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Secret War: Green Hornets, Dust Devils and Blackbirds

Pony Express missions carried just about anything to support the secret missions and radar sites in Laos. This Green Hornet UH-1 at the forward operation location at Duc Lap, South Vietnam, is hauling lumber and plywood sheets. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Pony Express missions carried just about anything to support the secret missions and radar sites in Laos. This Green Hornet UH-1 at the forward operation location at Duc Lap, South Vietnam, is hauling lumber and plywood sheets. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A UH-1 gunner manning a GAU-2 minigun that fired 7.62mm ammunition. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A UH-1 gunner manning a GAU-2 minigun that fired 7.62mm ammunition. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The crew of a 20th Special Operations Squadron UH-1 crew on alert at Thieu Atar, a forward operating location near the border of Laos. When a call came, they quickly put their cots, folding chairs and other items back into the baggage compartment. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The crew of a 20th Special Operations Squadron UH-1 crew on alert at Thieu Atar, a forward operating location near the border of Laos. When a call came, they quickly put their cots, folding chairs and other items back into the baggage compartment. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A UH-1 crew armed and ready for a covert mission. Notice the flexible ladder that could be extended to pick up personnel when the helicopter could not land. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A UH-1 crew armed and ready for a covert mission. Notice the flexible ladder that could be extended to pick up personnel when the helicopter could not land. (U.S. Air Force photo)

On alert at Ban Don, South Vietnam, in July 1970. From locations along the borders with Cambodia and Laos, the US Air Force helicopters covertly inserted reconnaissance teams, which included local peoples like the Hmong, along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. (U.S. Air Force photo)

On alert at Ban Don, South Vietnam, in July 1970. From locations along the borders with Cambodia and Laos, the US Air Force helicopters covertly inserted reconnaissance teams, which included local peoples like the Hmong, along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - Bell UH-1P Iroquois exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - Bell UH-1P Iroquois exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - Bell UH-1P Iroquois exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - Bell UH-1P Iroquois exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Secret War: Green Hornets, Dust Devils and Blackbirds exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Secret War: Green Hornets, Dust Devils and Blackbirds exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Secret War: Green Hornets, Dust Devils and Blackbirds exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Secret War: Green Hornets, Dust Devils and Blackbirds exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Secret War: Green Hornets, Dust Devils and Blackbirds exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Secret War: Green Hornets, Dust Devils and Blackbirds exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Secret War: Green Hornets, Dust Devils and Blackbirds exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Secret War: Green Hornets, Dust Devils and Blackbirds exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Secret War: Green Hornets, Dust Devils and Blackbirds exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Secret War: Green Hornets, Dust Devils and Blackbirds exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Secret War: Green Hornets, Dust Devils and Blackbirds exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Secret War: Green Hornets, Dust Devils and Blackbirds exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Secret War: Green Hornets, Dust Devils and Blackbirds exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Secret War: Green Hornets, Dust Devils and Blackbirds exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Secret War: Green Hornets, Dust Devils and Blackbirds exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Secret War: Green Hornets, Dust Devils and Blackbirds exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Secret War: Green Hornets, Dust Devils and Blackbirds exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Secret War: Green Hornets, Dust Devils and Blackbirds exhibit on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- A CV-22 Osprey aircraft assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., provides a fly over for the public before the Green Hornet Dedication ceremony at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Sept. 15, 2016. The aircraft and crew landed at the museum in tribute to the Green Hornets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jim Copes)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- A CV-22 Osprey aircraft assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., provides a fly over for the public before the Green Hornet Dedication ceremony at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Sept. 15, 2016. The aircraft and crew landed at the museum in tribute to the Green Hornets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jim Copes)

DAYTON, Ohio -- A CV-22 Osprey aircraft assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., provides a fly over for the public before the Green Hornet Dedication ceremony at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Sept. 15, 2016. The aircraft and crew landed at the museum in tribute to the Green Hornets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jim Copes)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- A CV-22 Osprey aircraft assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., provides a fly over for the public before the Green Hornet Dedication ceremony at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Sept. 15, 2016. The aircraft and crew landed at the museum in tribute to the Green Hornets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jim Copes)

