Dedicated to the Preservation of the
U.S. Air Force Helicopter History
James Harold Alley, Sgt., USAF (KIA)
September 18, 1949 – April 06, 1972
South Florida Sun Sentinel
4 decades later, vet’s remains return to FloridaComments May 4, 2010 By MIKE CLARY, AP
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.
With only two weeks left in his Vietnam War combat mission, Air Force Sgt. James Harold Alley sent a letter to his family in Plantation, promising to see them soon.
“When you turn around, turn around slowly,” wrote the 22-year-old Stranahan High School graduate. “I might be there.”
More than 38 years later, the remains of Sgt. Alley – killed in April 1972 after he volunteered to help rescue a jet pilot shot down by the North Vietnamese – will finally come home.
“Now we know where he’s at,” said B.R. Alley, James Alley’s uncle and a retired Manatee County sheriff’s deputy. “He’ll be buried between his granddad and his dad.”
The homecoming this week for Alley’s remains marks the end of a long odyssey for the young Air Force photographer and for his family, which for decades maintained his bedroom – first in Plantation and later in Arcadia – and his yellow 1967 Chevrolet Camaro just the way he left them.
“My parents never got over his loss,” said Tim Alley, 36, who was adopted by Harold and Syble Alley a year after James was killed.
News of Alley’s homecoming sparked memories among many classmates, including some who posted recollections on Stranahan’s Class of 1967 website.
“Jim stayed under the radar most of the time. He didn’t have a big social circle, but he was a nice, nice guy,” said Paul Franzelas, 60, a retired Fort Lauderdale businessman who worked with Alley in an after-school apprenticeship program
In a note to Tim Alley, Franzelas wrote, “Jim and I spent a lot of time talking about cars, transmissions, auto painting and, of course, girls.”
Bob Dinkins, also a Vietnam War veteran, said he ate lunch with Alley for years. “I met him in the eighth or ninth grade,” said Dinkins, 60, who now lives in St. Augustine. “He was a great friend, a quiet guy and a sprinter, a natural runner.”
In 1978, Tim, an older sister, June, and their parents moved from Plantation to Arcadia, where Harold Alley’s family lived. In a new house there, his parents replicated James’ Plantation bedroom, setting out his track trophies and model cars, pinning the Stranahan High pennant to the wall, spreading the tropical flowered comforter over the single bed.
The yellow Camaro – with James’ graduation tassel hanging from the rear-view mirror – was covered with a tarp and stored in Harold Alley’s business, a transmission repair shop.
And everything stayed that way until the house was destroyed by Hurricane Charley in 2004, Tim Alley said.
“In pictures of my dad after James died, you never saw him smile,” said Tim Alley, a Desoto County firefighter and paramedic who lives with his wife, Lindsey, and their two children.
The story begins in 1968, when Alley, a year out of high school and facing the military draft, enlisted in the Air Force.
Nearing the end of his four-year tour, he was stationed in Thailand and on temporary assignment in Vietnam as a photographer when he volunteered for a mission to find Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton, who had been shot down near Quang Tri while escorting a flight of B-52 bombers.
Alley was aboard a Sikorsky HH-53C helicopter, nicknamed a Jolly Green Giant, on April 6, 1972, when it was hit by enemy fire and exploded in the air. Alley and five others were killed.
Hambleton evaded capture for 11 days before being rescued. His story became the basis for the 1988 movie “Bat 21,” starring Gene Hackman and Danny Glover, and later was recounted in “The Rescue of Bat 21,” a 1998 book by Darrel Whitcomb.
For more than two decades, the remains of the Jolly Green Giant crew were unaccounted for. Then, in 1994, Vietnam returned the remains of about 240 U.S. casualties, including at least some remains of those aboard the Jolly Green Giant.
The crew was interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in 1997. Although James was thought to be among them, no positive identification was made.
Finally, this year, the Defense Department’s Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii announced a match between a DNA sample from James’ mother and more recovered remains.
Before he died in 2007, Harold Alley signed over the title of the yellow Camaro to Tim, asking his surviving son never to sell it. With his mother Syble, 79, in an assisted-living facility, Tim also has possession of James’ crated belongings.
This week Tim Alley will fly to Honolulu and retrieve the remains of the brother he never met.
“I knew him only through family stories,” said Alley. “He was an all-American kid. I’m told that anybody who ever met him liked him. He was a hero.”
Burial is scheduled for Saturday in Oakridge Cemetery in Arcadia.
