Wednesday, March 14, 2012

TFH 3/14: Chief Master Sergeant Dennis M. Richardson, USAF

In 1998, Dennis M. Richardson had been serving for twenty-three years as a citizen-airman with the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing when the wing historian read that Richardson was listed as an Air Force Cross recipient during the Vietnam War. Richardson replied that he hadn't, and hadn't received any valor decorations besides two Distinguished Flying Crosses.

His fellow airmen were not deterred though. They queried the Air Force through channels, assembled contemporaneous records and witness statements, and petitioned the Air Force Board for the Correction of Military Records in October 2007 to obtain the missing Air Force Cross. The board eventually determined that Richardson was unjustly denied proper recognition for his role in attempting to rescue two USMC aviators on March 14, 1968. All four crew members of the HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopter had been nominated for the Air Force Cross. The awards for three were downgraded to the Silver Star; Richardson's award slipped through the cracks.

On November 13, 2007 - about 39 years, 8 months after the mission - the now retired Richardson was informed that his valor would no longer be unrecognized. His Air Force Cross, long delayed, would be granted.

From Military Times' Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Chief Master Sergeant (Retired), [then Sergeant] Dennis M. Richardson, United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as Flight Engineer of an HH-3E Jolly Green rescue helicopter of the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, 3d Air Rescue and Recovery Group, DaNang Air Base, Vietnam, in action in Southeast Asia on 14 March 1968. On that date, Sergeant Richardson flew two sorties in an effort to rescue United States Air Force pilots who were surrounded by enemy troops along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. During the initial rescue attempt another helicopter had been driven off and Sergeant Richardson's helicopter had itself sustained significant battle damage. Despite their situation, and with complete disregard for their own safety, Sergeant Richardson and his crew elected to return and make a second rescue attempt. Coming to a hover 10 feet above the survivor's position, Sergeant Richardson stood fully exposed in the helicopter door and began lowering the jungle penetrator with one hand while gripping his M-60 machine gun with the other. Unknown to anyone, the enemy had occupied the area but held their fire, waiting to ambush the helicopter. Suddenly intense enemy fire erupted from all quadrants, resulting in additional damage to "Jolly Green 22" and wounding Sergeant Richardson. In an extraordinary display of courage and valor, Sergeant Richardson, despite his wounds, leaned far outside the door and neutralized charging enemy combatants who appeared intent on boarding the helicopter. Sergeant Richardson continued to lay down an effective blanket of defensive fire which enabled the pilot to maneuver safely out of the area. The selfless actions of Sergeant Richardson undoubtedly saved his helicopter and crew from certain disaster. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of a determined enemy, Sergeant Richardson reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Richardson received his Air Force Cross at a ceremony at the 106th Rescue Wing's base on April 5, 2008, 40 years and one month after his valorous acts. This post also draws upon this recount of Richardson's decoration delayed from the Air Force Times and from the press release of the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs announcing the award ceremony.

Chief Master Sergeant Dennis M. Richardson, USAF (Retired) is still living.

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