Russ O'Neal, Flight Engineer Jolly 37

(Written 17 November 1998)


Flying the Jolly Green, HH-3E, in South East Asia can best be described as hours upon hours of boredom setting on alert waiting for some poor Fighter Jock to get his ride blown out from under him.  This occurs with the occasional adrenaline rushes mixed in during the SAR (Search and Rescue).   Most days were boredom with out the adrenaline rush.  Nov 5, 1967 started out as one of those boredom days.  Jolly 56 (1st Lt. James M. Platt, RCC; Maj. Richard A. Wagner, RCCP; Ssgt. Hairl D. Thacker, FE; Sgt. Joseph M. Duffy, PJ) and Jolly 37 (Capt. Harry W. Walker, RCC; LTC. Gerald B. Lowe, RCCP; Sgt. Russel L. O'Neal, FE; Tsgt. Charley D. Smith, PJ; Msgt. Clarance R. Boles, PJ) had been on strip alert at Lima Site 36 in northern Laos for two days.  Msgt. Boles had just arrived in country and was on his familiarization flight.  It was late afternoon and I was setting on Jolly 37's aft ramp day dreaming about my Freedom Bird ride home, only 32 days away, when all hell broke lose.  Crown 2 called at 15:31 to alerted us that, Red Dog Lead, an F105F Wild Weasel (Maj. Richard Dutton, Pilot and Capt. Earl G. Cobeil, Nav) and Marlin Lead an F105 (Capt. Bill Sparks) were in trouble over NVN.  At 15:32 Crown 2 informed us both crews had punched out, location unknown.  At 15:40 we were launched and directed to a holding point on the NVN boarder, Jolly 56 was the low bird and Jolly 37 high.  The low bird is the primary for the pickup, the high bird backup.  With less than 2 hours 15 minutes to sunset and three guys on the ground, the old adrenaline was flowing fast.  Shortly after takeoff Crown 2 called and gave us the locations for Red Dog, 2120N/10514E, and Marlin Lead, 2123N/10446E.  Crown 2 directed us to proceed to Marlin Lead's location.

About 35 minutes after takeoff Compass (Rescue Command and Control, Saigon) directed Jolly 37 to be the low bird.  Rational was Jolly 37 was modified for air refueling (AR) and Jolly 56 wasn't.   The HH3E's were undergoing AR modification during the last 5 months of 67.  The crews were given quick and dirty AR training in September when the first modified HH3E arrived at Udorn.  I was recovering from a Hernia operation and missed the training.

The trip in at 7,500 feet near a scattered cloud layer to avoid ground fire and offer protective cover from bad guy aircraft was uneventful.  It could have been called textbook, but we were still writing the book in back in 67.

We arrived at Marlin Lead's location at 1650 and Sandy Lead immediately directed us in for the pickup.  Sandy Lead told Marlin Lead to pop his smoke.  We spotted smoke about halfway down a steep ridge 2 clicks at one thirty off our nose.  We jettisoned our drop tanks and headed for the smoke.  We entered a hover over the smoke and I started the hoist down.  The jungle foliage was thick and I couldn't see the ground or the survivor.  All I could see was what looked like the night end of a MK13 survival flare waving deep in the foliage.  Radio chatter was like nothing I had ever heard before.  It seemed like everyone was screaming at once, with their squelch buttons set at max.  This is when our confusion and pucker meters pegged out.  Radio communication between Jolly 37 and the Sandy's went Tango Uniform (Tits UP).  Sandy Lead was trying to tell us we were at the wrong smoke.  We couldn't talk to Sandy and his transmissions to us were broken.  Finally Jolly 56 orbiting high over a nearby karst formation relayed Sandy Lead's calls to us and we pulled the hoist in and headed over the ridge to where the Sandy Lead was orbiting near a second smoke.  We flew toward the smoke and over the survivor, which we didn't see because of the heavy foliage.  The pen gun flare he fired ignited after we passed over his position, so we didn't see it.  We got turned around and immediately seen two pen gun flares shot up through the trees.  About this time I briefly spotted the survivor about three quarters of the way up a steep slope in a small 4x4 ft clearing, then he disappeared under the foliage.  I talked Capt. Walker into a hover over the clearing even though I could no longer see the survivor.  Due to the angle of the slope we were in a very high hover with the door facing up the slope.  About this time MIGCAP yells "Bandits Bandits".   I 'm thinking this is a trap why the hell isn't he in the clearing?  I start running the hoist down, it keeps going and going.  I'm thinking damn, this thing is taking forever.  Next thing I know the orange painted end of the cable is in site. (The last 10 feet of the 250 ft cable is painted orange or red.  This is to alert the hoist operator so he doesn't run the cable off the drum. The only thing holding the cable on is a '' set screw.  It is recommended to always keep at least two wraps of cable around the drum to prevent the cable from slipping off).  I stopped the hoist at what looked to be about twelve feet above the ground.  I still don't see the survivor.  I ask Capt. Walker to lower the hover about ten feet so the cable can reach the ground and tell him "the tail is clear, right side clear."  He says "HELL NO TAKE A LOOK OUT FRONT", I look and see the refueling probe buried up to the cockpit in the foliage of a huge tree and the rotor tips beating the top of said tree into submission.  So I slowly start lowering the hoist until the cable has only of a wrap left around the drum.  The damn penetrator is still about four feet off the ground and I still don't see the survivor.  Now I'm wondering, is the survivor is even down there?  I decide to try one last move before telling Capt. Walker to get us the hell out of Dodge.  I swing the cable to get the penetrator to swing up the slope toward where I seen the survivor disappear under the foliage. The penetrator doesn't swing back out.  After about 30 seconds I feel four tugs on the cable.  I gently start winding the cable in, not knowing if the set screw will hold until I get a couple wraps back on the drum or who or what is on the other end.  What a relief when I see this big handle bar mustache with an even bigger grin under it hugging the penetrator like his first date swing out from under the foliage.   When the survivor was about 50 feet below the door I spotted some locals coming over the ridge and told Capt. Walker "lets get the hell out of here."  He rolled left and away from the ridge, the survivor was immediately dangling 300 feet over the valley on the end of a 3/8'' steel cable going about 75 Knots.  What a ride that must have been.  I finally got a shaken but happy survivor inside Jolly 37.  He just laid on the floor looking up at us grinning from ear to ear.  Sandy 5, John Carlsen and 6, Ed Leonard proceeded to escort us out of the area.  Sandy 6 who was escorting Jolly 56 reported he was being fired upon by Migs, which he safely evaded. 

By now the sun is setting and Jolly 37 is running on fumes.  Both fuel low level lights were on when we joined up with Crown 2 to take on fuel just north of the Laotian boarder.  My first ever AR.  Jolly 56 landed at Udorn at 19:57.  Jolly 37 returned to NKP with the survivor at 19:40.

Due to the approaching darkness no effort was made to recover Red Dog Lead on 5 Nov.  Night SAR capability in NVN was not yet developed in 67.  Two good beepers were reported but no voice contact made.  A SAR for Red Dog Lead was launched and in the area at first light on 6 Nov 67.  No beeper or voice contact was made.  Compass ordered all SAR forces to RTB.  The crew was captured and Maj. Dutton was returned at Home coming.  Capt. Cobeil died in captivity on 5 Nov 1970 and his remains were returned in April 1974.

Note: If anyone knows who Sandy Lead and the sandy other are (there was always four of you with us) please let us know.