The Transylvania Times -

Vietnam Veterans: Grady Jackson – Search And Rescue In North Vietnam

 

April 9, 2018

Lt. Cdr. Grady Jackson poses on an A-6 jet during his Vietnam cruise in 1972. (Courtesy photo)

In May 1972, Lieut-enant Commander Grady Jackson was the senior bombardier/navigator in Navy VA-75 A-6 squadron, home-ported in Norfolk, Va. The squadron had just completed a deployment to the Mediterranean on the USS Saratoga and was anticipating another peaceful trip to the Mediterranean. Instead, on three days' notice, it ended up on an 11-month deployment to Vietnam.

"When I got the news, I was excited," Jackson said. "I was 13 years into my naval career and I had trained my whole life to do what I was about to go do."

Jackson left at home his wife, Linda, and two small children.

"It was very hard for me," Linda said. "He was happy and my world was falling apart."

The mission of the VA-75 was to perform primarily night single aircraft missions flown at 500 feet and below as well as day Alpha strikes of 30 or 40 aircraft. As a Senior B/N of the squadron, Jackson flew missions with his Commanding Officer, Charlie Earnest.

Search And Rescue

Jackson related the story of an incredible rescue on the night of Aug. 6, 1972, when Lt. Jim Lloyd, an A-7 pilot in Jackson's air wing, was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.

"When he ejected, he was 21 miles inland over a heavily defended area of North Vietnam, about 150 miles North of the border," said Jackson. "He was either going to become a POW or we were going to get him out."

"Later we learned that Lloyd had lost his hand-held radio out of his G-suit, after crawling about 100 yards from his initial hiding place. No radio, no rescue. So he crawled back on his hands and knees and found his radio. As he was trying to get further away from the wreckage, Lloyd heard footsteps along the narrow path he was on, which was around a rice paddy. He lay face down and played dead. The footsteps stopped and he felt someone poking him with a gun. He heard two men speaking excitedly in Vietnamese and then he heard footsteps leaving. He jumped up and ran the opposite direction along the path with bullets flying all around him."

Big Mother

Meanwhile, Comman-der Charlie Earnest and Jackson were called in to launch and take over as the OSC (On-Scene Comm-ander) of the search and rescue operation. An H-3 rescue helicopter, "Big Mother," had been called in from the North; however, by the time the helo had received the Admiral's approval for the rescue and had refueled, almost 3 ½ hours had passed.

"Time was running out for a rescue," Jackson noted.

"The Skipper and I flew to where we thought Jim was located. When we got there, there was no radio contact, which meant no rescue. I quickly radioed the rescue team and told them to hold their position, which was over enemy territory. I thought to myself, 'Way to go Grady, you are now risking the lives of the helo and 2 A-7 rescue crews, and you don't have radio contact with Jim Lloyd,'" he said.

Jackson told the Skipper to return to the site where the original heading and distance were given for Lloyd's location. Within minutes, they got radio contact with Lloyd.

"By now his radio batteries were getting very weak, which meant we had to be almost on top of him to receive his transmissions. I started vectoring Big Mother and the 2 A-47s toward Lloyd."

By this time the North Vietnamese had brought in anti-aircraft fire. Jackson and Earnest turned on their lights to divert the fire towards their A-6 and away from Big Mother.

All at once, the helicopter turned on its hover lights after narrowly avoiding hitting a tree. In the light, Jackson could see Lloyd, frantically waving his arms, but Big Mother's crew, temporarily blinded by their own lights, flew over him.

"So I'm screaming 'turn around, do a 180, you just flew right over him!'" he said.

The helicopter turned back.

No Man Left Behind

Down in the rice paddy, Lloyd began to hear the sound of helicopter rotors. To his amazement, he saw the Big Mother coming at him with its lights on, taking an intense barrage of ground fire. A sweeping line of North Vietnamese was closing in as Lloyd got to his feet and splashed to the cabin door under the muzzle blast of the machine gun.

"He didn't have the strength to get in, the cabin floor was at his clavicle," Jackson noted. "The door gunner grabbed Lloyd by his flight suit and threw him into the cabin with an adrenaline-fueled heave. They turned off their lights and made it back to the ship."

