L-19 Bird Dog Crew is Rescued

Its the morning of February 26, 2008 and Darcy Howard, wife of LtCol. Matthew Howard, USMC (Ret), is in the aquatic therapy pool of Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  Darcy is there to resolve a back problem and finds herself among seven other individuals of varying ages and back grounds.  The only thing they have in common is service in the military forces of the United States. 

Darcy strikes up a conversation with a gentleman and during that conversation he mentions that he spent some time in the Philippines.  His dates corresponded with the time frame her husband had been in the Philippines which led to a more in-depth discussion of each man's military history.

Darcy was asked what service here husband was retired form.  She related the Marine Corps and that he was a CH-46 pilot prior to retiring and had flown as an augmentation pilot for about a month on CASEVAC missions in Iraq in 2005.  Upon hearing the words Marine Corps, helicopter pilot and CASEVAC missions, her new found friend's eyes began to twinkle and a broad smile spread across his face.  Darcy was speaking to Colonel Stephen Perry, USA (Ret).

Col. Perry told of his experience with some brave Marines coming to his and Lt. Cardillo's rescue.  His story of being rescued was amazing in itself.  He told of the pilots delivering a case of beer to him while he was recuperating in the hospital at Chu Lai.  Then, with a grin and special fondness in his voice he recalled those pilots sauntering through the hospital and referring to themselves as Purple Foxes.

Darcy related that she and her husband knew two of the Purple Foxes most recent former COs and that she would tell each of them about meeting Col. Perry in the aqua therapy pool. 

Col. Perry reflected for a moment and said, "You've got me started in a long over due project.  I've really let my Vietnam things get away from me.  I firmly believe they saved my life and you never forget that sort of thing. I believe I have two news articles at home about this incident that might be of interest to your Marine friends.  I've waited for too many years to say thanks and passing the articles is one way of recognizing the heroism of their 1966 crews.

Statesman, Salem, Ore.
July 27, '66 (Sec.1)-5

Wounded Salem Soldier Rescued From Viet Cong

Army  Captain Stephen Perry of  Salem  has been  awarded  the Purple Heart medal  for wounds  received  in an air action in which he was rescued  from a nest of Viet Cong in South Vietnam. 

Perry, 27, is commander of a Special Forces detachment stationed at Gia Vue.

First news of  the Green Beret's  ordeal reached  his parents,
Mr. and  Mrs. Leon Perry, 345 Washington St. S, last  week 
when they received a  letter from him while  he was recover- 
ing  in a Vietnamese hospital.  "He wanted to tell us he was 
all  right  before  we  received  the  news  from  some  other 
source,"  his   mother  reported, "  and  he  did.  We  never
received any notification from the Army or Red Cross."


In  fact, his  letter reached them before a  friend  in Pennsylvania sent a  page one  story about  Perry and  his comrades  which had  appeared in  the  Pitts- burgh  Press  July 15, written by  Scripps Howard  writer Jim Lucas  who had accompanied  the  men  in a  second  plane on  the  mission,  it  gave  a  vivid account.

Perry  was an  observer aboard an  L-19 spotter plane looking  for Viet Cong and flying low to mark the target for jets when a down draft  sucked them in. The plane  disappeared  beneath  the jungle canopy and Perry and  the  pilot, Lt. Tony Cardillo, landed in a nest of Viet Cong.

A  Marine  Phantom  pilot saw  them  go down  and  radioed  for  help.  Four Marine helicopters, all  running low on fuel, spotted  the men's  smoke signal and began the rescue.


Amidst  a  heavy Viet Cong barrage, including  mortars, hand  grenades  and sniper  fire, the  rescuers just managed to pull  Lt. Cardillo half into the  heli- copter  before being  forced to take off.  A second  attempt and  Perry was  in the leather sling riding to safety.

Both men were wounded.  Perry suffered a bullet wound in the leg and gashes on  his face.  In  a second letter to his  parents, he said he had  recovered and was back in camp on duty.

An Army officer since 1961 and a member of  the Green Berets for about two years, Perry arrived  in Vietnam last March for a 13 month tour of  duty.  He is a graduate of South Salem High School and Oregon State University where he  earned a  degree  in Business technology.  He was  last home for a  visit at Christmas.

