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Combat Search and Rescue in Southeast Asia

Col. (later Maj. Gen.) Robert Maloy (left) and Capt. William S. Paul (right) of the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing after being rescued by an H-3E Jolly Green Giant from the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron on Oct. 15, 1967.  Enemy fire hit their F-4 Phantom over North Vietnam, but they reached open water before ejecting.  Maloy fractured his back, and Pararescueman (PJ) Airman 1st Class Roger Klenovich (center, wearing red PJ beret) went into the water to help him. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Col. (later Maj. Gen.) Robert Maloy (left) and Capt. William S. Paul (right) of the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing after being rescued by an H-3E Jolly Green Giant from the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron on Oct. 15, 1967. Enemy fire hit their F-4 Phantom over North Vietnam, but they reached open water before ejecting. Maloy fractured his back, and Pararescueman (PJ) Airman 1st Class Roger Klenovich (center, wearing red PJ beret) went into the water to help him. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A U.S. Air Force pararescueman is lowered on a forest penetrator from a hovering 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron HH-53 helicopter during a rescue mission in Southeast Asia, June 1970. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A U.S. Air Force pararescueman is lowered on a forest penetrator from a hovering 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron HH-53 helicopter during a rescue mission in Southeast Asia, June 1970. (U.S. Air Force photo)

CH-3E Jolly Green Giant in Southeast Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo)

CH-3E Jolly Green Giant in Southeast Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A-1E Skyraider escorts an HH-3C rescue helicopter on a CSAR mission in 1966. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A-1E Skyraider escorts an HH-3C rescue helicopter on a CSAR mission in 1966. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Downed F-105 pilot being rescued in 1972. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Downed F-105 pilot being rescued in 1972. (U.S. Air Force photo)

HH-53 being refueled by an HC-130 King Bird. Aerial refueling enabled the helicopters to rescue downed aircrew from any location in the Southeast Asia theater.  (U.S. Air Force photo)

HH-53 being refueled by an HC-130 King Bird. Aerial refueling enabled the helicopters to rescue downed aircrew from any location in the Southeast Asia theater. (U.S. Air Force photo)

HH-43 Pedro hoisting a pilot in Southeast Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo)

HH-43 Pedro hoisting a pilot in Southeast Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Grumman HU-16B Albatross patrolling along the coast of South Vietnam in 1966. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Grumman HU-16B Albatross patrolling along the coast of South Vietnam in 1966. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - A Vietnam-era USAF pararescuman, or "PJ," prepares a wounded soldier for helicopter evacuation in a diorama in the Southeast Asia War Gallery. PJs often descended into combat situations to aid the wounded. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - A Vietnam-era USAF pararescuman, or "PJ," prepares a wounded soldier for helicopter evacuation in a diorama in the Southeast Asia War Gallery. PJs often descended into combat situations to aid the wounded. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - The Combat Pararescue in Vietnam exhibit in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. In this exhibit, (counter clockwise from the flag) an Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service flag, an HGU-26/P aircrew helmet, a C-1 "emergency sustenance" vest and M-1952 "flak" vest, an LPU-10/P underarm life preserver, a medical kit, fighting and survival knives, a survival radio, helicopter crew body armor, smoke grenade and combination smoke illumination flare, jungle penetrator, glove, "Jolly Green Giant" painting by Saul Mandel and another jungle penetrator. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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DAYTON, Ohio - The Combat Pararescue in Vietnam exhibit in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. In this exhibit, (counter clockwise from the flag) an Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service flag, an HGU-26/P aircrew helmet, a C-1 "emergency sustenance" vest and M-1952 "flak" vest, an LPU-10/P underarm life preserver, a medical kit, fighting and survival knives, a survival radio, helicopter crew body armor, smoke grenade and combination smoke illumination flare, jungle penetrator, glove, "Jolly Green Giant" painting by Saul Mandel and another jungle penetrator. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- This humorous painting by artist Saul Mandel links the famous "Jolly Green Giant" and the U.S. Air Force HH-3 rescue helicopters with the same name. Mandel illustrated the Jolly Green Giant figure in The New Yorker magazine in 1961. The Jolly Green Giant is the well-known symbol owned by the General Mills Company and used on packaged vegetables. The painting is on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- This humorous painting by artist Saul Mandel links the famous "Jolly Green Giant" and the U.S. Air Force HH-3 rescue helicopters with the same name. Mandel illustrated the Jolly Green Giant figure in The New Yorker magazine in 1961. The Jolly Green Giant is the well-known symbol owned by the General Mills Company and used on packaged vegetables. The painting is on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- The C-1 emergency sustenance vest, developed by the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II and used through the Southeast Asia War, was worn over the M-1952 flak vest. To provide protection in harsh terrain and combat situations, PJs wore the camouflaged HGU-26/P aircrew helmet. These items are on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- The C-1 emergency sustenance vest, developed by the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II and used through the Southeast Asia War, was worn over the M-1952 flak vest. To provide protection in harsh terrain and combat situations, PJs wore the camouflaged HGU-26/P aircrew helmet. These items are on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- This Jolly Green party suit, worn by Maj. Emmett E. Hatch Jr., who flew Jolly Green helicopters and had five pick-ups to his credit, is on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- This Jolly Green party suit, worn by Maj. Emmett E. Hatch Jr., who flew Jolly Green helicopters and had five pick-ups to his credit, is on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- This banner memorialized the HH-53 helicopter, call sign Jolly Green-64, which crashed in a Cambodian lake on June 14, 1973. The two PJs on board escaped while the three men of the flight crew lost their lives. “Sawadee” means “goodbye” in the Thai language. The banner is on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- This banner memorialized the HH-53 helicopter, call sign Jolly Green-64, which crashed in a Cambodian lake on June 14, 1973. The two PJs on board escaped while the three men of the flight crew lost their lives. “Sawadee” means “goodbye” in the Thai language. The banner is on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)