That was the deepest penetration Navy rescue during the Vietnam War. The helicopter received several bullet holes, a couple of which were so close to critical parts of the helo that, if hit there, the aircraft would have crashed.

"The whole thing was an absolute miracle," said Jackson. "The helicopter crew received the Navy Cross and we got Silver Stars. However, all of us in the rescue operation thou-ght the helicopter crew should have received the Congressional Medal of Honor."

Jackson reflected on how many people risked their lives to rescue Lt. Jim Lloyd.

"Two of our A-7 guys, us, Midway's A-7's, Big Mother escorted by planes from another ship, and more. That night we were able to show the world that if you go down, the United States Navy will do everything they can to keep you from being a POW or killed," he said.

Seven Seconds

To Life and Death

On Nov. 28, 1972, after 150 strikes, Jackson and Skipper Earnest were called to launch against a convoy of trucks. That night they were not supposed to be flying. A maintenance crew had been working on a radar repeater scope, located on the floor in front of the pilot's stick. Because it was out of the ordinary, the air wing was not supposed to be flying. The crew had left to eat and the bolts had not yet been installed.

"As soon as the catapult fired, the scope, which was not bolted down, slid out of the brackets and lodged itself against the pilot's control stick. For the first few seconds there was nothing we could do, as the G-forces had us pinned against our seats," he said.

"At that moment a voice told me 'If the Skipper gets the nose of the aircraft over (we were now climbing to the stars because the stick was full aft), stay with it. But if the aircraft rolls left or right, get out!'" he said.

The aircraft made a roll to starboard and Jackson raised his face curtain with both hands.

"I was sitting on a 200-lb. rocket sled that thrust me and my seat through the Plexiglas canopy at approx-imately 25 G-forces. I blacked out. My parachute automatically deployed, slowing my descent into the water," he said.

From catapult launch to water impact was just seven seconds.

The first Jackson remembered after ejecting was being in the water, tangled in his parachute. He ripped off his oxygen mask to breathe. After 35 minutes in the water, he was picked up by a rescue helicopter. Although Jackson was injured, they spent another 30 minutes airborne, searching for Skipper Earnest.

"But I knew he had not ejected," Jackson recalled. "He was too preoccupied with trying to save the aircraft. Skipper Charles M. Earnest was a brilliant naval officer, an incredible leader and a highly respected combat air warfare tactician. I not only lost my commanding officer, but my pilot and a friend."

During the Vietnam War, Jackson received two additional Silver Stars along with eight Distinguished Flying Crosses and other combat awards.

A Changed Life

Jackson ended his story saying, "I remember, just like it was last night, floating in the Tonkin Gulf, afraid I was going to drown, crying out: 'God, get me out of this, but I am not ready to change my life.' I think God looked down at me and said, 'Look son, you are going to change your life. We'll definitely discuss this later!' God answered my very honest prayer and on the morning of Nov. 28, 1972 my life was given back to me and it has never been the same since."

Jackson, who retired as a rear admiral in 1991, is glad to see Vietnam veterans honored in The Transylvania Times.

Rear Admiral (ret.) Jackson in his Brevard home, displaying a picture given to him as a going away gift when he was the Wing Commander over A-6's on Whidbey Island, Wash. Pictured top is an EA-6B Prowler and bottom is an A-6 Intruder. (Courtesy photo)

"We forget that people do things for our country," he said. "The Vietnam War had a very negative connotation for many people. But that doesn't negate what our veterans did because that's what it was their duty to do. The United States gave so much of our people, and then we gave up and abandoned them. Don't go to war if you're going to do that."

Today Grady and Linda Jackson live in Brevard and are active in the Joy Outreach Fellowship, soon to be the River Church, teaching Bible study classes and devoted to Christian outreach activities, including supporting a ministry that goes to Vietnam every year.

(In collaboration with the WNC Military History Museum and writer Michel Robertson, The Transylvania Times will publish an article once every two weeks on a local veteran who served in Vietnam.)

 
 

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