40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron
September 1967 – January 1976
United States Air Force
Rescue & Recovery
3d Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group
Operation Ivory Coast
Operation Eagle Pull
Operation Frequent Wind
40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron (40th ARRS) was a helicopter rescue squadron of the USAF active during the Vietnam War.
40th ARRS was activated at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base in September 1967 with HH-3s which were known as the “Jolly Green Giants” or “Jollys” (after the H-53’s arrived they were nicknamed “Nitnoy.”, Thai for ‘small’) When HH-53s arrived they were called the “Super Jollys” or “BUFF.”(Big Ugly Fat F—kers”.
March 1968, Detachment 2 of the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Udorn RTAFB operating HH-3s and HH-53Bs was transferred to the 40th ARRS.
The 40th moved to Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base on 21 July 1971.
HH-53 at NKP
20 August 1972, the local base rescue detachments of the 3d Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group each operating 2 HH-43s were transferred to the 40th ARRS, comprising:
Detachment 2 Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base
Detachment 3 Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base
Detachment 4 Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base
Detachment 5 Udorn RTAFB
Detachment 12 U-Tapao Royal Thai Naval Airfield
Detachment 14 Tan Son Nhut Air Base
30 November 1972, with the deactivation of the 37th ARRS at Danang Air Base, 5 of its HH-53s were transferred to the 40th ARRS, while its two HH-43s remained at Danang as Detachment 7 of the 40th ARRS to provide base rescue during Operation Linebacker II.
Following the Paris Peace Accords all remaining US Forces were withdrawn from South Vietnam by 27 March 1973. Detachment 7 at Danang Air Base and Detachment 14 at Tan Son Nhut Air Base were inactivated during this period. Following the withdrawal from South Vietnam the 40th’s force level was 11 HH-53s and 14 HH-43s.
The USAF continued combat operations over Cambodia until 15 August 1973 and the 40th provided CSAR support during this period. Following the end of combat operations the 40th kept 2 HH-53s at Nakhon Phanom on 15 minute alert during daylight and 45 minute alert at night.
In July 1974, Detachment 10 at Takhli was disbanded, followed in August by Detachment 3 at Ubon. On 20 February 1975, Detachment 1 at Nakhon Phanom was disbanded. At this time the 40th’s force level had dropped to 8 HH-53Cs and 4 HH-43Fs.
The 40th moved to Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base on 1 October 1975. On 15 October 1975 with the deactivation of the 56th ARRS its 4 HC-130Ps joined the 40th.
On 31 January 1976 the 40th ARRS was deactivated at Korat RTAFB.
Following the Vietnam War, the 40th ARRS moved to Hill Air Force Base, Utah, where their primary mission for the next 10 years was to provide transportation and support for Hill’s bombing ranges. The unit was inactivated in 1987. It was later re-designated the 40th Rescue Flight and re-activated May 1, 1993, equipped with the UH-1N, at Malmstrom AFB, Montana.
Operations and losses – Vietnam.
30 May 1968, Jolly Green , an HH-3E was attempting to rescue COL Norman Phillips the pilot of a downed F-105, near Savannakhet, Laos. Pararescueman SGT Thomas A. Newman descended into a hostile jungle environment to rescue the pilot. Hampered by darkness and concentrated automatic weapons fire, Newman requested the rescue helicopter to enter a nearby orbit, both for the safety of the crewmembers, and to prevent the hovering aircraft from establishing their location for the unfriendly ground forces. When the HH-3 returned, he secured the injured COL Philips to the forest penetrator and protected him with his own body as they ascended to the helicopter. SGT Newman was awarded the Air Force Cross.
25 December 1968, Jolly Green 17, an HH-3E was attempting to rescue MAJ Charles R Brownlee, the pilot of Panda 01 an F-105 shot down near Ban Lathama, Mahaxia District, Khammouan Province, Laos. Pararescueman Airman First Class Charles Douglas King descended by rescue hoist to rescue the injured pilot. With the pilot attached to the hoist, the HH-3E and Airman King were hit by enemy fire, seriously injured, King instructed the helicopter to depart. King was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross,. The bodies of King and Brownlee were not recovered and both were listed as KIA-BNR.
