Name: LT Jack Columbus Rittichier
Status: Remains were returned on 02/03 from an incident on 06/09/1968 while performing the duty of Aircraft Commander.
Age at death: 34.8
Date of Birth: 08/17/1933
Home City: Barberton, OH
Service: regular component of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Unit: 37 ARRS
Service: U.S. Coast Guard.
The Wall location: 58W-014
Short Summary: While attempting to rescue a downed pilot hit by ground fire, exploded, and burned. No survivors. see yeend & refno 1206.
Aircraft: HH-3E tail number 67-14710
Call sign: Jolly Green 23
Service number: 68068148
Country: South Vietnam
Primary cause: SVN-BNR
"Official" listing: helicopter air casualty - pilot
Length of service: 10
Location: Quang Tri Province I Corps.
Military grid coordinates of event: YD172034
Additional information about this casualty:
SPECIAL OBSERVANCE: June 9th is the 31st anniversary of LT Jack C. Rittichier, USCG being shot down while flying a USAF helicopter during a rescue mission in Vietnam. LT Rittichier was declared missing in action...and his remains have never been recovered. LT Rittichier is the only Coast Guard MIA from the Vietnam War. In recognition of this anniversary, ISC Portsmouth will conduct a simple, yet special observance with morning colors (0800) on 9 June 1999. Following the raising of the > National Flag, we will raise the POW/MIA flag while Mr. Robert Williams of our Comptroller Division, and a Vietnam War Veteran, reads a tribute to LT Rittichier. Those interested in attending should take up a spot on the side walk beside the circular driveway at the ISC Command/Medical building, in front of the flag pole no later than 0755 on 9 June. BACKGROUND: LT Jack C. Rittichier was commissioned as an officer in the US Air Force in August 1957. He was discharged from the Air Force as a Captain (O-3) to accept a commission as a Lieutenant (Junior Grade) in the Coast Guard Reserve on 16 September 1963 and was assigned to Coast Guard Air Base Elizabeth City, NC. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and integrated into the Regular Coast Guard on 28 March 1966. While flying search and rescue missions from Air Station Detroit, LT Rittichier was awarded the Air Medal for his role as the Copilot of a helicopter that flew 150 miles from Detroit, in blinding snow and ice conditions, to rescue eight seaman from the grounded West German motor vessel NORDMEER just minutes before it broke up. While at Detroit, he volunteered for exchange duty with the Air Force's 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Da Nang Air Base, Vietnam. On 21 April 1968, less than two weeks after arriving in Vietnam, LT Rittichier was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for rescuing, in the face of hostile ground fire, four crewmembers of a U.S. Army Helicopter gunship that had been shot down. On 12 May 1968, LT Rittichier, serving as the Rescue Commander of an HH-3E, twice entered an extremely hostile area to rescue four survivors of a downed helicopter and its five seriously wounded personnel. The survivors were located in an extremely small landing zone, surrounded by trees on the side of a steep mountain slope. LT Rittichier made the second approach and departed by flare light because the sight was obscured by smoke clouds. For this, he was awarded a second Distinguished Flying Cross. Less than a month later, on 9 June 1968, 37 miles west of Hue, a marine Corps fighter pilot lay on the ground in a North Vietnamese army bivouacking area with a broken arm and leg. The enemy used him as bait to lure the rescue helicopters within killing range. Air strikes pounded the area around the marine pilot. The first helicopter made three attempts to reach him but was seriously damaged in the process and had to break off. LT Rittichier dove his HH-3 with three Air Force crewmen aboard in for the pickup. Heavy enemy fire forced him off. He swung around to let the gunships clean the area again and followed them in for another pickup attempt. As he hovered over the injured pilot, bullets punched the aircraft and it began to burn. He pulled away, but the helicopter would not rise. It fell to the ground and exploded. Within thirty seconds a ball of fire consumed the aircraft. LT Rittichier's remains were never recovered and he is still officially listed as "Missing in Action" (MIA). He is the only Coast Guard MIA from the Vietnam War and was also the first Coast Guard casualty in Vietnam caused by enemy action. LT Jack Rittichier gave his life for the proudest Coast Guard mission of all -- Saving Lives. For his courage and heroism he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart. He exemplified the highest traditions of the Coast Guard and also the valor shown by other Coast Guardsmen in Vietnam. The Administration/ESU building at ISC Portsmouth was named in honor of LT Rittichier on November 10, 1998. ISC Portsmouth welcomes all who wish to take a moment to recognize Roger D. Gibson, Commander, USCG, Executive Officer, ISC Portsmouth, (757) 483-8590
