Jun 18

Clyde E. Lassen and the Medal of Honor

Friday, June 18, 2010 9:00 AM


A “ball of flame” passed beneath Clementine 02, a Kaman UH-2A, as the North Vietnamese fired a rocket at the Seasprite on the moonless night of 18 June 1968. The pilot, 27-year-old Ltjg. Clyde E. Lassen of Fort Myers, Florida, serving with HC-7 Detachment 104, had launched from frigate Jouett (DLG 29) in the Gulf of Tonkin to rescue Rootbeer 210, a McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom flown by Lieutenant Commanders John W. Holtzclaw and John A. Burns of VF-33, shot down by a surface-to-air missile.

Lassen and his crew spotted the burning Phantom but the dense foliage prevented them from landing. Holtzclaw and Burns signaled Lassen and he heroically took the Seasprite in, but the “impenetrable jungle” prevented his crew from dangling the rescue harness. Undaunted, Lassen came about and landed but the enemy opened fire and the stranded men frantically radioed “Come get us, come get us!” Lassen and his crew returned fire as they tried again, but the aircraft began to run out of fuel.

North Vietnamese chased Holtzclaw and Burns as they ran for the helo and clambered on board, and with “both guns returning enemy fire” the helo lifted off and returned to Jouett with barely five minutes of fuel remaining. “It’s kind of strange” Lassen explained. “Once I crossed the beach going inland, I figured I was dead. The longer we stayed in there, the more I thought there was a chance we might survive through it.”

After graduating from high school in Venice, Florida, Lassen enlisted as a seaman recruit in 1961 and commissioned as an ensign four years later. The brave pilot received the Medal of Honor for the rescue, and retired as a commander to Florida. On 21 April 2001, the Navy commissioned destroyer Lassen (DDG 82), named in his honor.