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USAF Memorial Honorees Include Mayaguez Incident Pilot

By Staff Writer | November 17, 2015
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A new memorial at the U.S. Air Force Academy honors the valorous action of graduates during the Vietnam War. The academy’s classes of 1965 and 1970 presented the Plaza of Heroes addition to the Southeast Asia Memorial Pavilion on the Colorado Springs, Colorado, campus as reunion gifts. The plaza honors the academy's only Medal of Honor recipient, Capt. Lance P. Sijan, and its 16 Air Force Cross recipients and five Silver Star recipients. Among those Air Force Cross recipients is Lt. Col. Dick Brims, who was awarded that honor for his actions in 1975 during the Mayaguez Incident. Brims was a first lieutenant and pilot with USAF’s 21st Special Operations Squadron in northeast Thailand on May 12, 1975, when Cambodian gunboats seized the U.S. cargo ship S.S. Mayaguez. The Vietnam War had ended a month earlier with the fall of Saigon. On May 15, Brims and his Sikorsky Aircraft CH-53 crew carried U.S. Marines to the Cambodian island of Koh Tang, where the Mayaguez and its crew had been taken. His Air Force Cross citation said Brims, as the aircraft commander, successfully landed the Marines despite overwhelming ground fire, “held his position against heavy ground fire and managed to extract five seriously wounded Marines” before leaving the island. He then flew twice “into intense ground fire, successfully removing remaining groups of Marines.” The last rescue missions were conducted at night. Three other USAF helicopter crewmembers also received the Air Force Cross for actions that day: aircraft commander Donald Backlund, a first lieutenant with the 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron; flight mechanic Jon Harston, a staff sergeant with the 21st Special Operations Squadron; and pilot Rowland Purser, a captain with the 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. Brims was killed in an HH-53H crash in Nevada on May 21, 1986. At Hurlburt Field on Florida’s Panhandle, Brims Road is named after him. That base houses the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command’s 1st Special Operations Wing, including the 8th Special Operations Squadron, a Bell Boeing CV-22 unit. A Marine platoon commander, 2nd Lt. James McDaniel, was awarded that service’s equivalent, the Navy Cross, and five airmen and three Marines received Silver Stars. Unfortunately, the rescue mission failed; the Mayaguez crew had been removed to the Cambodian mainland.

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