A Fallen Hero Recovered
The remains of the USCG's only Vietnam MIA, LT Jack Rittichier, USCG, have been recovered and returned to the US. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetary at 1300 on 6 Oct 2003.
The following is a reflection of a true Coast Guard Hero:
Jack Columbus Rittichier was born on 17 August 1933 in Akron, Ohio. He graduated from Coventry High School in 1951. He attended Kent State University, where he played college football and was the team's captain. He graduated with a BFA degree in March of 1957.
After graduating, he joined the Air Force in August of 1957 and went through flight training at Bainbridge Air Force Base [AFB], Georgia and Loredo AFB, Texas, earning his wings in December of 1958.
Trained to fly the Boeing B-47 Second Lieutenant Rittichier was assigned to the Strategic Air Command's 340th Bomb Wing based at Whiteman AFB, Missouri. During his Air Force career he was promoted to the rank of Captain.
After being discharged from the Air Force in November of 1962, he accepted a commission in the Coast Guard Reserve as a Lieutenant, Junior Grade, his commission dating from 26 September 1963. While assigned to his first tour of duty at Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, he served as a search and rescue pilot and had collateral duties as the unit's legal affairs officer and Public information officer. He was promoted to Lieutenant in the regular Coast Guard on 28 March 1966. The Coast Guard awarded Rittichier and his unit the Coast Guard Unit Commendation for their rescue work during Hurricane Betsy.
In May of 1966 he was assigned to Air Station Detroit, based out of Selfridge AFB, where he again flew search and rescue missions and also served as the assistant head operations officer and as the unit's public information officer.
While there, he laid the ground work for a public information campaign on the activities of Coast Guard aviators flying as exchange officers with the U.S. Air Force Rescue Service in Vietnam. This exchange program allowed Coast Guard officers the opportunity to serve a tour of duty with an Air Force unit and vice versa, and was designed to give these officers experience in the rescue operations and procedures used by the other service.
The Coast Guard awarded Lieutenant Rittichier the Air Medal in June 1967 for his role as the copilot of a helicopter that completed a dangerous rescue during the winter of 1966. On 29 November 1966 Rittichier and his crew responded to a distress call from the West German motor vessel Nordmeer that had grounded on Thunder Bay Island Shoal in Lake Huron. The cutter Mackinaw also responded to the distress call but prevailing weather conditions and the location of the stranded vessel prohibited her crew from effecting a rescue and they awaited the assistance of a Coast Guard helicopter. Rittichier navigated the helicopter for 150 miles from Detroit with the "final 80 miles flown through snow showers at 200 feet over the lake utilizing the shoreline for navigation." After locating the vessel, Rittichier established contact with her crew by radio. They indicated that they were stranded on the forward deck, exposed to the elements, had no power, and were in imminent danger. Rittichier then assisted the pilot in "maneuvering the helicopter and accomplishing the hoist of the eight crewmen from the NORDMEER to the decks of the Mackinaw" safely. The rescue was completed in a mere 22 minutes. Soon after the crew had been rescued, the Nordmeer broke apart and sank.
Soon thereafter Rittichier volunteered for the exchange program with the Air Force. The Air Force assigned him to the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron [ARRS], based at Da Nang, in the Republic of Vietnam. Once with the 37th ARRS, Rittichier began flying the large Sikorsky HH-3E "Jolly Green Giant" combat rescue helicopters.
Within three weeks of his arrival in Vietnam he demonstrated his courage above and beyond the call of duty. The Air Force awarded Rittichier a Distinguished Flying Cross for a mission where, flying as copilot through heavy enemy fire, he and his crew saved four Army fliers. Two weeks later, under the light of illumination flares, he rescued nine men from the side of a mountain, five of whom were badly wounded.
On 9 June 1968, a Marine Corps A-4 Skyhawk went down 37 miles west of Hue in the A Shau Valley near a North Vietnamese Army staging area. The pilot, First Lieutenant Walter R. Schmidt, Jr., USMC, ejected safely but injured his leg and consequently, once on the ground, was unable to move. He established radio contact with control aircraft in the area and a rescue attempt was quickly coordinated. Rittichier, flying as the aircraft commander of an HH-3E (Serial Number 67-14710), code-named Jolly Green 23, and another HH-3E, code-named Jolly Green 22, were scrambled from Da Nang.