DAYTON, Ohio -- A CV-22 Osprey aircraft assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., provides a fly over for the public before the Green Hornet Dedication ceremony at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Sept. 15, 2016. The aircraft and crew landed at the museum in tribute to the Green Hornets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jim Copes)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- A CV-22 Osprey aircraft assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., provides a fly over for the public before the Green Hornet Dedication ceremony at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Sept. 15, 2016. The aircraft and crew landed at the museum in tribute to the Green Hornets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jim Copes)

DAYTON, Ohio -- A CV-22 Osprey aircraft assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., lands at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Sept. 15, 2016 before the Green Hornet Dedication ceremony. The aircraft and crew landed at the museum in tribute to the Green Hornets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jim Copes)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- A CV-22 Osprey aircraft assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., lands at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Sept. 15, 2016 before the Green Hornet Dedication ceremony. The aircraft and crew landed at the museum in tribute to the Green Hornets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jim Copes)

Current members of the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., stand with veterans of the 20th SOS in front of a CV-22 Osprey aircraft before the start of the Green Hornet Dedication ceremony at the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Sept. 15, 2016. The Osprey crew travelled from Cannon to honor the heritage of the 20th SOS with a landing, fly over and public display with the aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Luke Kitterman/Released)
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Current members of the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., stand with veterans of the 20th SOS in front of a CV-22 Osprey aircraft before the start of the Green Hornet Dedication ceremony at the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Sept. 15, 2016. The Osprey crew travelled from Cannon to honor the heritage of the 20th SOS with a landing, fly over and public display with the aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Luke Kitterman/Released)

