Sun Lakes resident Tom Waldron flew with heroes as a helicopter rescue pilot during the Vietnam Conflict.
Last year he wrote a book about it.
I Flew With Heroes recounts rescue missions flown by H-3 and H-53 Jolly Green crews in 1969 and 1970 in Laos and Vietnam. Included are personal details of the Son Tay raid from the cockpit of Apple 3, the mission gunship. The secret mission was designed to rescue American prisoners of war in North Vietnam in 1970.
“Little did I know,” Waldron recounts about his helicopter training days during 1969, “that I was training with men who I would later label as heroes: other pilots, flight engineers who stood in an open door operating hoist to bring up a downed pilot, and the PJs (pararescuemen) on their mini-guns or being lowered to the ground to aid a downed pilot who may be wounded. All of this while the enemy was firing their many weapons.
Many would pay the supreme sacrifice, losing their life while attempting to save another.”
Twelve of Waldron’s fellow aircraft crewmen were killed in action during his days as a member of the rescue family.
The book traces Waldron’s career from his first assignment as a KC-135 pilot to his reassignment as an HH-53 Jolly Green Giant helicopter pilot, then to a rescue and recovery squadron in Thailand and back to Florida as a helicopter instructor.
The latter assignment led to his selection for a special night-flying mission. Waldron said his jaw dropped when he learned that the mission would involve rescuing 60 Americans from a POW camp deep in North Vietnam 23 miles northwest of Hanoi.
The last four chapters described training and implementation of the mission which involved six helicopters flying in formation with a C-130 aerial refueling aircraft. The assault rescue group also included another C-130 and five A-1 attack aircraft.
Waldron’s aircraft was the first that crossed the center of the POW camp. Hovering 50 feet above the ground, the helicopter’s gunners took out two compound gun towers. This allowed the HH-3 helicopter landing inside the compound with 14 US Special Forces on board to exit cleanly and find the POWs.
Waldron and others were awarded the Silver Star after the mission.