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Vietnam Coast Guard Pilot Buried as Hero

October 07, 2003|From Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Va. — The only U.S. Coast Guardsman who was declared missing in the Vietnam War was remembered Monday as a hero, about 35 years after he and three others were killed while trying to rescue another serviceman.

That was the last of many rescue attempts made by Lt. Jack C. Rittichier of Barberton, Ohio, who was known to his friends and family as a man who could do everything.

"I know just what he would have said if he were here today: 'I'm no hero. It's my job,' " said younger brother David Rittichier, 69, of Erwin, Tenn.

Jack Rittichier, who was 34, was the pilot of an HH-3E helicopter that had left Da Nang Air Base in South Vietnam on June 9, 1968, on a rescue mission for a downed U.S. pilot. His helicopter was struck by enemy fire and exploded.

The pilot Rittichier was trying to rescue, Marine Lt. Walter R. Schmidt, had been shot down and was stranded in enemy territory with a broken leg. Schmidt didn't survive and was listed as missing in action.

Before Vietnam, Rittichier had won honors for hurricane rescue work in 1965, and an Air Medal in 1967 for a helicopter rescue of eight seamen from a vessel in Lake Huron.

Rittichier was discharged from the Air Force as a captain in 1963. He then joined the Coast Guard and volunteered for a pilot exchange program in Vietnam. Two weeks after being deployed, he earned his first Distinguished Flying Cross for flying through enemy fire to save four Army soldiers. He would earn two additional Flying Crosses and three more Air Medals before his last flight.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge attended the funeral, which was followed by a half-mile procession to Rittichier's grave site at Arlington National Cemetery's Coast Guard Hill overlooking the Pentagon, a part of the cemetery usually reserved for senior officers.

In May 2002, officials received information about a crash near Ban Kaboui, Laos, about nine miles from the reported loss location. The U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii identified the remains recovered at the wreckage as those of the pilots and crew.

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