Clyde Everett Lassen (March 14, 1942 – April 1, 1994):
Lassen, a native of Fort Myers, Florida, earned the Congressional Medal of
Honor for his courageous rescue of two downed aviators while commander of a
search and rescue helicopter in Vietnam.
As the UH-2 Seasprite helicopter hovered over the water, its crew listened
intently on their earphones for a message from the coastline. Some where
beyond the pitch-dark horizon were two naval aviators whose plane had been
shot down deep in North Vietnamese territory. Their exact position was not known.
No one knew even if they were still alive. They had not yet made contact with
any other rescue aircraft in the area. There was nothing the helicopter crew
could do but wait and listen as they had done since leaving their ship
shortly after midnight some time earlier.
Flying the single-engine UH-2 was 27 year old Lieutenant (then LTJG) Clyde E.
Lassen, Officer in charge of the helo detachment aboard the guided missile
frigate USS Preble (DLG 15). To his right sat Lieutenant (jg) Clarence L.
Cook, his copilot, and behind them, his two crewmen, Aviation Electrician’s
Mate 2nd Class Bruce B. Dallas, and Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class
Donald N. West.
They waited. Seconds became minutes. Finally, voice communication was
established. The downed aviators reported they were sitting on the side of a
steep, heavily wooded hill surrounded by tall trees, thick undergrowth, and
an undetermined number of enemy troops. Conditions clearly called for a
helicopter, and fast.
By the time the message was completed, LTJG Cook had located the hillside
position on his plotting map. He then gave LT Lassen the course to follow
and, while the pilot pressed the UH-2 over the coast into the enemy land,
kept him informed on the layout of the countryside below.
The overcast sky made the terrain shadowless. Ground objects were almost
indistinguishable when the copter arrived in the search area. At first there
were no signs of the survivors. But, after circling in darkness a few times,
the SAR crew sighted the flash of flare pistols and the beam from a rescue
Lieutenant Lassen swung the helo toward the illumination and moved in to
survey a probable landing site. A likely spot, he judged, was a rice paddy at
the bottom of the hill, about 200 feet from the downed airmen. He could hover
over the clearing long enough for them to make it to the helo, despite the
enemy. That was his plan. And it might have work - and the whole ordeal would
probably have been over in a matter of seconds. But what looked like a quick
and simple rescue turned out instead to be a real cliff-hanger. One worthy of
an entry in the Medal of Honor ledger.
After directing the aviators to make their way down the hill to the rice
paddy, the lieutenant commenced a partial hover just high enough to keep his
helo from sinking in the mud. This drew the enemy’s attention and they
started pouring in small arms and automatic weapons fire. Petty Officers
Dallas and West sighted on the muzzle blasts and returned the fire with the
airship’s two door-mounted M-60 machine guns.
Meanwhile, the downed aviators reported over their rescue transmitters that
they were unable to make it through the undergrowth. LT Lassen decided to
pull up out of gun range to evaluate the situation a little further and study
Like most helo pilots in the combat zone, he was relying on limited
experience. He had been flying only a little more than two years.
Nonetheless, he was no newcomer to naval aviation. Before he earned his wings
through the Naval Aviation Cadet program, he served with the fleet for almost
three years, attaining the rate of aviation electronics technician 3rd class.
He had met each challenge with success. Now he was about to make another
decision from which there could be no return.
The LT called for a rescue aircraft nearby to move into the area and
illuminate the survivors location with flares. They he worked the UH-2
farther up the hill toward the airmen and located a probable landing spot
between two large trees. There, Dallas and West lowered a rescue hoist, which
the airmen could reach. Just as rescue appeared a sure thing, the last of the
overhead flares went out. Depth perception was lost momentarily and the helo
veered slightly to the right. One of the crewmen yelled that they were going
to hit one of the trees.
A sharp jolt went through the helo and it pitched nose down into a right
turn. Instinctively, LT Lassen righted the aircraft and climbed clear of the
foliage. No one was hurt, but the UH-2 had suffered serious damage. It was
vibrating almost uncontrollably. Things couldn’t be much worse. His fuel was
dangerously low. His aircraft was badly damaged. And, he was drawing
fire from every enemy gun within range. On top of this, he and the other
rescue aircraft had run out of overhead flares. They were strictly in the
dark. A further rescue attempt seemed hopeless.
But as far as LT Lassen was concerned, he hadn’t completed his mission, and
he was determined to do so, successfully. Again he sized up the situation,
called for more flares and, for the second time, told the downed aviators to
descend the hill and meet him at the rice paddy. As skipper, he was confident
Dallas and West could suppress the enemy gunners with their M-60’s until the
flares arrived. But he had no desire to go another round in the dark with
those skyscraping trees. He had enough of them.
Following the pilot’s instructions, the two men on the ground attempted once
more to work their way through the underbrush toward their rescuers appointed
position. The delay, thus far, had allowed more enemy to arrive on the hill.