Sgt. James H. AlleyUSAF MIA / KIA Vietnam War HeroArcadia, FL – 07, 08 MAY 10
The Family of USAF Vietnam War Hero, Sgt. James Harold Alley, 22, has invited the Patriot Guard Riders to Stand in Honor of their Hero in a 3 part mission on 07 & 08 MAY 10.
Sgt. Alley was born September 18, 1949 in Plantation, FL, graduated Stranahan High School, Ft. Lauderdale in 1967 and was a motion picture cameraman before he was drafted in 1969 at which time he enlisted in the Air Force; his tour in Vietnam started in 1971. Sgt. Alley was assigned to Detachment 3, 600th Photo Squadron, Da Nang Air Base, Republic of Vietnam and flew numerous high risk missions documenting the activities of HH-3 search and rescue aircrews. With less than 2 weeks remaining in the Air Force, Sgt. Alley was instructed to return to the 601st Photo Flight at Ubon RTAFB, Thailand. As he was preparing to board an aircraft to take him out of the combat zone on 06 APR 72, a call was made for volunteers to fly a high risk search and rescue mission in 1st Corps. With no regard for his personal safety, Sgt. Alley picked up his equipment and boarded the departing helicopter with 5 other crew members of the “Jolly Green 67”. During the mission, which was attempting to pick up an EB-66 crew member (better known as the call-sign “BAT 21”, which a book and movie were made of the same name) was downed in enemy territory, the helicopter received several heavy hits from the ground, burst into flames and crashed at 1740 hrs, with no survivors.
Despite a group interment of the “Jolly Green 67” at Arlington National Cemetery on 19 NOV 97, Sgt. Alley was still considered to be Missing in Action, whereas he, along with 2 other members of the crew, could not be positively identified at that time. About a month ago, Sgt. Alley’s brother, Tim, received a phone call from the USAF, stating that the Vietnam Government had recovered US Military Service personnel and with DNA testing, Sgt. Alley was positively identified. Sgt. Alley will be escorted Home from Honolulu by his brother Tim to his Final Resting Place in Arcadia.
Bradenton Herald (Bradenton, Fla)
Remains of Vietnam War serviceman returned home after 38 years
By James A. Jones Jr.
ARCADIA, Fla. — In an emotionally charged service, the remains of Sgt. James Harold Alley were returned to his family Saturday, 38 years after he was killed during the Vietnam War. Alley was one of six men killed April 6, 1972, when their Jolly Green Giant helicopter was shot down during a massive search-and-rescue operation for two American aviators who had been shot down.
It wasn’t until February of this year that the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command lab in Hawaii was able to scientifically confirm that Alley’s remains had been recovered. At the conclusion of services at Oakridge Cemetery, Tim Alley, Sgt. Alley’s younger brother, stood and addressed his late father, grandfather and grandmother, all of whom are interred at Oakridge. “I just want everyone to know that James is here,” Tim Alley said, his voice cracking with emotion.
Alley also thanked several hundred veterans who attended, many of them from the Vietnam era, and relayed a message from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. “This is what they ask me to tell everyone: ‘They are still looking,’ ” Alley said.
A full accounting of those missing in action from America’s wars is an article of faith among veterans. More than 100 of the veterans who attended the farewell stood in the sun for an hour at Ponger-Grady Kays Funeral Home, holding American flags as a sign of respect for a fallen comrade.
Sgt. Alley’s family never got over his loss, and many of the veterans said the war stays with them, too. For years after Sgt. Alley’s death, his family kept his room exactly as he left it, and the family still has his yellow 1967 Camaro.
Jim Dryer, of Bradenton, Fla., a Vietnam-era Air Force vet, said Alley’s funeral “means a lot to me. He’s one of our guys.” Bob May, a Vietnam Army vet who wore a Bronze Star Medal and an Army Commendation Medal with “V” Device for valor, said it was an honor to be able to participate in the funeral. “It’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We’re giving him the homecoming we never got,” said May, an Arcadia, Fla., resident.
Along the procession route from the funeral home to the cemetery, pockets of residents stood respectfully and watched, some with their hands over their hearts, others rendering a hand salute. Paige Clark, married to a Vietnam vet, said she wanted to come to watch the return of Sgt. Alley. “It’s wonderful what they are doing,” Clark said.