DAYTON, Ohio -- (From left to right) MSgt.(Ret.) Fred Cook, William Huber, Capt. Randy Harrison and SSgt. Paul Jensen await a CV-22 Osprey fly over before the Green Hornet Dedication ceremony at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Sept. 15, 2016. These veterans took part in the 26 Nov 1968 mission that is depicted in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force’s UH-1P, 20th SOS “Green Hornets,” legacy diorama display. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- (From left to right) MSgt.(Ret.) Fred Cook, William Huber, Capt. Randy Harrison and SSgt. Paul Jensen await a CV-22 Osprey fly over before the Green Hornet Dedication ceremony at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Sept. 15, 2016. These veterans took part in the 26 Nov 1968 mission that is depicted in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force’s UH-1P, 20th SOS “Green Hornets,” legacy diorama display. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Veterans of the 20th Special Operations Squadron watch a CV-22 Osprey aircraft assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., perform a fly over for the public before the Green Hornet Dedication ceremony at the museum on Sept. 15, 2016. The museum formally dedicated an exhibit and diorama depicting their rescue mission in Vietnam on Nov. 26, 1968. (U.S. Air Force photo by Felita LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Veterans of the 20th Special Operations Squadron watch a CV-22 Osprey aircraft assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., perform a fly over for the public before the Green Hornet Dedication ceremony at the museum on Sept. 15, 2016. The museum formally dedicated an exhibit and diorama depicting their rescue mission in Vietnam on Nov. 26, 1968. (U.S. Air Force photo by Felita LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- MSgt. (Ret.) Fred Cook stands in front of the Secret War diorama in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on Sept. 15, 2016. Cook served his second tour in Southeast Asia  with the 20th SOS "Green Hornets" at Nha Trang and Ban Me Thout, Vietnam. He was the right door gunner on the 26 Nov 1968 mission that is depicted in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force’s UH-1P, 20th SOS “Green Hornets,” legacy diorama display. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for Valor for his part in this mission.(U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- MSgt. (Ret.) Fred Cook stands in front of the Secret War diorama in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on Sept. 15, 2016. Cook served his second tour in Southeast Asia with the 20th SOS "Green Hornets" at Nha Trang and Ban Me Thout, Vietnam. He was the right door gunner on the 26 Nov 1968 mission that is depicted in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force’s UH-1P, 20th SOS “Green Hornets,” legacy diorama display. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for Valor for his part in this mission.(U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- SSgt. Paul Jensen stands in front of the Secret War diorama in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on Sept. 15, 2016. From 1967 to 1971, he served in the U.S. Air Force with duties as Helicopter Tech/door gunner. Served combat tours in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969 and 1970-1971with the 20th SOS “Green Hornets” as a Sgt. (E-4) Flight Mechanic/Gunner on UH-1F/P “slicks.” Jensen was the left door gunner on the 26 Nov 1968 mission that is depicted in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force’s UH-1P, 20th SOS “Green Hornets,” legacy diorama display. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for Valor for his part in this mission.U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- SSgt. Paul Jensen stands in front of the Secret War diorama in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on Sept. 15, 2016. From 1967 to 1971, he served in the U.S. Air Force with duties as Helicopter Tech/door gunner. Served combat tours in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969 and 1970-1971with the 20th SOS “Green Hornets” as a Sgt. (E-4) Flight Mechanic/Gunner on UH-1F/P “slicks.” Jensen was the left door gunner on the 26 Nov 1968 mission that is depicted in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force’s UH-1P, 20th SOS “Green Hornets,” legacy diorama display. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for Valor for his part in this mission.U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- (From left to right) SSgt. Paul Jensen, Capt. Randy Harrison, MSgt.(Ret.) Fred Cook stand in front of the Secret War diorama in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on Sept. 15, 2016. These veterans took part in the 26 Nov 1968 mission that is depicted in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force’s UH-1P, 20th SOS “Green Hornets,” legacy diorama display. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- (From left to right) SSgt. Paul Jensen, Capt. Randy Harrison, MSgt.(Ret.) Fred Cook stand in front of the Secret War diorama in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on Sept. 15, 2016. These veterans took part in the 26 Nov 1968 mission that is depicted in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force’s UH-1P, 20th SOS “Green Hornets,” legacy diorama display. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Leather belt, holster for a .38 caliber pistol, and a survival knife on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery.  Sergeant (later MSgt) Fred Cook, a door gunner with the 20th Special Operations Squadron, wore these items on Lt Fleming’s November 26, 1968, Medal of Honor mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Leather belt, holster for a .38 caliber pistol, and a survival knife on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery. Sergeant (later MSgt) Fred Cook, a door gunner with the 20th Special Operations Squadron, wore these items on Lt Fleming’s November 26, 1968, Medal of Honor mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Leather belt, holster for a .38 caliber pistol, and a survival knife.  Sergeant (later MSgt) Fred Cook, a door gunner with the 20th Special Operations Squadron, wore these items on Lt Fleming’s November 26, 1968, Medal of Honor mission. Mechanic’s cap with the 20th SOS Green Hornet printed on the visor and front.  It belonged to Fred Cook but was not worn on the Medal of Honor mission.  These items are on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Leather belt, holster for a .38 caliber pistol, and a survival knife. Sergeant (later MSgt) Fred Cook, a door gunner with the 20th Special Operations Squadron, wore these items on Lt Fleming’s November 26, 1968, Medal of Honor mission. Mechanic’s cap with the 20th SOS Green Hornet printed on the visor and front. It belonged to Fred Cook but was not worn on the Medal of Honor mission. These items are on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Mechanic’s cap with the 20th SOS Green Hornet printed on the visor and front.  It belonged to SSgt. Fred Cook but was not worn on the Medal of Honor mission.  These items are on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- Mechanic’s cap with the 20th SOS Green Hornet printed on the visor and front. It belonged to SSgt. Fred Cook but was not worn on the Medal of Honor mission. These items are on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

To supply their forces in South Vietnam, the North Vietnamese built a secret road system through neutral Laos and Cambodia. This supply line, named the Truong Son Road but called the "Ho Chi Minh Trail" by Americans, consisted of a network of roads and hiding places concealed by jungle. In an effort to stop the communists' flow of supplies while appearing to respect Laotian and Cambodian neutrality, the United States secretly placed radar stations to guide air strikes and sent small reconnaissance teams of native personnel into Laos and Cambodia. Led by U.S. Army Special Forces personnel, those reconnaissance teams found targets for air strikes and later assessed the damage. These cross-border or "over the fence" operations relied upon U.S. Air Force helicopters for transportation and resupply.

