Hank Fannin


Aircrew (Senior)
Silver Stardistinguished-flying-cross
Silver Star Distinguished Flying Cross

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.

The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity with the Armed Forces of the United States, distinguishes himself or herself by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight. The performance of the act of heroism must be evidenced by voluntary action above and beyond the call of duty. The extraordinary achievement must have resulted in an accomplishment so exceptional and outstanding as to clearly set the individual apart from his/her comrades or from other persons in similar circumstances. Awards will be made only to recognize single acts of heroism or extraordinary achievement and will not be made in recognition of sustained operational activities against an armed enemy.


CITATION TO ACCOMPANY THE AWARD OF
THE SILVER STAR
TO
HERSHEL E. FANNIN

Staff Sergeant Hershel E. Fannin distinguished himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force in Southeast Asia on 26 August 1972.  On that date, Sergeant Fannin, a Flight Engineer on an HH-53C Rescue Helicopter, with full knowledge that a previous recovery attempt had been met with intense automatic weapons fire, courageously volunteered to attempt the rescue mission for a downed American airman.  Although his aircraft was being riddled by bullets as it hovered within meters of the North Vietnamese gunners, he stood in the open and unprotected crew entry door while operating the rescue hoist to raise the downed airman to safety.  By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Sergeant Fannin has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.


Here is Hank Fannin’s story in his own words
The date Aug 26, 1972

 This particular SAR started out routinely. We departed NKP at first light and headed North across the Mekong River to a holding zone up near the NE Laotian border to provide support for air strikes. I remember test firing our miniguns shortly after crossing the river and also remember we were flying in between two layers of clouds, one layer of morning fog and mist that blocked our view below and a higher layer that blocked the sky above. The sun was rising to the East and when it reached the clear space in between the two layers it was completely surreal.

 Before we even reached the area where we were supposed to do our holding pattern we heard a “May Day, May Day, I’ve got two chutes” and then some coordinates. A Marine F-4 fighter had just been shot down by a NVAF Mig-21 and the two pilots had bailed out and were floating down into an area full of bad guys. The second F-4 was still somewhat busy making sure there weren’t any other MiG’s on his tail and for a while things were just a little frantic.

Meanwhile the Marine Pilot, Capt. Sam Cordova, was talking to US Aircraft over his survival radio and then later radioed that he had fallen into a ravine and could hear bad guys approaching. (This was the only Marine jet to be shot down by enemy aircraft during the Vietnam War)

 We were in the area shortly after the two fighter jocks hit the ground. Our A-1 Sky Raiders escorts trolled over the Pilots reported position and met heavy ground fire. Several attempts to raise Capt. Cordova on his radio were unsuccessful and it was sort of a given that he had been captured or worse.

(I’ve found out later that Capt. Cordova’s remains were returned for burial in 1988. Wish we could have gotten to him in time).

 The F-4 back seater, Lt. Darrell Borders, landed his parachute on a small ridge and then high tailed it away looking for better cover. By the time our two HH-53’s got to his location the Sandy Pilots were laying down fire trying to keep the bad guys away and buying us some time.

On the low bird, Pilot Capt. Thomas Laud decided to give it a go and headed down and into a hover over the survivor only to be hit with extremely heavy small arms fire. The Combat Photographer, TSgt. Don Looper, was wounded in the leg; they had several leaking hydraulic lines and possibly damaged flight controls as they pulled up and away. (Later, MSgt. David McLeod told me he was thinking he was on his last mission and couldn’t believe only one guy got hit. About everywhere he looked there were bullet holes and battle damage)

 The pilot on my chopper, Capt. Mike Swager, (about as cool a Pilot I’ve flown with) asked us all if we wanted to give it a try. I think he already knew the answer. He set up our approach and as we headed downwind in a very fast approach. The Sandy Pilot’s were laying down about everything they had as close to the survivor as they dared.

As soon as we got into a hover all hell broke loose with small arms fire hitting us from all directions. The two PJ’s, TSgt Mike Walker, on the ramp gun, and Sgt. Charles McQuoid, in the left window, were returning fire and it sounded like we were in the middle of a war.

Just after I spotted the survivor and started the tree penetrator down I felt a blow on the right side of my flight helmet and then lost intercom. A small arms round had hit my boom mike and severed the comm. line. I signaled the Combat Photographer, Sgt. Jim Cockerill, who happened to be standing right behind me, trying to take pictures I think, and he jumped up into the FE seat and started relaying hand signals to the Pilot.