18 January 1969, Jolly Green 67, HH-53B BuNo 66-14430 was hit by ground fire while on a CSAR mission for Sandy 02, an A-1H lost the previous day. Helicopter made an emergency landing 15 km southeast of Tchephone, Laos. The crew and the A-1 pilot were rescued by Jolly Green 70. An airstrike was ordered to destroy JG-67.
28 January 1970, Jolly Green 71, HH-53B BuNo 66-14434 on a CSAR mission for the pilot of Seabird 02, an F-105G, was shot down by a missile fired from a Mig-21 piloted by Vu Ngoc Dinh of the 921st Fighter Regiment. The 6 man crew were all KIA.
30 June 1970, Jolly Green 54, HH-53C BuNo 66-8283 was on a CSAR mission for the crew of Nail 44 an OV-10A, over Savannakhet, Laos. Abandoning the first rescue attempt due to heavy fire, the pilot Capt Leroy C Schaneberg decided to make a second rescue attempt. JG54 was hit by ground fire and crashed. The 5 man crew were all KIA. The crash site was excavated in December 1993 and remains were identified as a group on 7 March 1995. Capt Schaneberg was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross.
21 November 1970, 5 of the squadron’s HH-53s took part in Operation Ivory Coast, the raid on the Son Tay POW camp.
21 June 1971, Jolly Green 54, HH-53 BuNo 66-8285 was shot down over Laos while attempting to recover an AQM-34 Buffalo Hunter drone. Crew were all rescued.
27 March 1972, Jolly Green 61, HH-53C BuNo 66-10359 crashed over Stoeng Treng Province, Cambodia, about 10 miles southeast of the city of Siempang due to unknown causes. A pararescue specialist was lowered to the ground at the site of the crash to check for survivors, but due to the intense heat from the burning helicopter, he could not approach near enough to determine if there were crew members inside the aircraft. Some three hours later a second rescue specialist was deployed in the immediate area, who reported the wreckage was still burning, precluding close inspection.The 5 man crew were all KIA-BNR.
13 April 1972, Capt. Bennie D Orrell pilot of a Jolly Green, rescued a downed pilot near Tchepone, Laos. Capt. Orrell was awarded the Air Force Cross.
2 June 1972, Capt. Dale E Stovall, pilot of a Jolly Green, flew through intense hostile ground fire to complete the rescue of Captain Roger Locher, an F-4 copilot who had evaded capture for 23 days after being shot down in North Vietnam. This rescue was the deepest CSAR mission into North Vietnam and took place 8 km northeast of Yen Bai airfield, one of the most active Vietnamese People’s Air Force MiG airfields. Stovall was awarded a Bronze Oak leaf cluster in lieu of a second award of Silver Star. Stovall was also awarded the the 1973 Jabara Award for Airmanship.
27 June 1972, Pararescueman SGT Charles D. McGrath was on a CSAR mission on Jolly Green 77 over North Vietnam. While penetrating dense jungle to rescue F-4 crewman, Captain Lynn A. Aikman, who had a broken leg, knee, elbow and jaw, SGT McGrath exposed himself to intense ground fire in order to drag the incapacitated Aikman to a suitable recovery area. Seeing JG73 crippled by the hostile fire, he directed air strikes against surrounding hostile ground forces until he was able to secure CAPT Aikman and himself to the penetrator of Jolly Green 57, the backup helicopter. Rising through constant accurate ground fire, he shielded CAPT Aikman with his own body until they were successfully recovered. McGrath and the pilot Capt Dale Stovall were both awarded the Air Force Cross.
27 December 1972, Jolly Green 73, HH-53C BuNo 66-10788 on a CSAR mission for crew of Jackel 22, an F-111A downed on 22 December 1972 over North Vietnam, lost its fuel probe due to enemy ground fire and crash-landed due to fuel starvation. JG-73 was then destroyed by an A-7 Sandy.
14 June 1973, Jolly Green 64, HH-53C BuNo 66-10362 lost its tail rotor and crashed into the Tonle Sap, Cambodia. 3 of the crew were KIA and 2 were rescued.
12 April 1975 the squadron supported Operation Eagle Pull, the evacuation of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
29–30 April 1975, 2 of the squadron’s HH-53s operating from USS Midway (CV-41) took part in Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of Saigon.
