Dear Windell, 15 February 2003
Just got your letter and I must say you have made my day! Anytime I can lay praise on the Jolly Green Giants, I’m ready! A terrific bunch of guys one and all! I wish someone would write a book about these guys. It would sell better than “A band of Brothers”. They saved so many of us and never got a lot of credit for it-ALA, typical Vietnam syndrome. In my book every darn one of them was a hero! I still don’t know how many of them lived through their rescues in that big old chopper! They all had brass balls and were fearless! God bless them one and all!
Before I take off on my “Shoot Down”, I have a request. I’m looking for someone. “Butterfly 44”. He was our FAC over Laos and we worked with him a lot. After my tour I met him in Hawaii-quite by accident in a bar! I neglected to get his name and address, I was smashed! I believe he worked with Air America Special Ops. Maybe a hit on the web site will ferret him out. He’ll remember “ The Runt F-104 Pilot from Udorn!” I really would like to communicate with him. No question, he was the best damn FAC in Nam! Really a sharp guy!
Please give my regards to Charles Rouhier and all the “Jollies”. It is indeed my privilege to pass on the story of that day in October when I was in a world of hurt and those guys pulled my walnuts out of the fire-fighter pilot talk! I hope your wife understands Wendell! As you read the tale you’ll discover that one fact stands out. I was one lucky guy that day! The fact that I can write you attest to the truth-without the Jollies I wouldn’t be here to talk about it! Now that I’m safe in Arizona, gray haired and alive-I can even throw in a few laughs for you all! It wasn’t funny at the time but it sure is now.
First off I’m PO’d; I can’t find the box! The box with all the “Nam” stuff! They usually get put away in an attic but-we don’t have an attic so its buried here in this house somewhere. Hope I find it before this letter is finished!-Hey! There it is 12 o’clock high in my garage office-on with the story! Please keep in mind that fighter jocks don’t go out of their way to become paratroopers! I really hold the 101st Airborne in high regard but anyone who jumps out of perfectly good airplanes must be nuts! Being a life support expert and survival training guy I had a bunch of training before that day- my first bailout! Leaving my beloved F-104 was not to my liking! Coming down under a chute you feel just a little bit naked! P.S. wrong box-I’m still looking.
The Mission: 2 F-104C’s to hit suspected truck park near “ Sam Nooie”. Briefed no flack-right? We rolled in high, dumped our nape. During the pull off we took 37 & 57mm fire. *Chuck broke left, I broke right. The flack was right on us during the dive and “ The golden BB got me”. As I pushed up the throttle-nothing happened. At 80% power the F-104 flies like a brick! I went through a quick stall clearing procedure-no luck. I called Chuck telling him, “I’m hit, ejecting, check East of the target”. I got out just above the stall at about 4,500ft. The chute opened fast and about pulled off my right leg. I had hung on to the ejection ring too long. I also noted my helmet was gone or at least not on my head. I looked up-good chute-I looked down-lot of green! Best of all, no people, not even a road. I then deployed my survival kit which dropped 20’ down-all’s well so far. I tried to put my helmet back on-it had slipped off my head, rotating from back to front. I must have tumbled when I separated from the ejection seat. The trees were coming up fast so I dumped the helmet. I was drifting West into a bowl shaped area-solid jungle. I hit on the up-slope about 200 yards from the lip. I was in tall bamboo. My survival kit & life raft hit first, and then me, then my chute which stopped my downward drop. I found myself 50 feet up, hanging parallel to the ground between the life raft and my chute. I tried to pull the life raft loose, no go, it was impaled or tangled up in the bamboo. I cut it loose and swung vertically down under my chute. I stopped two feet from the ground! Talk about being lucky! I popped the quick release and dropped into Laos. I could hear Chuck overhead, but couldn’t see him due to the heavy canopy of trees. I turned off the chute pack beeper and came up on our two-way radio. I still have both of those units. I called “In the blind” “ Chuck, I’m down O.K., any bad guys in the area? “ He came up right, “ No one but you. The choppers on the way, hang in there!” Good old Chuck! He held up high while I checked out the area and got ready for “ Jolly”. Never did recover either my survival kit nor chute. I could hardly see the chute! Humus on the jungle floor was knee deep. I noticed high ground to the West covered with Elephant grass. I called Chuck telling him I was heading for high ground, grass to the West to set up a better pick up site. Sure! Talk about thick, I hacked and bullied my way for 30 yards and gave up. Even the grass was 5’ high! About this time Chuck called to say he had to leave-choppers are ten minutes out! That was a long ten minutes.