During the war in Southeast Asia, the U.S. Air Force's air rescue improved dramatically. Beginning in 1962 with just three officers and three enlisted Airmen at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam, the mission grew into powerful teams with astounding capabilities for rescuing downed aircrew deep in enemy territory.

Early Search and Rescue
The Air Rescue Service (later the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service) first used Kaman HH-43 Huskie helicopters, unofficially known as "Pedro" from their radio call sign. They later added larger Sikorsky H-3 helicopters, nicknamed "Jolly Green Giants," with greater range, and Grumman HU-16B Albatross amphibians to rescue Airmen who went down in the Gulf of Tonkin.

The Evolution of Combat Search and Rescue
Air operations over dangerous enemy territory forced Search and Rescue (SAR) to evolve into Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) teams. While the helicopters made a rescue, U.S. fighters protected them from North Vietnamese MiGs. Also, Douglas A-1 Skyraiders, known by their call sign Sandy, joined the rescue efforts. The A-1's long loiter time helped in locating downed aircrew, and its heavy armament suppressed enemy ground fire during the rescue attempt.

A major improvement came in November 1965, when the Sikorsky HH-53E "Super Jolly Green Giants" arrived. Capable of being refueled in flight by Lockheed HC-130 King Birds, the HH-53E helicopters could reach any point in the Southeast Asia theater.

During the Southeast Asia War, CSAR personnel had a significant impact and lived up to their motto: That Others May Live. They saved a total of 4,120 people, including 2,780 in combat situations. Their individual achievements earned them two Medals of Honor, 38 Air Force Crosses, and numerous other awards. However, the cost was high as 71 U.S. rescue personnel were killed and 45 aircraft destroyed during the war.

Combat Pararescue in Southeast Asia
The blood-red beret, symbolizing sacrifice, has been the pararescueman or "PJ" (for parajumper) mark of distinction since early 1966. The PJ's unique mission in the Southeast Asia War was to ride into a combat zone aboard a rescue helicopter and descend into jungles, swamps, mountains, and forests on a cable and winch. On the ground, they stabilized and helped hoist the injured to safety, often under fire. All volunteers, the PJs earned more decorations per man than any other USAF group in the SEA War.

Click on the following links to learn more about the Southeast Asia War.

Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger

Click here to return to the North Vietnam: Rolling Thunder Overview.

 

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Related Fact Sheets
Douglas A-1E Skyraider
Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant
Kaman HH-43B Huskie
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