The helo, in order to cover the aviators’ descent, had to stay close by.
This need for close-quarter maneuvering made it nearly impossible for support
from the other air rescue units to be effective against the communist force.
As things stood, the airmen’s safety rested primarily on the accuracy of LT
Lassen’s gunners and his ability to fly his crippled aircraft, both talents
which had proven unequalled.
Before long, the additional flares arrived and the sky was again lighted,
aiding the lieutenant’s second approach to the paddy. The enemy kept the
airmen pinned down at the spot where LT Lassen could not reach. This
complicated matters even more, because time suddenly became a crucial
Only 30 minutes of fuel remained in the helo’s tanks, and both he and LTJG
Cook were aware of the distance through enemy territory that lay between them
and friendly hands. There might be enough time for one more attempt. No more.
The Lieutenant called for another flare drop and commenced his final rescue
attempt. For a moment the sky was bright like high noon. But, just when the
helo reached an altitude of about 50 feet over the rice paddy, the flare went
out. There was nothing but darkness. Luck, never of the best in this episode,
had seemed to run out.
With no time to wait for another flare drop, the young pilot went for broke
and turned on his landing lights so he could see to set down. This withdrew
the enemy’s concentration on the two airmen, who unhesitatingly cleared the
brush and dashed toward the lights.
In a hail of lead, the copter crew pulled the two-some on board as the pilot
lifted his vibrating, bullet-riddled chopper into the darkness, out of harm’s
way. A thimble of fuel was in the helo’s tanks as the SAR crew headed toward
En route, LT Lassen’s evasive ability was again put to the test when he had
to outmanoeuvre a last effort by the enemy to knock him out of the sky with
By the time he reached the water and set down on the helo pad of the guided
missile frigate USS Jouett (DLG 29), there was scarcely more than five
minutes flight time remaining in the helicopter’s fuel lines.
The account of the rescue was logged as a successful, routine SAR mission.
But at NAS Atsugi, home base for Helicopter Combat Squadron Seven, the rescue
flight of 19 June 1968 will be acclaimed as one of the most daring feats of
flying to come out of the Vietnam Conflict.
LT Clyde E. Lassen became the first naval aviator and fifth Navyman to be
awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery in Vietnam.
His copilot, LTJG Cook, was awarded the Navy Cross for his gallant part
played in the rescue. The two crewmen, Petty Officers West and Dallas, were
awarded Silver Stars.
(The previous section was written by - Marc Whetstone, Chief Journalist,
Combat Support Squadron One / Aviator
Helicopter Combat Support Squadron One, Detachment Atsugi / Maintenance
Combat Support Squadron Seven / Officer in Charge, SAR DET
Decorations and Medals:
Air Medal (First Strike/Flight Award)
Presidential Unit Citation – awarded Delta River Patrol Group (Task Group
National Defense Service Medal
Vietnam Service Medal with four bronze stars
Vietnam Campaign Medal with Device
Medal of Honor citation:
CLYDE EVERETT LASSEN
Lieutenant, United States Navy
Helicopter Squadron 7,
Embarked on USS PREBLE,
Republic of Vietnam
19 June 1968
CITATION: "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his
life above and beyond the call of duty as pilot and aircraft commander of a
search and rescue helicopter, attached to Helicopter Support Squadron 7,
during operations against enemy forces in North Vietnam. Launched shortly
after midnight to attempt the rescue of 2 downed aviators. Lt. (then
Lt.(jg.)) Lassen skillfully piloted his aircraft over unknown and hostile
terrain to a steep, tree-covered hill on which the survivors had been
located. Although enemy fire was being directed at the helicopter, he
initially landed in a clear area near the base of the hill, but, due to the
dense undergrowth, the survivors could not reach the helicopter. With the aid
of flare illumination, Lt. Lassen successfully accomplished a hover between 2
trees at the survivors' position. Illumination was abruptly lost as the last
of the flares were expended, and the helicopter collided with a tree,
commencing a sharp descent. Expertly righting his aircraft and maneuvering
clear, Lt. Lassen remained in the area, determined to make another rescue
attempt, and encouraged the downed aviators while awaiting resumption of
flare illumination. After another unsuccessful, illuminated rescue attempt.
and with his fuel dangerously low and his aircraft significantly damaged, he
launched again and commenced another approach in the face of the continuing
enemy opposition. When flare illumination was again lost, Lt. Lassen, fully
aware of the dangers in clearly revealing his position to the enemy, turned
on his landing lights and completed the landing. On this attempt, the
survivors were able to make their way to the helicopter. In route to the
coast he encountered and successfully evaded additional hostile antiaircraft
fire and, with fuel for only minutes of flight remaining, landed safely
aboard U.S.S. Jouett (DLG-29). Lt. Lassen's extraordinary heroism at the risk
of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the
highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon
himself, his unit, and the U.S. Navy."
The medal was officially presented 16 January 1969.