The Green Saviors; Want to know the sweetest sound in the world-to a downed pilot? It’s WAP-WAP-WAP! That means the chopper is coming in and did he come fast! As I later found out; they make a fast pass to see if any bad guys shoot at them. Good thinking by golly for a chopper in a hover is really a great target! He passed right over me and I called up “ You missed me!” Dumb! I should have said, “ Come back Shane”. He then banked right and pulled the nose up to slow down. I popped a can of red smoke and he rolled out right over my head. This guy was sharp! I looked up to see the biggest, baldest Sgt. in the Air Force lowering the penetrator. Little did I know, but he couldn’t see me! I pulled out my trump card, a 3 feet square piece of red parachute silk and draped it over a bush. He dropped the line two feet from the target and I dove for the cable because the penetrator was lost in the under growth. I pulled it back to me, strapped in and gave two pulls. The slack went out and I knew another sharp guy was on the ball- what a team, they made it easy! At this point I felt that winch couldn’t move fast enough. I took my last look at that jungle and wondered how they ever got me out. When that big, bald sergeant put the bear hug on me I knew things were in good hands. I don’t know which of us was grinning the most. He got me off the penetrator, laid me on a bunk and the youngest airman I ever saw gave me a quick physical- little did I know I was in the presence of a hero! He gave me a shot of water and handed me a chute! #1, that canteen didn’t have bourbon in it-damn! #2, put a chute on? Any self respecting fighter jock who has just been shot down doesn’t want to go for two jumps in the same day! “The Kid“ says, “Regulations Sir.” The pilot laughed and called me up to “The Office”. He pointed left and down- flak so thick the sky was a black & gray blanket. He grinned and says, “ I think we pissed them off!” What a guy- yes I kept the chute on! After clearing the local firing range, we headed for what was called a “Lima” site. Our chopper sat alert at these forward positions and what a place they must have been, for they changed hands often. One day we had it, then the bad guys took it and we took it back again. Those defenders must have had their hands full! The trip to Lima was great! We enjoyed a birthday cake one of the crew had received. What a day!
The same crew that picked me up went right back on alert when we sat down. That evening they returned to Udorn. I was transferred to another chopper and flown to Udorn. The “Doc” grounded me for two days to check my leg (A-OK). He said, “Get drunk”, and I did that night along with the chopper guys. What a party!
On the crew: four in all and they were a real bunch of pros! I must explain about the “Box”. It contains the names and last known address of all of them. I haven’t found it yet. I’ll give you a brief rundown off the top of my head. By the way, I have a color photo taken at the Lima site. I can forward it to you if needed. “ Guard it with your life!” I corresponded with all of them for a while but lost track of them. The “ Chopper Boss” was a young Captain. He later left the Air Force and opened up a restaurant in California. The co-pilot was a young 1Lt. I heard he stayed in the Air Force. My big, bald Sergeant retired after “Nam” and joined his father in a fish camp business down on the gulf. Last but not least-my P.J., one or two stripes then-if I recall. My hero-and our hero! None other than Duane Hackney! Does that name ring a bell? He left Nam as the most decorated airman of the war. He stayed in the Air Force and passed away a few years ago.
I was his 1st or 2nd pickup. Quite a crew, one great bunch of guys.
By now you must be thoroughly bored by the ramblings of this old guy. I hope you have enjoyed the tale and I hope it is of some value to you and your friends in the TLC Brotherhood. I can’t say enough good words about our rescue guys; they did a terrific job. On a day to day basis, their job was far more hazardous than ours. I hope one of these days to read about their exploits- is anyone working on a book? Sure would be great to see a special on the Wings channel- They truly deserve the recognition.