Coast Guard search and rescue pilot LT Jack C. Rittichier drank chocolate milk shakes every day and called being a part of the Coast Guard "food for the soul." He volunteered to go to Danang Air Base in 1968 as an exchange pilot with the Air Force 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, because he felt a sense of duty. "This is what I've trained for, this is what I know, this is what I want to do," he said. His widow said his reasons for going were to save lives, contribute to the war's ending sooner and to experience the adventure of it all. She didn't rest easy with his decision but reluctantly honored his wishes and on 17 March he saw his wife and family for the last time. Today, the ground in the remote Ta-Oy district of Laos is abundant with greenery. On the morning of 9 June 1968, the backdrop was much different. Jack and his three-man crew - Air Force Captain Richard C. Yeend, Staff Sergeant Elmer Holden and Sgt. James D. Locker - set out in the HH-3E helicopter, "Jolly Green" 23, to rescue 1LT Walter R. Schmidt, a USMC A-4E Skyhawk pilot gunned down by enemy fire on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Visibility was good that day, but antiaircraft fire filled the sky. Other assisting rescue aircraft in contact with Schmidt reported that he survived the crash but had a broken leg and possible broken arm. He would likely require a parajumper to assist him. Another HH-3E, JG 22, made the first two attempts at reaching Schmidt, but was forced away by ground fire. Eventually, the crew had to abort because the helicopter was low on fuel. JG 23 then approached, entered a hover and began to lower a parajumper to assist Schmidt. As the aircraft made a clockwise turn over the site, the pilot reported receiving heavy ground fire. Retired Air Force LTC Robert C. Dubois, an eyewitness who flew 1,500 feet overhead on that day, said, "I saw fire coming out of the left side near the engine and told JG 23 that he had a fire. He started pulling out, and I advised him that there was a clearing 1,000 meters north if he had to set down. He said he was going for the clearing. The fire appeared to extinguish and I advised JG 23 of that. He said he was going to set it down as he reached the clearing. When he started down, the blades stopped and the helicopter just dropped. When it burst into flames, it was a ball of fire. It looked like someone had dropped a can of napalm there." The investigator in charge of the recovery site said the fire "was hot enough to melt the aluminum in the cockpit and deform the fiberglass. The only thing it didn't burn was iron and steel." Because of these circumstances and witness accounts stating there was no chance anyone could have survived the crash, all four crew members were listed as "killed in action, body not recovered." Rittichier became the first Coast Guardsman killed in action in Southeast Asia and the only Coast Guard serviceman who was unaccounted for in Vietnam. All told, seven other Coast Guard personnel lost their lives in the war. At the time, no ground search for remains was possible because of intense enemy presence in the area. Beginning in November 2002, investigative teams from Joint Task Force - Full Accounting (JTF-FA) at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, set out in 12-foot-high elephant grass to look for remains at the spot believed to be the crash site, and joint recovery operations began in January 2003. JTF-FA's joint missions with the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii (CILHI) are part of an ongoing effort to account for America service members still missing or unaccounted for as a result of the Vietnam War. Since its inception in 1992, JTF-FA has conducted more than 3,500 case investigations and 600 recovery operations which have led to the repatriation of remains that may relate to as many as 500 unaccounted-for Americans. "Our biggest goal is to bring these guys home," said a member of the 12-person site excavation team. "They didn't quit on us, so we shouldn't quit on them." Remains believed to be associated with the crew of JG 23 and another incident in the vicinity were returned to American soil on 14 February 2003 for a repatriation ceremony at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. Several months later, the remains were positively identified by CILHI as those of Rittichier, Yeend, Holden and Locker. (Schmidt was never recovered and his remains are unaccounted for.) The night after the remains of LT Jack Rittichier were buried at Arlington National Cemetery, his widow rested easy for the first time in the 35 years since the family learned he had been killed in action. The VHPA enjoys a complimentary subscription to Naval Aviation News. This material was taken from the May-June 2004 issue.
Reason: aircraft lost or crashed
Casualty type: Hostile - killed
married male U.S. citizen
Religion: no religous preference
Burial information: ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, VA
This record was last updated on 06/16/2009
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Date posted on this site: 05/16/2021
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