead chopper. As Lieutenant Turk handled the controls, Captain Ballinger, (SEE NOTE) Airman Robinson and Brenaman cut loose with M-16s at ground forces firing at them.
“It was impossible to move the chopper nearer than about 20 feet from Captain Taliaferro,” Captain Hepp recalls. “Our blades were clearing trees by five feet or less and undergrowth was brushing underneath us.” The bamboo at the scene was almost 100 feet high.
“We ran out 100 feet of hoist cable and waited for Captain Taliaferro to reach the hoist sling so we could pull him up,” Captain Hepp continued.
The downed pilot took about five minutes to reach the sling, so dense was the undergrowth. But once in the sling, he was immediately hoisted aboard the helicopter and joined his rescuers in firing at the Communist forces with his .38 revolver.
(Press release courtesy of Joe Ballinger)
NOTE: The official release is wrong in several places! No 1, the awards were made at NKP, not Tan Son Nhut as you can see by the PSP ramp and the H-3 in the background. It was reported this way to keep our cover even this late in the game! The other thing Walt and I never bothered to correct was that I was flying the high bird from the CP seat and Walt was gunning. We did this so we could fly counterclockwise around the low bird and concentrate our fire from Pilot, Flight Mech on the right side and the PJ out the back (Clamshell off).