The damn penetrator got tangled in some bamboo and I had to spend a minute or so, (seemed like an hour) getting it free. I could see the survivor slipping and sliding in the mud and finally managed to place the penetrator right into his hands. Luckily he had the strength and resolve to hang on for dear life because, believe me, I was reeling that cable in at max speed. I think it took me all of five seconds flat to get him in the door, onto a seat and get my minigun swung out the door and firing.

We were still taking lots of small arms fire and as Capt. Swager rolled the nose over and started pulling up and out of there I could see at least two dozen bad guys that had reached a point in a trail that put them close enough I could see their eyes. Lucky for us, one of the Sandy’s was making a run straight at them and they were ducking for cover instead of firing at us. I lost sight of them as we made a turn but I doubt many were left intact after that Sandy rocked their world.

 As soon as we were in the clear we did a quick personal assessment and were truly surprised to find out that not one of us had been hit. Our chopper was riddled with holes. It looked like Swiss cheese around my door position and we were dripping hyd. fluid in several places plus streaming JP-4 from our fuel tanks. I tried to transfer fuel from the tank that was losing the most fuel into the undamaged tank but that didn’t work. We contacted a C-130 tanker, plugged in for some air to air refueling and took on enough fuel to make it back home.

 On the way out of there we had to make a stop at one of the LIMA Sites on top of a Karst in Laos where we picked up the crew from our shot up low bird. As luck would have it they had made it to a relatively safe and friendly (at the time) LIMA site. Their chopper had so much battle damage that they barely made it to the landing site and we had to leave the chopper to be repaired and flown out later. (Actually I’m not sure that Chopper was ever recovered. It might have been destroyed).


CITATION TO ACCOMPANY THE AWARD OF
THE DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS
TO
HERSHEL E. FANNIN

Staff Sergeant Hershel E. Fannin distinguished himself by heroism while participating in aerial flight as a Flight Mechanic of a CH-53C helicopter in Southeast Asia on 19 October 1972. On that date, Sergeant Fannin was in a formation assigned to airlift a contingent of allied soldiers deep into hostile territory to a tactical objective long held by hostile forces. Despite heavy antiaircraft, small arms, and automatic weapons fire directed at his aircraft from all sides of the contested landing zone, Sergeant Fannin remained at his exposed position giving accurate approach instructions to the pilots and calling out ground fire. Although his aircraft sustained numerous hits from the heavy hostile fire, Sergeant Fannin willingly disregarded the safety of his own life to ensure the survival of a beleaguered allied force and to aid the initiation of a new offensive in a vital area. The outstanding heroism and selfless devotion to duty displayed by Sergeant Fannin reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.


CITATION TO ACCOMPANY THE AWARD OF
THE DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS
(FIRST OAK LEAF CLUSTER)
TO
HERSHEL E. FANNIN

Staff Sergeant Hershel E. Fannin distinguished himself by extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as Helicopter Flight Mechanic of a CH-53C helicopter in Southeast Asia on 24 October 1972.  On that date, Sergeant Fannin flew in a formation of six helicopters carrying allied soldiers mounting an offensive to regain valuable territory captured by a hostile force.  Despite the proximity and threat of enemy small arms fire and mobile antiaircraft weapons, Sergeant Fannin made repeated landings in the landing zone to off-load his troops thus making possible the success of the allied offensive.  The professional competence, aerial skill, and devotion to duty displayed by Sergeant Fannin reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.


CITATION TO ACCOMPANY THE AWARD OF
THE DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS
(SECOND OAK LEAF CLUSTER)
TO
HERSHEL E. FANNIN

Staff Sergeant Hershel E. Fannin distinguished himself by extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as Helicopter Flight Mechanic of a CH-53C helicopter in Southeast Asia on 20 January 1973.  On that date, Sergeant Fannin flew in a formation of seven CH-53C helicopters assigned to airlift a large contingent of allied soldiers to a vital route junction deep into territory long held by hostile forces.  Despite automatic weapons and small arms fire directed at his aircraft from both sides on the run into and final approach to the landing area, Sergeant Fannin remained at his exposed position giving accurate approach instructions to the pilots and calling out ground fire.  Sergeant Fannin’s willing disregard for his own safety aided the insertion of the allied force and insured the initiation of a new offensive in a vital area.  The professional competence, aerial skill, and devotion to duty displayed by Sergeant Fannin reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.