Covert reconnaissance operations into Laos, codenamed SHINING BRASS and later PRAIRIE FIRE, began in 1965. Using the call sign Pony Express, Sikorsky CH-3 Jolly Green Giant helicopters from the 20th Helicopter Squadron (later redesignated the 20th Special Operations Squadron) operated from Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base in support of these secret missions and the radar sites. Later, the squadron received Bell UH-1F/P "Huey" helicopters to support the effort. The 20th's mission expanded as they started working closely with forward air controllers and other USAF aircraft in Laos to rescue downed American pilots.

In 1967 the U.S. expanded its secret reconnaissance operations into Cambodia under the codenames DANIEL BOONE and later SALEM HOUSE. The 20th's UH-1s supported these operations using the call sign Green Hornet. During a Green Hornet mission on Nov. 26, 1968, Capt. James P. Fleming earned the Medal of Honor while rescuing a six-man reconnaissance team.

The group rescued was code named "RT Chisel," and it was composed of Staff Sergeant Ancil “Sonny” Franks, Sergeant Charles Hughes, three Montagnards, and Captain Randolph Harrison (he was the new CCS Recon Company commander and there to learn ops).  The Americans were SOG personnel (Green Berets) while the Montagnards were indigenous personnel that worked with SOG.  All six were safely recovered during the operation.

The 20th's Sikorsky CH-3 Jolly Green Giant helicopters were separated into the 21st Helicopter Squadron (later redesignated the 21st Special Operations Squadron) in 1967. The 21st continued supporting the covert operations in Laos, including the placement of IGLOO WHITE electronic sensors, from Nakhon Phanom under the call sign of Dust Devils.

To insert and resupply covert reconnaissance teams deep into North Vietnam, the USAF used special Lockheed C-130E(I) aircraft. Later redesignated the MC-130E Combat Talon I, this aircraft was equipped with the Fulton Recovery System to pick up personnel and packages. This system used a balloon to suspend a cable which the MC-130E would snag in flight. At first using the innocuous designation Detachment 1, 314th Tactical Airlift Wing (later the 15th Special Operations Squadron), they operated from Nha Trang Air Base, Republic of Vietnam. Nicknamed "Blackbirds" because of their special green and black paint scheme, these MC-130Es avoided enemy detection by using terrain-following radar to fly very low at night.

While these secret missions never stopped the flow of supplies to the communists in the south, they caused severe disruptions. In addition, the need to defend against these reconnaissance teams caused the North Vietnamese to hold back troops that could have been fighting in South Vietnam.

Green Hornets to the Rescue

Col James P. Fleming, Medal of Honor


          On November 26, 1968, helicopters from the 20th Special Operations Squadron Green Hornets inserted Special Forces reconnaissance team “Chisel” near Duc Co, South Vietnam.  Part of the clandestine Daniel Boone operations along the Cambodian border, this six-man team almost immediately encountered a much larger enemy force and retreated to a nearby riverbank.  While the communists fired at them from three sides and prepared to overrun their position, the reconnaissance team radioed for an emergency extraction. 

          The Green Hornets heard the call and returned to extract the threatened Special Forces.  Despite heavy enemy gunfire, 1st Lieutenant (later Colonel) James P. Fleming flew his UH‑1F in close to rescue the Special Forces team.  Meanwhile, Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Leonard Gonzales provided covering fire with his gunship.   

          With no safe landing spot, intense enemy gunfire forced Fleming to back away, but he made a second attempt.  While Fleming kept his helicopter hovering just above the river and nudged up to the riverbank, the door gunners kept the enemy at bay.  This effort gave the “Chisel” team time to sprint toward the waiting helicopter.  Door gunner Sergeant (later Master Sergeant) Fred Cook remembered the incoming gunfire as being “so thick you could walk on it.”  Returning fire with his M60 machine gun in one hand, Cook pulled the “Chisel” team aboard with his other. 

          Escaping low over the river in a hail of gunfire, the helicopter received numerous bullet holes, but amazingly, nobody was hurt.  For his efforts, Fleming received the Medal of Honor.  The two door gunners, Cook and Sergeant Paul Jensen, received the Distinguished Flying Cross.  Fleming’s copilot, Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Paul McClellan received the Silver Star.  Gonzales received the Air Force Cross.  The other participating Green Hornets received eleven Distinguished Flying Crosses, one Silver Star, and two Air Medals.


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Laos: The Panhandle and the Ho Chi Minh Trail Overview

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