An interesting side bar involves the term “Green Giant”. The company that produced and distributed canned vegetables with a Green Giant on it’s label. I’m told that the label was modified to show the Giant with a red scarf on it, in honor of the Jolly Green Giants. Is this true? Maybe Charles would know.
After reviewing this letter, I’ve discovered some terms or actions that need clarification. It’s easy for “pilot talk” to muddy the water.
This was my 83rd combat sortie. We rotated after 100. I came home with 106. I stayed in the F-104 until 1973 and never had to jump again.
After my shoot down an Air Force type asked me, “What were you guys doing in that area, it’s so bad!” So much for AF intelligence! “No Flak” my foot!
Nape is Napalm, we dropped two tanks and no, I don’t know if we hit anything. Those gunners were “Nummer Hanna” (Number One).
Chuck Tofferi was lead that day, we flew many missions together. We lost him 3 weeks later about 40 miles from the area in which I was shot down.
It’s normal procedure to never play “ follow the leader” when attacking and pulling off a target. We did everything to foul up the gunners when we could.
I stayed with the bird trying to get that engine to full power; maybe I stayed too long! I had about four or five swings before I hit the trees. My helmet flew off, but was retained by the parachute quick disconnect fitting. It hung between my legs until I dumped it. Luckily I didn’t hit my head on any tree limbs when I fell into them.
It’s normal to deploy the survival kit prior to any parachute landing. Forty pounds under your butt will guarantee a broken leg. Pulling the yellow handle on the kit deploys the kit. It drops away but is retained by a 20’ nylon line hooked to your lower right side parachute straps. The kit falls away, pops open and out comes the life raft and survival kit. The raft inflates automatically. When coming down you have a bunch of stuff hanging below you. Twenty feet down is the survival kit and twenty feet below it is the life raft fully inflated. The raft hit first and sure made for a soft landing. One big problem in “The Nam” was the high jungle canopy; layered up to as high as 150’. We lost many pilots trying to get down after landing. I was lucky on that landing Windell.. I’ll tell you how thick it was; while trying to pull the survival kit and raft loose- I couldn’t see either one of them! Me being a hunter, I’ve trekked lots of thickets but that stuff blew my mind! Thank God for survival vests, for they carried everything we needed to get picked up- like smoke flares and a two-way radio. Chuck knew when I ejected thanks to a little box called “The Beeper”. When the chute opens it pulls a lanyard that turns on a short range transmitter that operates on guard (Our emergency frequency). The chopper can home in on this signal, but you can’t talk to him. After getting on the ground, I turned it off and used the 2 way emergency radio. It’s imperative that 2 way communications be made before that chopper comes in. Earlier the bad guys scooped up some beepers from other downed pilots. They set up a flak trap and turn on the beepers. Here comes “Jolly” and they have a field day shooting at him. Hence the two way radio link. That gives the chopper pilot a way of identifying the downed pilot and keeps him out of a flak trap. The penetrator is a heavy weighted fold up chair lift dropped down via cable to pull you out. It has four spring loaded legs and an underarm safety strap. Sit on one of the legs, hook up the straps, and pull on the cable and up you go. I don’t know what system they use now, but it sure worked for us.
One group I haven’t mentioned we call, “Sandys”. They flew A1 Skyraiders and provided fire support for the Jollies when needed. These guys carried more ordinances on one bird than five F-104’s. This team, “Sandys & Jollies” have saved many a downed pilot. They all did one heck of a professional job that day and I couldn’t even repay what they did for me. I’m proud to say that I was fortunate enough to meet some of them and wish I could have thanked all of them for saving me that day. This guy will never forget what they did that day.
*Charles “Chuck“ Tofferi was shot down and killed on Thursday, October 20, 1966. Chuck Tofferi had won the 1962 William Tell fighter weapons meet at Nellis AFB, NV, flying an F-104 in September of 1962.
My thanks to Norm Lockard for allowing its use on this webpage
compiled by: Hubert Peitzmeier
update: March 27, 2011