Tullo and the Giant

For pilots shot down over North Vietnam, the way home was jolly and green.

The interior of a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, possibly at Ta Son Nhut AFB, circa 1966-67. (Richard Keller, National Air and Space Museum (SI Photo 2001-1887))
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On the ground, the downblast was tremendous. Debris flew everywhere, and the trees and grass were whipping and bending wildly. Tullo holstered his pistol, slung the survival kit over his shoulder, and slipped the horse collar over his head. He gave the crew chief in the door a thumbs-up.

The cable became taut and Tullo began to rise off the ground. After being lifted about 10 feet, the hoist jammed and the cable stopped. The crew chief was giving hand signals Tullo did not understand. Tullo looked up. Pert and pararescueman George Thayer were in the door lowering a rope. The horse collar was cutting off the circulation in Tullo's arms and he was tiring, but he grabbed the rope and tied it around the top of the horse collar.

Finally the chopper began to move and dragged Tullo through some bushes. Everybody's trying to kill me, he thought. The Jolly climbed and circled as Pert Thayer struggled with the hoist. The overworked number two engine had begun to overheat and a fire light came on in the Jolly's cockpit. As they circled, Martin hoped that the air flowing through the engine would cool it down and the light might extinguish.

Pert and Thayer were joined by copilot Orville Keese, and the three men strained to pull the dangling man aboard. The pain was becoming so great that Tullo was thinking about dropping from the sling.

Martin spotted a rice paddy next to a house and lowered Tullo to the ground. The exhausted pilot rolled out of the sling as the chopper swung away and landed 50 or 60 feet away from him. Pert and Thayer frantically shouted to Tullo, who sprinted and dove through the door. He could hear an automatic weapon firing and saw both pilots in the helo ducking their heads.

The Jolly had problems: low fuel, a sick engine, darkness, and clouds at altitude. Martin and his crew had been in the war zone slightly more than two weeks and did not even have maps of the area. The crew relied on flares lit inside 55-gallon drums at Lima 36 and the landing lights of hovering helos to find a place to land. "We held only about a quarter of the area around the site," Martin says. "That was the only corridor you could fly through without getting shot at, because the Pathet Lao held the other three-quarters." Martin finally landed with a shaken pilot and just 750 pounds of fuel aboard.

Tullo learned his aircraft was one of six Thuds and one EB-66 electronic countermeasures aircraft shot down that day. Of three surviving pilots, Tullo was the only one rescued--the others were to spend more than seven years as POWs. Tullo returned to a Thunderchief cockpit and completed his tour. His story was later told in Thunder From Above by John Morocco.

Tullo's rescue was the farthest north that a successful pickup had been made, thanks to the determination of Martin and his crew and the long range of their CH-3C. It was the first of 1,490 recoveries that Jolly Green Giants would make in Southeast Asia. Soon a dedicated air rescue version would be built, the HH-3C, with in-flight refueling capability, armor plating, a powerful hoist, and shatterproof canopies. However, the Jolly Green Giant would find its ultimate form in the HH-53 Super Jolly, an even larger and more powerful helicopter still flown in various versions today. The technology improved, but rescue crews still had to meet the same basic requirements: a willingness to fly into hostile territory, hover in a big green target, and find a man whose only hope arrived on a cable and sling.

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