Phantom Rescue
187th AHC, RVN - Sep 68

We all came home from Vietnam with memories we’ll never forget, situations that we re-live time and again. They do not necessarily haunt us; it’s that they made a very big impression on us, like this one:

September 1968:  Every good story begins with something like “There I was”.  And there I really was, holding onto a wounded F-4 Phantom pilot, kneeling in the cargo bay of our Huey which was hovering precariously over a bomb crater. As a newly minted Warrant Officer pilot I had arrived in Vietnam just a month earlier.  I was now thinking: “What in the hell am I doing here?”  A few moments later I heard a loud crack and our Huey settled to the bottom of the crater, shattering the main rotor and breaking off the tail boom.

The day started out routinely enough, picking up troops and transporting them out to field operations.  We headed back to base after completing the morning mission. As the last ship in the formation it was our responsibility to monitor the emergency radio.  On approach to Tay Ninh, an Air Force mayday reported an F-4 Phantom shot down and requested help from any helicopter in the area. I knew we had to go.  After reporting to our Command and Control ship, we broke off and headed up north to the crash site. With me were A/C commander CW-2 Bill Fullerton, crew chief SP-4 George Lux, and gunner SP-4 Larry Bird. Monitoring the radio traffic enroute, we learned that the Air Force 0-1 Bird Dog circling the site was receiving fire.

Close to the crash site, the Bird Dog directed us to a large hole in the jungle, the result of a bomb dropped by the F-4. We soon saw a white parachute hung up in trees close to the clearing, with the pilot hanging from it.  Bill made an approach to the top of the trees and began our ~100ft vertical descent down that hole.  The crew leaned out and reported clearances to our tail rotor, and I have a memory of our main rotor blades chewing a bit of tree bark on the way down.  At the bottom, Bill was able to move forward enough to place the front of the skids on the edge of the crater, giving some stability and a path along those skids to the ground.  The bulk of the aircraft hung out, hovering over the 15 ft deep crater.

We were not prepared at all for such a rescue, but without hesitation, George and Larry climbed out and worked their way over to the pilot, 75ft in front of us.  The ground between us was covered with crisscrossed trees and a thick layer of silt, the result of the bomb dropped by the F-4.  One of our crew shimmied up a tree to be next to the pilot.  We watched with apprehension, wondering how he would be able to get the pilot out of his harness and down to the ground.  He reached out and grabbed the pilot’s leg and secured it to the tree with his belt.  Presumably, he then planned to have the pilot grab the tree as he released him from his parachute.  It was quite a predicament, made worse by the threat of being a target at any time.  He had trouble with the parachute harness release, causing the pilot to assist, at which point the pilot slipped and fell (it turned out that he was injured when he ejected).  Now hanging by his leg, the pilot requested to be cut loose and fell the last few feet to the ground.  Our crew picked him up and carried him over the debris back towards us. The going was slow, so I ventured out to help them the last 25ft. Now back at our Huey, the three of us worked him into the cargo bay, with me backing in pulling and the crew pushing. 

Just as I thought we would soon be on our way there was that loud crack, followed by a quick trip to the bottom of the crater.  I scrambled to the ground, fully expecting a hail of bullets coming in our direction (no doubt memories of that vintage movie “The Bridges of Toko-Ri”).  It was not to be. Collecting our thoughts, we repositioned our AF pilot to the edge of the crater, removed our M-60 machine guns and radios, and prepared for a rescue, just as we were trained to do.

A short time later a small Army OH-6 scout helicopter landed in front of us.  We moved the pilot over to it. Again, I found myself kneeling in the cargo compartment holding onto him.  I felt especially vulnerable as the OH-6 lifted us out and away from that hole.  They dropped me off at a nearby Special Forces base and continued onto Tay Ninh with the pilot.  By the time I got back he had been transferred to a larger hospital.  An Air Force Kaman Husky, which had been enroute the whole time, hoisted my crewmates to safety.

Now back at Tay Ninh, I was sent out to our refueling area to answer some questions from a senior Army Officer who had been monitoring the operation.  Later, our Ratpack gunships returned to the site and destroyed the remains of our Huey. The following day the four of us were called to Saigon to partake in a bit of publicity with the theme "Army Rescues Air Force, Air Force Rescues Army", emphasizing a joint team effort by military branches.  The story appeared in the Army “Stars and Stripes” newspaper, but it was disappointingly inaccurate.

