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Crash of Jolly Green 23
June 9, 1968
By Ken Freeze
Page 3

The Last Mission of Hellborne 215

On 9 June 1968, Marine Corps 1st Lt. Walter R. Schmidt, Jr. (call sign Hellborne 215) climbed aboard his A-4E Skyhawk and took off from Chu-Lai Air Base, Republic of Vietnam on a mid-morning mission. He was part of a multiple aircraft direct combat support mission for U.S. troops fighting in the notorious A Shau Valley, Thua Thien Province, South Vietnam. 

Marine Corps 1st Lt. Walter R. Schmidt, Jr. was assigned to VMA-121 Marine Air Group 12, 1st Marine Air Wing.

This area was the primary gateway from the Ho Chi Minh Trail into strategic sections of northern South Vietnam. A border road that cut through the valley was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, and was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle covered mountains. U.S. forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.

At 10:20 in the morning, after making a bombing run on an enemy position, Schmidt's aircraft was struck by ground fire. His aircraft continued to the northwest and crashed in the densely forested mountains approximately 5 miles northwest of the northern edge of the A Shau Valley, 2 miles northeast of the South Vietnamese/Lao border and the same distance southwest of a primary road leading from the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This road ran east/west from the border eastward to a point near the northern tip of the A Shau Valley. It then turned south-southeast running along the full length of the east side of the dense jungle covered valley.

Schmidt was seen to eject from his crippled Skyhawk and descend safely to the ground. Other pilots saw his parachute caught in trees and were able to immediately establish voice contact with him. He reported to the other pilots that he sustained a broken leg while ejecting and was unable to move.

Unfortunately for Schmidt, he had not only landed near a major North Vietnamese Army infiltration route but also on the edge of the North Vietnamese Army Base referred to as Area 611.

"X" marks the approximate crash record loss location. However, eyewitness accounts place the crash on the south edge of the circle.  Click to See Enlarged Map. Map from Tom Pilsch
Click here for more info on the A Shau Valley

Jolly Greens Take Flight

At 10:26, Crown 01, which was on orbit for air refueling of a Jolly Green at position Tango (flying over the Gulf of Tonkin) received a call reporting Hellborne 215 down.

When word was received of the downed pilot at the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron in Da Nang, two HH-3Es were scrambled. Jolly Green 22 piloted by Major Arthur J. Anderson took off five minutes later. Jolly Green 23, was delayed and took off 15 minutes later. At the controls of Jolly Green 23 was Coast Guard LT Jack C. Rittichier along with a USAF crew consisting of Captain Richard C. Yeend, Jr, co-pilot; SSGT Elmer L. Holden, flight engineer; and SGT James D. Locker, pararescueman.

Soon the Jolly Greens met up with their escorts, Spad 01 and Spad 02. Also enroute were Scarface 6-1 and Sacrface 6-2, FACs Trail 35, Trail 33 and Trail 36. They were all headed for the A Shau Valley. The first FAC to arrive in the area spotted Schmidt under his parachute. Through voice contact, Schmidt reported that he had a broken right leg and a left arm and that he would need help.

Trail 35 reported that there was ground fire in the area as well as bunkers and trucks.

It was determined that it was too dangerous for the Jollies and Spads to enter the area unit it was made safe. In the meantime, they would hold their positions to the northwest.

Hellborne 522, Ringneck 528, Gunfighter 7 and Gunfighter 8 hit the area several times under the direction of the FAC. By 11:40 the Jollies and Spads were brought into the area for the first pick-up attempt. Around noon, Jolly Green 22 located Schmidt a few yards from a road. With Jolly Green 23 flying high, Jolly Green 22 descended in to the area in a spiraling right turn, jettisoning its tip tanks and dumping fuel in preparation for a high altitude rescue. The two Scarface gunships covered the Jolly as is descended. Soon, Jolly Green 22 received heavy enemy ground fire from the valley floor and surrounding ridges. The pilot felt his Jolly Green had been hit and pulled up in a steep left turn.

After determining that his aircraft was OK, the pilot again attempted the rescue, this time with a straight in approach from the northwest, trying to avoid the enemy ground fire area.

As the pilot pulled Jolly Green 22 into a hover, extremely heavy ground fire erupted, most of it coming from the ridge to the left of the helicopter. The door gunners from the Jolly Green returned the fire as the pilot pulled out of the area.

Jolly Green 22 returned to an orbit position as the FAC called in additional ground strikes.

After about 20 minutes of intense fire suppression activity, Jolly Green 22 once again joined the two Scarface gunships and Spads, 01 and 02 for another rescue attempt.

Once again as Jolly Green 22 slowed to a hover, ground fire erupted, but this time it was coming from literally every direction, from the hillside above to the ravine below and from the front and back of Jolly Green 22. Once again the pilot pulled the craft up and out of harms way, returning to obit a safe distance away.

Continued on Page 4
Jolly Green Hit

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