Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Idaho Greats - Bernie Fisher

I had a Brush with Greatness earlier today (Feb 14 - Valentine's Day).

Every year, there is a Salute to Veterans at the local VA Hospital, in conjunction with Valentine's Day. And, just as we've done the last couple years, the little office choral group I'm in has gone and sung patriotic songs in the hallways.

This year, we were sharing the halls with NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Kramer, who was also there to greet and honor the vets. (I saw the Super Bowl ring that once was lost, but miraculously is now returned to his finger. That's a different story.)

We also crossed paths with another hero - the Real Deal. Bernard F. Fisher. You'd never guess it by looking at his aging frame and listening to his quiet but cheerful demeanor... but on March 10, 1966, his successful rescue of a fellow pilot, downed in the jungles of Vietnam, resulted in his being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Lyndon B. Johnson. (The first living Air Force recipient.)

The citation:

"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. On that date (10 March 1966), the Special Forces camp at A Shau was under attack by 2,000 North Vietnamese Army Regulars. Hostile troops had positioned themselves between the airstrip and the camp. Other hostile troops had surrounded the camp and were continuously raking it with automatic weapons fire from the surrounding hills. The tops of the 1,500-foot hills were obscured by an 800-foot ceiling, limiting aircraft maneuverability and forcing pilots to operate within the range of hostile gun positions, which often were able to fire down on the attacking aircraft. During the baffle, Major Fisher observed a fellow airman crash land on the battletorn airstrip. In the belief that the downed pilot was seriously injured and in imminent danger of capture, Major Fisher announced his intention to land on the airstrip to effect a rescue. Although aware of the extreme danger and likely failure of such an attempt, he elected to continue. Directing his own air cover, he landed his aircraft and taxied almost the full length of the runway, which was littered with battle debris and parts of an exploded aircraft. While effecting a successful rescue of the downed pilot heavy ground fire was observed, with nineteen bullets striking his aircraft. In the face of the withering ground fire, he applied power and gained enough speed to liftoff at the overrun of the airstrip. Major Fisher's conspicuous gallantry, his profound concern for his fellow airman and his intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in the highest traditions of the United States Air Forces and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country."

That's just part of the story, however (which I've heard him tell on at least a couple different occasions over the years). Once he was airborne again, in his shot-up plane with his fellow pilot, it seemed extremely unlikely he had enough fuel to return to the friendly base. But somehow - on fumes and a prayer - he made it back.

After he retired, he finished raising his family, along with sweet corn, lima beans, and a couple cows, out Kuna way.

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