Pittsburgh Press
Friday, July 15, 1966

After Jungle Crash

Marine Birds Pick 2 From Cong Nest
by Jim G. Lucas, Scripps-Howard Staff Writer

QUANG NGAI, July 6 - The  American  stumbled  down  a steep hill, his feet splashed  in the bed  of  a shallow  stream  and a Marine  helicopter  hovered overhead.

Army  Captain Stephen Perry of  Salem, Ore., had 100
yards to go.  One  hundred yards to  the sling dangling
from  the hovering bird.  One hundred yards to escape
the Communist Vet Cong all around him.  100 yards -- if he made it -- to safety.

It  was hard going.  His  breath came  in aching bursts.
Every  step cost  him. His right ankle  had been  badly
sprained,  possibly even  broken.  His  left  cheek  was
gashed from ear to nose.  He was losing blood.

Captain  Perry, commander  of a Special Forces detachment  at Gia Vuc, was no  stranger  to  the  jungle.   Forty  five  minutes  earlier,  he  and  Lt.  Tony Cardillo, the pilot of Providence, R.I. had been aboard an L-19 spotter plane looking  for Viet Cong.  Captain Perry was  the observer and  they'd found  a whole company of Viet Cong.  They had flown low to mark the target for jets when a down draft sucked them in.  Lieutenant Cardillo's plane  disappeared beneath the jungle canopy and was swallowed up.

A Marine Phantom pilot high in the sky saw  them go down.  But fast jets are helpless at  such a time.  The  jet radioed for  help.  Four  Marine  helicopters had begun their letdown at Quang Ngai, 20 miles  toward the coast, when the call came.  They zoomed for altitude and swung back toward the jungle.

Ours  was   the  second of   the  four  ships.  Marine   Lts. Brice Lueditke  of Sheridan, Wyo., and  Curtis Holmes of  New York City,  were at the controls. Capt. Dick Gleason of  Townsend, Wash., and  Lt. Wally Krywko of  Detroit, were  in  the cockpit  of  the  lead  ship;  Capt.  Chuck Riordan  of  Norwich, Conn.,  and  Lt.  Dave Shore of  Marion,  Mass., flew  the  third;  Capt. Jeff Mattison of Oxnard, Calif., and Lt. Pat Parker of Seattle, the fourth.

The  pilots gave  their ships  full throttle, but  the big H-34s  seemed  to crawl through the air.  It would be touch and go.  The four choppers had just com- pleted a supply run and none had more than half a tank of fuel.

Dick  Gleason   and  Wally  Krywko  arrived   at  the  crash  scene  first.  The helicopter  dropped  down  to  tree-top   level  and  hovered.   Its  rotor  wash turned back the tops of the tallest trees.

Lieutenant Cardillo  had  crashed  in  the  midst of  an enemy  position.   The enemy was  still there.  Bullets  smacked into  the hovering bird.  Around  the downed aircraft nothing moved.

There was  only one thing to do  now.  Marine Sgt. Donald Alfier of Phoenix, Ariz.,  went  out  the chopper  door  and  into the  jungle  in  a  leather  sling. Hidden snipers fired furiously as he disappeared beneath the canopy.

Sgt. Alfier had protection.  Phantom  jets darted down -- too  low for  safety, strafing  the area.  Sergeant Alfier's gunner and  friend, Cpl. Nick Torrieri of Whittier, Calif., fired a machine  gun steadily into  the surrounding bush.  So did the gunners and crew chiefs  in the other three choppers -- Sgt. Carl Wells of Harrisburg, Pa.,  and  Cpl. Jerry Isaacson of  Rich Hill, Mo.,  from  No. 2; Sgts.  Jim Vance  of  Barlow, Ky., and  Barney Espinoza, Jr. of Austin,  Tex., from   No. 3; Sgt. Wolfhard Dornewass of  Camden,  N.J., and  Cpl. Forrest Knisely of Columbia City, Ind., from No. 4.