15 May 1975, 7 of the squadron’s HH-53s participated in the recapture of the SS Mayaguez.
3d Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group
Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand (1967–1971)
Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand (1971–1975)
Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand (1975–1976)
HH-53B & C (1968–1976)
An HH-53B of the 40th ARRS refueling from an HC-130P over North Vietnam, 1969-70.
MH-53M Pave Low IV BuNo 68-10357, converted from HH-53B of the 40th ARRS which, with call sign Apple 1, participated in the Son Tay Raid on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force
40th ARRS HH-53 as seen from a 21st SOS CH-53 in 1972
13 May 1975
The SS Mayaguez, a US merchant vessel, was fired on by Cambodian gunboats of the Khymer Rouge government of Pol Pot. The Mayaguez, a containerized cargo vessel, was seized and its crew of forty taken into custody and kept on Koh Tang Island in the Gulf of Thailand.
14 May 1975
US military aircraft were in continued orbit over and around Koh Tang. Cambodian forces fired on these aircraft ineffectively but hindered reconnaissance efforts. Three gunboats were sunk by American fighter aircraft to facilitate efforts to locate the Mayaguez crew.
The 40th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron and the 21st Special Operations Squadron deployed to Utapao, Thailand with 16 H-53 (Super Jolly Green Giant) helicopters to prepare for possible rescue attempts. The deployment was marred by the crash of one of the 21st SOS with 23 persons on board. No survivors. Two 40th ARRS aircraft were launched to rescue the crews of the Cambodian gunboats. The search for enemy survivors in the water was unsuccessful and hindered by ground fire from Koh Tang Island.
15 May 1975
Helicopter crews were briefed at 2:30AM for take offs at 4:00 AM. The 21st SOS contingent with four 40th ARRS were to land on Koh Tang and drop off Marines to secure the island and rescue any Mayaguez crewmen on shore. The 40th sent four aircraft to the USS Holt with Marines to offload onto the destroyer for boarding onto the Mayaguez – pirate style.
The first two aircraft from the 21st SOS arrived at Koh Tang and land at 0600. After landing they were immediately subjected to a tremendous amount of fire from the surrounding jungle. Both aircraft were destroyed. The second contingent of helicopters came in and were also heavily damaged. One, Knife 22 was totally destroyed when it exploded 40 feet above the beach while attempting landing. During these first few minutes of the mission, four aircraft were lost and eighteen men killed. Throughout the day not another aircraft or life would be lost.
All but one of the 21st SOS aircraft were out of action. The rest of the mission belonged almost entirely to the 40th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron. Approximately 200 men were in danger on the island. More troops were necessary to secure it and wounded on the island had to be evacuated. Six Jolly Green’s of the 40th made a total of eight landings on the island inserting more troops and carrying wounded away. Four of these six aircraft were badly damaged while shooting their way in and out of extremely dangerous landing zones. Three of these aircraft limped back to Thailand – out of action. One other, Jolly Green 43, had fuel lines shot out and lost an engine. It had landed on the USS Coral Sea under emergency conditions. The fuel line was repaired using a rubber hose and tape to return the aircraft to action.
Meanwhile, crew of the Mayaguez and the ship were returned to United States hands. The Marines on Koh Tang were still under fire and the order was given to withdraw. Four Jolly Greens from the 40th and one from the 21st SOS were all that remained to accomplish the task. Led by Jolly Green 11 the aircraft made several landings and egresses from two beaches on Koh Tang. Jolly 43 picked up 54 men on one trip, still with rubber hose and tape to keep one engine turning. These landings were made in the dark under increasingly confidant hostile fire. Help for the helicopters came from AC-130 (Spectre) gunships and a 15,000 pound bomb dropped on the center of the island by a C-130 transport. The withdrawal was accomplished without further loss of American life. Jolly Green 11 made the last pick-up from the east beach and later Jolly 44 and Knife 51 finished the job by recovering the last Americans from the island.
The SS. Mayaguez recovery remains one of the most heralded operations in Air Rescue and Recovery Service History. The men of the 40th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron received numerous decorations for bravery and mission accomplishment in combat conditions. Awarded were 2 Air Force Crosses, 12 Silver Stars, 28 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 9 Air Medals. The resolve exhibited by these men had direct effect on the speedy release of the SS Mayaguez and crew.