Twenty-five years later I received a letter from our F-4 pilot asking if I was the “Ian” who helped rescue him.  I responded to Carl Parlatore with “If you found yourself dangling from a parachute hung up in a tree in Sep 1968, then that would be me.” That began a friendship that continues to this day, and out of that initial contact he sent me the official USAF detailed report (below). Carl also contacted Bill Fullerton, and as a consequence, Bill and I renewed our friendship.  None of us have been able to locate George Lux or Larry Bird. I have only the USAF official record of our grand adventure, plus our personal correspondence.  The Army does not maintain records of their rescue operations, per a note to Carl from a USAF Colonel.  I could not find any record of it in the 187th daily logs, which is a curiosity.  Carl wrote to the Army in Apr 69 requesting the names of the OH-6 crew.  Those names came in a reply from Brigadier General Allen Burdett Jr (!).
Reflecting over all these years, that “loud crack” I heard could have been the tail boom impacting the edge of the crater, or the shattering main rotor blades.  Further, if we had crashed several minutes later, climbing out of that hole, it would undoubtedly been a major disaster for us; and then there’s that distinct possibility of being overrun when we first went down.  We were all being watched over that day. “All’s well that ends well”.

Ian Dawson, Sep 2016


Carl Parlatore’s letter to Ian Dawson:



                                                                                          Tuesday, December 10, 1996

Dear Mr. Dawson,

 You may not know me; however, I'm hoping that you do. Let me explain.

On the 3rd of September,1968, I was flying an F-4 in III Corps, RVN, when I got shot down. A UH-1D tried to come to my rescue but also got shot down. I've been trying to contact the crew of that Huey and the OH-6 that finally got me out of a very nasty situation, on and off, for the last 25+ years -- without success.
Just the other day I was looking through some old war memorabilia and came across a rescue report of my shoot-down and ultimate rescue. Your name (or one similar to yours) was on the list as having been in the Huey that got shot down. When I searched the Internet for that name, your address came up.

Please forgive me if you are not the person who was involved in my rescue. However, if you were, I want to thank you for your courage in trying to save a fellow aviator-in-arms. I was pretty banged up back then and never had the chance to say thanks.

If you were involved in my rescue, I would appreciate any comments on what went on from your point of view. Because I was so badly hurt I still have a few parts of that day missing from my memory.  

Very Respectfully,
Carl P. Parlatore
Colonel, USAF (Ret.)

(Carl later wrote that he spent 6 months recovering from his injuries and his front seat, 1/Lt Assalene, 13 months.  Their Phantom controls had been hit by 50 caliber fire and that they ejected at 500 mph.)

Bill Fullerton’s account to Carl Parlatore:

Carl P. Parlatore
Colonel, USAF (Ret.)
Centreville, VA.

Dear Carl,
It is good to hear from you, I will try to give you some of my background and the reflections of what happened to us that day plus I would be sending you a hard copy of the newspaper clipping I mentioned.

My company was returning from a mission to our base at Tay Ninh, I was the trail ship and our practice was trail to monitor guard. I heard your FAC call May Day and I informed our C&C what I had, and you were just north of our position and I was probably the closest to get to you. So I broke formation contacted your FAC that I was coming and got his directions. When I got to the area a scout ship had found your copilot and picked him up, we found you hanging in a tree just out side of a bomb crater, it was the only place that I could get down close to you so I nosed my skids into the edge of the crater and hovered there while my crew chief and door gunner got down and started for you. Ian and I could see you from our position and watched our crew try to get to you we could see that they were having trouble with your harness that was hung in the tree, they said later that you had told them to pull your harness release or that you had managed to get it your self, we were not clear about that, all Ian and I saw was you dropping out of that tree. The crew dragged you over to the crater and started to lift you into the aircraft when I heard/felt some thing hit the tail, I was able to accomplish a hovering auto into the crater with the Lords help because the aircraft yawed away from you and my crew. Another scout ship was able to get into the area now that my ship was not running, the back of that scout ship was quite small, and there was no way to get you in and keep you from falling out so Ian, being the smallest, got in from the other side to hold you in. A Kaman Husky from Saigon finally arrived and dropped the jungle penetrator and lifted my crew and I out, as we started to lift out of there we started to receive ground-fire, just enough that the Kaman crew knew they had come to the war.

When I returned to the states and my wife and daughter, I was an instructor for awhile, then took a direct commission, my wife had a baby boy, I went back for a second tour, was riffed in ‘73 as a Captain, got out of the Army, had a little farm for a while started flying for Air Logistics in the Gulf of Mexico in ‘76. Started a second family, a girl and boy, now they are in college and a senior in high school.

Some times I wonder if what I am doing makes a difference then the Lord gives me something to remind me that what you do does count even if we don’t see it right away. I am very glad to have this conformation at this time in my life when I see what is going on around us today.