Since Schmidt was injured the helicopter crews would need to deploy their pararescue jumper [known as a "PJ"] to rescue him -- a dangerous procedure under any conditions as the helicopter would need to remain in a hover while the PJ deployed -- making a large, stationary target for enemy fire. Adding to the danger was the possibility that enemy forces had captured Schmidt and were using him as bait to bring in the Jolly Green Giants as close to their guns as possible. These rescue missions into hostile territory were some of the most dangerous flights undertaken during the war and it took a special breed of serviceman to volunteer for this type of duty.
Helicopter gunships first fired their ordnance around the area where Schmidt lay to suppress enemy fire. Then Jolly Green 22 made the first attempts to rescue the injured pilot but heavy enemy fire repeatedly drove them off. After
trying three times and running low on fuel, Jolly Green 22 flew off to refuel. The gunships and fighter-bombers then once again pummeled the surrounding area with ordnance but the enemy appeared to be well dug in and therefore
resistant to suppression. The control officer, orbiting the area while he orchestrated the rescue and ground suppression missions, asked if Jolly Green 23 would make a rescue attempt. Rittichier, as the command pilot in Jolly Green 23, answered in the affirmative.
After heavy enemy fire forced him to pull away during his first attempt to hover over the injured Marine pilot, he came around after the area had been swept by attack aircraft yet again. As he hovered over Schmidt and his PJ began to deploy, enemy bullets riddled the HH-3E Jolly Green Giant just above and aft of the cockpit, causing a fire. Rittichier pulled up and attempted to fly to a nearby clearing to put his helicopter down. As he cleared a line of trees, witnesses saw his rotor slow and the Jolly Green Giant lost altitude. It exploded as it impacted the ground. An official report of the crash noted: "that at an altitude of approximately 50', JG 23's rotor very noticeably slowed down and it looked like he was attempting to set the helicopter down on a small knoll. Upon crashing the entire aircraft burst into a fire ball and within 30 seconds the entire structure was nothing but smoking ashes. The aircraft had melted out of sight."
There had been no chance to escape the inferno--all four men on board perished almost instantly. Lieutenant Rittichier and his Air Force crew had given their lives attempting to save the life of a fellow serviceman. The other men on board Jolly Green 23 with Rittichier were the copilot, Captain Richard C. Yeend, Jr., USAF, the flight engineer, Staff Sergeant Elmer L. Holden, USAF, and the pararescue jumper Sergeant James D. Locker, USAF. Subsequent attempts to rescue the Marine pilot proved unsuccessful and he had remained missing in action [MIA] until recovery this year.
During his distinguished career, Lieutenant Rittichier demonstrated a fearless determination to save lives at the risk of his own. He was awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, the Purple Heart, the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters, a Coast Guard Unit Commendation, the Vietnam Service Medal and the Vietnam Campaign Medal.
On 16 June 1969 the hangar at Coast Guard Air Station Detroit, based at Selfridge AFB--Lieutenant Rittichier's last Coast Guard duty station, was dedicated in his honor. On 10 November 1998 the Coast Guard Integrated Support Command at Portsmouth, Virginia, dedicated one of their buildings in his honor as well.
Rittichier and his crew on board Jolly Green 23 were listed as "Killed in Action / Bodies Not Recovered." Their names appear on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. In 2002 a Joint Task Force-Full Accounting investigation team located the crash site inside Laos and recovered the
remains of the crew.
G.M. Hattrup 27-Sep-2005 02:59
Thank you Lieutenant Jack Rittichier.
It never ceases to amaze me the guts and bravery our young men exhibit under fire. Lt. Rittichier's only focus was rescuing someone he didn't know. God Speed to a true American Hero.
Mario Marini, AST1, ret. firstname.lastname@example.org 10-Sep-2005 00:50
I had the privelege and honor to serve and retire at Air Station Detroit, Michigan, where the hangar there is named in honor of LT Rittichier. Thank you for the informative article and picture of a true Coast Guard hero.
Jill Lawson email@example.com 5-Mar-2005 16:28
I was given the name Jack Rittichier by a USCG CDR as a challenge to find links between the USMC and USCG. I am humbled and moved at Jack Rittichier's bravery and self sacrifice.
Dave Roberts firstname.lastname@example.org 16-Feb-2005 21:23
When I typed into the search "Missouri Valley College," the photo and story of Mr. Rittichier came up. I read that he had been assigned to Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. I was wondering if he also had been at Missouri Valley College for his training, or some other connection to the college, since I work at the college currently. Thanks.
BILL BUILKDER305D1 17-Nov-2004 15:05
NICE TO READ STORIES OF OUR AMERICAN HEROES
Josef A Jurkiewicz email@example.com 13-Jan-2004 01:42
To give ones life for your country is truely the ultimate sacrifice as Lt Rittchier had done.
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