Well this post has been a long time coming and since it’s been quite a while since I wrote I thought I would start things back with a story that was a long time in the works.
I recently had the privilege to attend a reunion. It wasn’t high school or college, it was a war reunion. Four decades ago Gary Bain was shot down over Laos. He was leading a bombing raid when he took enemy fire. For the past 40 years Gary has been trying to track down the men responsible for making sure he made it out of Vietnam alive.
You would think 40 years would make memories less vivid. But when the memories come from war, it’s something you’re not likely to forget.
My first experience meeting Gary Bain was pulling up to his house the day of the reunion. He was so excited to see us there and was so excited to be surrounded by the men who saved his life. We talked with Gary first and he told us of the fighter pilots who buzzed his area for nearly three hours after his ejection. He told us of the planes that took enemy fire as they tried to distract enemy soldiers from finding him. Holding back tears, Gary told us of how his co-pilot and best friend Lt. William Ryan didn’t survive to eject. We heard stories of the “Jolly Green Giants,” those massive helicopters that came to the rescue. The “PJ,” or parajumper who was lowered into the combat zone and carried him to safety. Incredible tales, but were the over told? The answer is ‘No.’
After talking with Gary we sat down with Edgar Roy Moore. He was the pilot who flew over Gary for 45 minutes. He said for 40 years he wondered about the fate of that pilot on the ground. Four decades of wondering if he had made a difference. The years passed until one day Roy’s phone rang. “Is this Edgar Roy Moore? Playboy13?,” the voice asked. It was Roy’s roommate from Vietnam, who told him there was someone looking for him. The next day Gary called Roy to say he was the Marine who lay bleeding in the jungle as Playboy13 flew till he was out of fuel, only to refuel in air and return. Roy says that was the first time he was ever able to talk about anything that happened in Vietnam. He hadn’t even told his family about what happened, but out of 330 missions he flew that was the one he remembers. He says it was the best thing he ever did in Vietnam. Roy didn’t hesitate to fly from North Carolina to meet a very thankful Gary Bain.
Next up was Dennis Palmer. He was just 20 years old when he volunteered for special service in the Air Force. He was the PJ on the Jolly Green Giant crew who descended on the long cable to extract downed pilots. “It was a big deal to Gary, but for us it was just another mission,” he said brushing off accolades of heroism. But this was not even supposed to be Palmer’s mission. Another Jolly Green crew was on alert, a mechanical problem forced them back to base. Palmer said he wanted the mission so he didn’t tell the pilot until it was too late to turn back, that the flight engineer had forgotten his gas mask. The crew decided if the gas that was spread to make enemy soldiers sick affect the engineer, the co-pilot would run the winch that lowered Palmer from the helicopter. Palmer remembers seeing his AR-15 rifle hanging by the door, knowing there was hostile fire all around he knew he might need it. He was lowered from the chopper, after 30 feet enemy fire blew out the nose gear putting Palmer in a spiral. He was worried the Jolly Green was going down. That wouldn’t happen this day, the pilot stabilized and Palmer continued his descent into the jungle, it was then he realized he left the rifle on board and had only a hand gun for protection. He remembers running 30 yards to get Gary. They were barely hooked back on the cable when the chopper took off. Palmer received the Silver Star for the mission.
After the war, Dennis Palmer was stationed in Hawaii and served on the Air Force rescue team for the Apollo space capsules. He was in the air helping with the rescue of Apollo 13 pod.
Off camera I talked with the Pilot of Jolly Green 15. Talk about humility. Captain Joe “Pete” Hall did not want much credit for the rescue. He said he was just doing his job. The Jolly Green 15 crew rescued 6 pilots during Vietnam. Gary was the only one to say thanks. The reunion in rural Oklahoma was the first time he had seen his crew since leaving Vietnam.
We also spoke with Maj. John Johnston. He was the forward air controller that day. He picked out targets and assigned Gary to fly the mission over Laos that day. He stayed in the air and on the radio overseeing everything that happened that day. Johnston says it was an absolute miracle that Gary survived the explosion on his plane, survived ejecting too close to the ground and survived the daring rescue. Johnston was on the radio with Gary that day, but never met him in person – until now.
There were so many other soldiers, airmen and Marines involved in Gary’s rescue. To read a first person account of what happened from Gary visit his website by clicking here. He has spent years tracking down the men responsible for saving his life and details every moment of that day.
Incredible men on an incredible mission.