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Combat Pararescue

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 - 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)

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)

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)

Today's Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service descended from units in World War II and the Korean War that pioneered combat rescue using seaplanes and helicopters. In Vietnam, the USAF refined its rescue techniques and organization, greatly improving chances that downed airmen and wounded soldiers would survive.

The blood-red beret, symbolizing sacrifice, has been the pararescueman or "PJ" (for parajumper) mark of distinction since early 1966. Earning the beret requires intense training in free-fall, water and forest parachuting, survival in all terrain and weather, scuba diving, and combat medicine. Many PJs, like Medal of Honor recipient William H. Pitsenbarger, have also trained as helicopter-borne firefighters.

ARRS crews helped save 4,120 lives in Vietnam. Of those, 2,780 were in combat situations. The PJ's unique mission in Vietnam was to ride into a combat zone aboard a slow, vulnerable 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. PJs in Vietnam all were volunteers, and they gathered more decorations per man than any other USAF group in that conflict.

In Vietnam, a PJ's tools were few and simple, but effective. An armored "flak" vest offered some protection, along with a standard flight crew helmet. Their weapons included one or two .38-cal. pistols, an M-16 rifle and a survival knife. PJs descended with a basic medical kit, perhaps a supply of splints, a survival vest and a radio. They used the helicopter's litter to secure and extract badly wounded or unconscious patients. Others rode up on a "jungle penetrator," which weighed the cable, broke through branches and folded out into a seat.

Click here to return to the Pararescue: That Others May Live exhibit.


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Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger
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