Slowly,  Sergeant Alfier came  up through the tree tops  again.  He had  spent almost five  minutes in  a fruitless search.  Lieutenant  Cardillo  and  Captain Perry had fled  into the jungle.  It   was 10 minutes  later that  Wally Krywko spotted their green smoke signal 300 yards from the crash scene.  Another 10 minutes  passed  before  the  two  men  crept  out  of  the   bush.   Lieutenant Cardillo, also  badly cut on the face and  with a broken left wrist, eased  him- self  into  the  sling.   Grunting  and  sweating  Sergeant  Alfier and  Corporal Torriere hauled him up.

The Viet Cong began a furious barrage.  Mortars and hand grenades reached desperately  but vainly for  the hovering helicopter.  Lieutenant Cardillo  was half in -- half out  the open door when Captain Gleason gunned  his ship and flew  away.  "Don't  leave  him!" Lieutenant Cardillo  Shouted.  "We won't," Sergeant Alfier promised.  The helicopter executed a sharp turn and dropped down  again.  The  Viet Cong renewed  their fire.  Once  more, jets  and  heli- copter gunners drove them to cover.

Slowly, painfully, stumbling  down a steep hill, Captain Perry scrambled over those last 100 yards.  Gratefully, he settled into the  lowered leather sling and rode to safety above the tops of the jungle trees.


The following is a quote from: 

Sgt. Nicholas Torrieri, III.
Gunner for Captain Gleason's aircraft.

Thanks for contacting me about the L-19 rescue.  I visited the link you provided in your second email and was floored to see that the rescue had made the papers.  I will try to give my accounting of that day.

As I remember...when we got on station the bird was in the trees.  Sgt. Alfier went down on the cable and I was covering him but also had to go to the left window to watch for the L-19 crew.[Sgt. Alfier was the CrewChief..I was the gunner]  Sgt. Alfier went up the tree that the plane was in and checked the cockpit.  Seeing no one there he  he climbed back down and headed for the sling.  I still had to keep track of the L-19 crew who we could see  running below.  I laid down some suppressing fire and returned to cover Sgt. Alfier.  On his way up it appeared as if he had be hit by enemy fire. [To this day I have an impression of bullet streaks in my mental picture]  Sgt. Alfier had been knocked unconscious when he got hung up on a tree branch.  After getting him inside our bird[a UH-34D] I stuffed him under the CrewChief's seat, leaving him still attached to the cable and went back to cover the L-19 crew.  I could see them again, running with VietCong on their heels. I once again laid a blanket of suppressing fire.  I looked over my shoulder to see Sgt. Alfier rolling around towards the cargo door and put him back under the seat and returned to my station.  My M-60 jammed so I used the M-14 I carried on board.  Upon getting Sgt. Alfier back on board, I checked to be sure he had no bullet wounds or any visible injuries. I looked again over my shoulder and was pleased to see my friend was up and about though somewhat dazed. It was shortly after that that we effected the extraction of the L-19 crew, returned them to safety and returned to base on a "Red Light"[ almost empty of fuel]

I was a Maintenance Clerk and retread[ex-grunt-5th Marines and cannoncocker-11th Marines] and had very good clerks working for me so I flew as often as possible. Gleason and Krywko did amazing things with the 34.  Hovering for any length of time causes the oil temp to climb so the 34 had to "slipped" to keep it cool.  Of itself, Sgt. Alfiers trip down and up was fraught with danger but he was very cool and calm and disregarded the danger to himself.  For reasons I have never been able to understand, is the absolute silence that seemed to pervade this whole episode. It was later that I had heard that it was believed that the rescue area had a Reinforced Bn of North Vietnamese Regulars there.  I do not know if this was true or not.  I do know this:  If we all got together again and had a mission to hell...I would gun for those guys knowing that the bird and us would kick the Devils ass and return in one piece.  There are bits and pieces I do not recall.  I have left out a tremendous amount of emotion. Sgt. Alfier was put up for the Silver Star and I the Bronze.  Don't know what became of that.  I hope this is not too wordy or contradiction to anyone else's memory.

Nicholas Torrieri III
Sgt. E-5 USMC 1959-1968
Vietnam 1965-1966
March 09, 2008-1954h 

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