Friday, April 27, 2012

TFH 4/27: LTJG Brian E. Westin, USN

On April 27, 1966 the United States Navy's aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) was at "Yankee Station" in the Gulf of Tonkin launching her planes against targets in North Vietnam. One of the planes launched that day on a strike was a Grumman A-6A Intruder belonging to Attack Squadron 85 (VA-85), the "Black Falcons".

Its call sign was "Buckeye 811". Aboard the Intruder were pilot Lieutenant William R. Westerman, Jr. and Bombardier/Navigator Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Brian E. Westin. As they were flying away from the target they bombed ashore, Buckeye 811 was struck by anti-aircraft fires. Lieutenant Westerman was severely wounded and could no longer fly the plane himself. If the crew bailed out now, they'd assuredly be captured by the North Vietnamese. Their only hope was to get back to open water where they could be rescued.

What transpired next is an amazing story of courage and care for one's fellow fighting man. It's a story that saw LTJG Brian Westin decorated with the Navy Cross.

From Military Times' Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant, Junior Grade Brian Edward Westin (NSN: 0-666503), United States Naval Reserve, for extraordinary heroism on 27 April 1966 while serving as a Bombardier/Navigator in Attack Squadron EIGHTY-FIVE (VA-85) during a combat mission over North Vietnam. When his pilot was seriously wounded and partially incapacitated during a daylight bombing run, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Westin, by calmly coaxing and physically assisting him in the control of the aircraft, succeeded in reaching the open sea where he made sure that the semiconscious pilot ejected safely before he, himself, exited the plane. The first to be picked up by rescue helicopter, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Westin directed the crew to the estimated position of his pilot. When the latter was unable to enter the rescue sling because of his injuries, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Westin re-entered the water to assist him despite the fact that a shark was spotted near the bleeding victim. Following the rescue of the pilot, and before his own retrieval, the hoisting device aboard the helicopter malfunctioned. Realizing the urgency of immediate medical attention for the now unconscious pilot, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Westin waved the helicopter off and remained in the shark-infested water until the arrival of a second rescue helicopter five minutes later. Through his quick thinking, cool courage, and selflessness in the face of grave personal risk, he was directly responsible for saving the life of his pilot. His heroic efforts were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

I believe Brian Westin to still be living. The man he saved, William Westerman, retired from the Navy as a Captain in 1985. He passed away in 2010. Westerman's obituary mentions that during his 1966 shoot-down, "The bullet missed his heart by an inch" and that he spent a year in the hospital recovering.

The planes of VA-85 flew for the last time in 1994. The USS Kitty Hawk was decommissioned in May 2009. She remains in reserve until 2015, after which it is hoped she will become a museum ship in North Carolina.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:35 AM

    Brian Westin is still very much alive and living in California.



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