The Rev. Rick Hill, of Mount Ephraim Baptist Church, delivered the eulogy and said Alley, 22 at the time, volunteered for the rescue mission even though he had only a few days left in his Vietnam tour of duty. “From what I’ve heard about this young man, he was someone very special. He put the needs of others before his own,” Hills said.
To Sgt, Alley, Hill said, “We thank you for your service, for your devotion, for your loyalty to your country.” And then Hill addressed the Vietnam vets. “To all of you, welcome home … welcome home,” he said.
Killed in action in Vietnam, James Alley returns a heroBy BOB RATHGEBER • May 8, 2010
1:10 A.M. — Vietnam veterans Bald Eagle and Preacher were there. So were the Patriot Guard, the American Legion, the Vietnam Brotherhood, the AMVETS Riders, Blue Knights and Special Ops.
They came to Fort Myers on Friday to honor a fallen brother, Air Force Sgt. James Alley, whose remains were finally shipped home after he was killed in Vietnam 38 years ago.
“We all came to give him the welcome home we didn’t get when we returned from Vietnam,” said Mike Brown, 65, of Arcadia, aka Bald Eagle. “He paid the ultimate sacrifice. Now we are paying the ultimate respect.”
Alley, whose family moved to Arcadia from Plantation six years after he was killed, was an Air Force photographer with two weeks left in his tour of duty when his helicopter was shot down during a rescue mission.
His body was not recovered, and he was declared killed in action. But in 1997, Vietnam repatriated the remains of about 250 American casualties.
Finally, as DNA testing became more accurate, Alley’s remains were identified in February after comparisons with his mother, Syble, according to Air Force documents.
This week, James Alley’s brother Tim, 36, born a year after his brother died, flew to Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, Hawaii, and brought home his brother’s flag-draped casket.
He will be buried this afternoon in Arcadia’s Oak Ridge Cemetery, at rest between his father Harold and his grandfather.
“All I know about him is what I learned from my family,” Tim Alley said earlier this week in The Arcadian newspaper.
“He was an all-around good guy. … I’ve made a lot of life decisions based on him. He’s why I do what I do now,” said Tim Alley, a firefighter and paramedic in Arcadia.
The story of James Alley begins in Broward County, where he was born in 1949, and grew up in Plantation. He graduated from Stranahan High School in 1967. He ran track, loved his 1967 yellow Camaro, and enlisted in the Air Force in 1969 before being drafted into the Army.
In Vietnam, Alley was a cameraman, based in Da Nang, recording Air Force rescue missions.
On a foggy evening on April 6, 1972, two weeks shy of shipping out of the combat zone, the 22-year-old Alley volunteered for a search-and-rescue mission. The assignment: Find Lt. Col. Iceal “Gene” Hambleton, who had parachuted into the Vietnamese jungle after being shot down.
Hambleton was an electronics expert, and would have been a prized capture for the Viet Cong because of his knowledge of sensitive information.
Gen. Creighton Abrams, the American commander in Vietnam, ordered Hambleton had to be found, whatever the cost.
That cost turned out to be the lives of 10 soldiers, including Alley and his entire crew who died when their Sikorsky gunship – called a jolly green giant – exploded in the air after taking a direct hit.
A week later, the longest rescue mission in Air Force history ended with the rescue of Hambleton.
Known by his Air Force call sign BAT21, Hambleton was later glorified by Gene Hackman in the movie “Bat*21.”
Hambleton, who died in 2004, never forgot those who lost their lives trying to save him.
“It was the most terrible day I had ever lived,” Hambleton wrote from an Air Force hospital after he was rescued. “I had to stand by and watch six young men die trying to save my life.
“It was a hell of a price to pay for one life. I’m very sorry.”
Six years after the mission, in 1978, James Alley’s family moved to Arcadia, where they recreated his bedroom, complete with his model cars, track trophies and a Stranahan High pennant. His Camaro was covered and stored in a garage where it remained for 26 years – until the home was destroyed in Hurricane Charley in 2004.
Alley and his crew were honored in 1997 at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Hambleton, then in his late 70s, couldn’t attend, but sent a letter that was read at the ceremony.
“This is a crew of real heroes,” it read. “They were doing what they had been trained to do. They deserve all the accolades that we, the living, can bestow upon them. Again, I thank them, I honor them, and I will always hold great faith in my heart with them.”
And that was the sentiment Friday when about 100 bikers gathered at Southwest Florida International Airport.
“This ride is the least we can do,” said Preacher, who noted, “that’s my name, that’s what they call me.
“There is no greater honor. … This mission has to be done.”