William R. Fullerton (Bill)
Iowa, LA

The Sep 1968 USAF official account:

FROM: DET 6, 38th ARRS, APO 96227 (Maj Richard C. Pfadenhauer, RCC) 9 Sep 68
SUBJECT: Mission Narrative Report (6-38-15-3 Sep 68)
To: Det 6 C, 38 ARRS C, 3rd ARRGp (JSARC), IN TURN
1. This report is submitted in accordance with ARRSM 55-2/3rd ARRGp Sup 1, dated 15 June 1967
2. At approximately 0740r-3(1540L) the alert crew was notified by JSARC of an F-4 (Boxer 05) downed at approximately 3180/63 from Bien Hoa AB. Both crew members had ejected and were in the jungle, However there were no hoist equipped helicopters in the area to effect their rescue. The alert aircraft, Pedro 97, was topped off with fuel and launched at approximately 0745g.  The secondary alert aircraft, Pedro 95, was on a base support mission at the time of the alert but was recalled as soon as possible. After reservicing, he departed for the incident site at approximately 0830g. While Pedro 97 was enroute to the in­cident site an Army UH-1D was reported down in the vicinity of one of the F-4 pilots' chute. Upon arrival the personnel chute was readily visible hanging in the top of the trees with several gunships and a FAC circling overhead. The Army UH-1 was lying in a nearby bomb crater and three crewmembers were observed in the vicinity. Pedro 97 initiated a 1800 approach to a 200' hover at the tops of the trees over the downed helicopter crew. Since all three crewmembers appear­ed to be uninjured, it was decided not to lower the pararescue man. The three crewmembers were recovered utilizing a separate pickup for each. This required approximate thirty minutes of hovering. Throughout the approach and hover, frequent intermittent automatic weapons fire was heard in very close proximity. It was presumed to be hostile as there were no friendly ground troops in the immediate area. Since no impacts were felt or heard on the aircraft and several Cobra gunships were flying a continual orbit around and very close to our position for our protection, we remained in position in a hover until the pickups were completed. The F-4 pilots had not been accounted for at this time so the rescued Army personnel were transported to the Thien Ngon Special Forces com­pound to enable Pedro 97 to continue the mission. Pedro 97 continued to receive unfriendly automatic weapons fire until inside the Special Forces compound. This was confirmed by ground personnel in the camp. After deplaning the rescuees, Pedro 97 departed toward the last reported position of the second F-4 pilot. While enroute it was confirmed by a "Stogie 36" that everyone had been picked  up and was accounted for. (Army LOH-6 Cayuses had picked up the two F-4 pilots and one pilot from the UH-1. They were transported to the 45th Surgical Hospital at Tay Ninh.) At this time Pedro 95 was still approximately twenty miles from the incident site therefore he diverted to Tay Ninh and rendezvoused with Pedro 97 for refueling " inspection of the aircraft. No hits had been taken from the ground fire. Both Pedro aircraft then returned to Bien Hoa AB and the mission was closed.

3. The names of the survivors were as follows:
a. Recovered by Pedro 97:

CWO-2 William R. Fullerton 187th Aslt Helicopter Co Tay Ninh
SP-4 Larry E Bird 187th Aslt Helicopter Co Tay Ninh
SP-4 George J. Lux 187th Aslt Helicopter Co Tay Ninh

b. Recovered by the U.S. Army:

1/Lt Thomas Assalene 12th Tac Ftr Wg USAF Cam Ranh Bay
1/Lt Carl Parlatore 12th Tac Ftr Wg USAF Cam Ranh Bay
WO Ian J. Dawson 187th Aslt Helicopter Co Tay Ninh

4. Crewmembers of Pedro 97:

  1. RCC Maj. Richard C. Pfadenhauer

RCCP Capt. Paul E. Stone
RS Sgt Roland C. Schmidt
FE AlC Glen N. Chafey

Crewmembers of Pedro 95:

  1. RCC Maj. Price S. Summerhill

RCCP Capt. Jon C. Long
RS SSgt James P. Baldwin
FE AlC Terry M. Wells

Signed by RICHARD C. PFADENHAUER, Major,USAF, Rescue Crew Commander

And .... taken from an email received via this web site on 2 November 2016:


My dear friend Ian J. Dawson just posted an article about him being involved in a rescue of a downed F-4 pilot on 3 Sep 68– that was me.

The dedication to duty, courage, and shear determination to get me out of a very sticky situation must be acknowledged by me.  If it wasn’t for Ian qnd the those he flew with I would not be here today.

I always had the greatest admiration for you Huey crews for flying around at treetop level at a 100 nauts or so – while I was zipping along at 400 kts, but after my rescue my respect for Army Air has been unbounded.

Carl Pio