The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, awards the Air Force Cross to Sergeant Dennis M. Richardson for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as Flight Engineer of an HH-3E Jolly Green rescue helicopter in Southeast Asia on 14 March 1968. On that date, Sergeant Richardson flew two sorties in an effort to rescue United States Air Force pilots who were surrounded by enemy troops along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. During the initial rescue attempt another helicopter had been driven off and Sergeant Richardson’s helicopter had itself sustained significant battle damage. Despite their situation, and with complete disregard for their own safety, Sergeant Richardson and his crew elected to return and make a second rescue attempt. Coming to a hover 10 feet above the survivor’s position, Sergeant Richardson stood fully exposed in the helicopter door and began lowering the jungle penetrator with one hand while gripping his M-60 machine gun with the other. Unknown to anyone, the enemy had occupied the area but held their fire, waiting to ambush the helicopter. Suddenly intense enemy fire erupted from all quadrants, resulting in additional damage to “Jolly Green 22” and wounding Sergeant Richardson. In an extraordinary display of courage and valor, Sergeant Richardson, despite his wounds, leaned far outside the door and neutralized charging enemy combatants who appeared intent on boarding the helicopter. Sergeant Richardson continued to lay down an effective blanket of defensive fire, which enabled the pilot to maneuver safely out of the area. The selfless actions of Sergeant Richardson undoubtedly saved his helicopter and crew from certain disaster. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of a determined enemy, Sergeant Richardson reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Air Force Cross awarded 40 years late
By Michael Hoffman – Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Mar 29, 2008 7:51:36 EDT
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Dennis Richardson became the newest Air Force Cross recipient April 5, but not based on heroics in Iraq or Afghanistan. Instead, the service will present Richardson a medal he earned 40 years ago in Vietnam.
Richardson, flight engineer of two attempts to rescue two downed Marine F-4 pilots on March 14, 1968, said he knew back then he was nominated for an Air Force Cross. He said he was never told why the other three crew members aboard his HH-3 Jolly Green Giant earned Silver Stars, but he received only a Purple Heart for his actions.
The two Marine pilots had ejected over North Vietnam, and the two-ship rescue team sent in received heavy machine-gun fire, forcing both helos to return to base at Hue/Phu Bai Airfield, South Vietnam, after only one pilot was rescued. Before Richardson’s crew could take off a second time to try to save the second pilot, he and Maj. Stuart Hoag, the aircraft pilot, huddled on the runway around their shot-up Jolly Green. The two needed to decide if it could continue to fly after taking a .50 caliber round through its power turbine engine exhaust system minutes earlier.
The hole posed a risk, but Hoag and Richardson decided it was an acceptable one to save 1st Lt. James Edward Hamm, who was desperately trying to radio in his position.
Once Jolly Green 22 returned to Hamm’s reported position, the crew spotted the red panel the pilot had used to mark his position. What they didn’t know, however, was that Hamm was already dead. A post-war report on the incident said he had been gunned down by a female North Vietnamese soldier, and the panel was used to set a trap for the rescue party.
Hoag lowered the helicopter, hovering over the panel for 15 seconds before the North Vietnamese unleashed a torrent of fire, including rounds from Russian anti-aircraft guns, from a wooded hillside above the helo. Richardson and pararescueman Sgt. James Locker scrambled to provide cover fire with their M60 machine guns.
“I was shooting and praying. I’m hoping it helped, it was a hairy day,” Richardson said recently.
One North Vietnamese soldier wearing a bush hat jumped out a mere 25 feet away, firing rounds from his AK47 into the Jolly Green. Holding his M60 in one hand and the hoist in another as he waited for Hamm, Richardson fired five rounds into the chest of the enemy soldier.
Retired pararescueman Doug McGill said he remembered how Locker would tell him that if Richardson had not exposed himself by leaning out the door to fire his M60, the entire crew would have been killed. Locker was killed later that year during another mission.
Muzzle flashes continued to pop all around the helicopter, with rounds peppering the cockpit. Hoag said he remembers “fuzz flying all over” after one round obliterated the service hat he placed right in front of him.
“I was scared as hell and yelling,‘Let’s get out of here,’ ”Richardson said. “We were in the back shooting as best we could.”
Because there was no sign of Hamm, Hoag pulled out to return to Hue/Phu Bai without the Marine.
Inspecting the helicopter after the mission, the maintenance crew found 68 rounds in Jolly Green 22, including a shot-out windshield and holes through the rotor blades.
“The sad part about it was we got an airplane shot up and didn’t accomplish anything,” Hoag said.
Following the mission, all four crew members, including co-pilot Lt. Col. Gerald Lowe, were nominated for the Air Force Cross. But the Air Force decided a month later that the Silver Star was more appropriate for Hoag, Richardson and Lowe. However, Richardson, got only the Purple Heart he earned when he was shot in the arm during the rescue attempt. His records simply indicate the service decided to rescind his Air Force Cross.
Richardson left active duty in 1968 but rejoined in 1975 and served with the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Air Rescue Wing for 30 years.
Ten years ago, the 106th historian was reading Sergeants magazine and saw Richardson listed as an Air Force Cross recipient. The historian asked Richardson if he got one, and Richardson said no.
Since then, members of the 106th and other retired airmen who knew Richardson tracked down old Vietnam records and accumulated letters from those involved in the rescue attempt March 14, 1968. A package was finally submitted Oct. 23, 2007 , to the Air Force Board for the Correction of Military Records.
The board ruled in December that the Air Force made a mistake and Richardson did in fact earn the Air Force Cross on March 14, 1968. However, the board’s spokeswoman said she would not elaborate on how the mistake was made.
The cross will be presented at New York Air National Guard Headquarters at Latham, N.Y., where Richardson will be surrounded by family members and airmen he served with over his 34-year career.
“He stood out,” Hoag said. “He’s the kind of guy that you want with you. … I knew I could depend on him.”