Medal of Honor

 

 

LASSEN, CLYDE EVERETT

 

Rank and organization: Lieutenant, U.S. Navy, Helicopter Support Squadron 7, Detachment 104, embarked in U.S.S. Preble (DLG-15)

 

Place and date: Republic of Vietnam, 19 June 1968

 

Entered service at: Jacksonville, Florida

 

Born: 14 March 1942, Fort Myers, Florida

 

Citation:

 

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as pilot and aircraft commander of a search and rescue helicopter, attached to Helicopter Support Squadron 7, during operations against enemy forces in North Vietnam. Launched shortly after midnight to attempt the rescue of 2 downed aviators. Lt. (then Lt.(jg.)) Lassen skillfully piloted his aircraft over unknown and hostile terrain to a steep, tree-covered hill on which the survivors had been located. Although enemy fire was being directed at the helicopter, he initially landed in a clear area near the base of the hill, but, due to the dense undergrowth, the survivors could not reach the helicopter. With the aid of flare illumination, Lt. Lassen successfully accomplished a hover between 2 trees at the survivors' position. Illumination was abruptly lost as the last of the flares were expended, and the helicopter collided with a tree, commencing a sharp descent. Expertly righting his aircraft and maneuvering clear, Lt. Lassen remained in the area, determined to make another rescue attempt, and encouraged the downed aviators while awaiting resumption of flare illumination. After another unsuccessful, illuminated rescue attempt. and with his fuel dangerously low and his aircraft significantly damaged, he launched again and commenced another approach in the face of the continuing enemy opposition. When flare illumination was again lost, Lt. Lassen, fully aware of the dangers in clearly revealing his position to the enemy, turned on his landing lights and completed the landing. On this attempt, the survivors were able to make their way to the helicopter. In route to the coast he encountered and successfully evaded additional hostile antiaircraft fire and, with fuel for only minutes of flight remaining, landed safely aboard U.S.S. Jouett (DLG-29). Lt. Lassen's extraordinary heroism at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Navy.

 

Clyde E. Lassen, in the cockpit of his UH-2 helicopter, and his crew after his rescue of the two F-4 pilots.

A UH-2 helicopter.

Thanks to Charles N Angevine < hotshotcharlie1@aol.com > for providing the above photographs. On 21 April 2000 he wrote:

 

Dear Neil,

This morning while tip toeing thru the internet I came across your web site regarding the Medal of Honor. I was fascinated by it and looked up one name I was somewhat associated with. That being Clyde E. Lassen. I found one thing missing from the story, a photo of Lt Lassen and the helicopter he flew. I will attempt to attach a photo of the crew and a similar helicopter to this message. In hopes you might want to make the story a bit more complete.

It's a rather lengthy story, but I will attempt to be brief. I spent 34 years of my life employed at Kaman Aerospace Corp in Bloomfield, CT. For about 29 of those years my main concern was the UH-2 helicopter, which is what Lt Lassen flew. I was involved in all support phases of that helo's life from the original provisioning in 1959 until my retirement in 1985 when I was the company logistics coordinator. Of course it was during this time that Lt Lassen made his flight. At the time I was very disappointed that the company did not capitalize on the work that he had done. For whatever reason my pleas fell on deaf ears.

Anyway, I was happy to read the full citation for the first time on your site. I was also surprised to learn that a ship had been named in his honor. GREAT!! I knew that he had died, but had never seen anything about the ship. I will now scour the internet and attempt to find a photo of it to complete my file on this matter.

Both photographs were scanned from a company newspaper which was printed in 1970.

Thanks for your fine job.

Sincerely,

Charles N. Angevine


Thanks to Michelle Haney (jmhaney@cableone.net) for providing a copy of The Mississippi Press, which had the following article regarding the launching of DDG-82, the USS Lassen, from the Ingalls Shipbuilding facility.

 

PASCAGOULA - For John Holtzclaw, Lassen is more than the name of the 14th Aegis destroyer built by Ingalls Shipbuilding It's the name of his hero.

"Without Clyde Lassen and his crew's courageous efforts, there's probably two of us in the audience and who would not be here today and might well not been alive," Holtzclaw, a retired Navy captain, said during the destroyer's christening ceremony at Ingalls.

"Clyde Lassen and his courageous crew were the epitome of the proper use of the term 'hero,'" he said. "Committed to their dangerous mission at night ... they demonstrated heroism, professionalism, far, far above what would be called the normal call of duty. In my view, that's a hero."

Holtzclaw had first-hand knowledge of Clyde Lassen's heroism.

Lassen, at the time a lieutenant j.g., saved Hotzclaw's life and the life of his radar operator. His efforts won him the Medal of Honor. Lassen later retired from the Navy. He died of cancer in 1994.

On the night of June 19, 1968, Holtzclaw, flying a F4 Phantom, and John "Zeke" Burns, his radar operator, were shot down deep in North Vietnam.

After several attempts to rescue the downed aviators from the air, Lassen, a helicopter pilot from the destroyer USS Preble, turned on his landing light and made several attempts under fire to rescue Holtzclaw and Burns.

"We didn't have much of a choice but to turn on the landing light," Bruce Dallas, who was a petty officer 2nd class and Lassen's gunner, said after the ceremonies. "It was so dark, we had to see to land."

"It was very uncharacteristic to turn the landing light on, because it makes you a big target," said Bums, who broke his leg after ejecting from the burning plane. "But had they not turned it on, we would not have gotten picked up."

He recalled the helicopter took enemy fire for 58 minutes, adding North Vietnamese troops fired anti aircraft guns and two surface-to-air missiles, better known as SAMs, at the helicopter.

"They made five passes at us and three landings and two attempts to pick us up with the helicopter's sling," Burns, who also retired as a captain, said.

"They were in the vicinity for a good long time, and this was a small, single-engine helicopter that was made to fly over water."

Dallas said Lassen would land the helicopter "and each time we would wait until we thought we were too good of a target, and then we'd leave and try again."

On the third attempt, the crew got Burns and Holtzclaw and returned to the destroyer with barely enough fuel for the ride home.

"Hopefully, these ceremonies here will start what we call the personalization of this dedicated, professional naval officer," Holtzclaw told the audience.

'This is an individual who played a significant part in Vietnam by helping the fighting forces."

U.S. Rep. Steven Kuykendall, R-Calif., principal speaker for the ceremony, said Lassen's military career should serve as an example of courage, commitment and duty for young Americans.

"The military needs to recruit the best and the brightest," he said. "But private industry is seeking the same people, and some of our young people are not willing to serve.

"We need to instill the sense to serve in our youth - the sense that serving is a part of being an American; part of how we maintain our democracy."

Lassen's widow, Linda Lassen the ship's Sponsor, called the ceremony thrilling and humbling.

"Clyde was known as a modest man with an unwavering dedication and determination to perform every task to the best of his ability," she said.

"He was a caring person who was willing to help others because he wanted those around him to succeed and to help others achieve their, goals."

The destroyer bearing Lassen's name is the second ship in what is called the "second flight" of Arleigh Burke class destroyers.

The ship carries the Aegis Combat System, and the capability to launch 90, surface-to-air, Tomahawk and antisubmarine missiles, advanced antisubmarine sonar and other weapons systems.

"Being a man of action, I'm sure that if he were here today, he would want to check out every detail of DDG-82 and the new technology of the Aegis system," Mrs. Lassen said.

Holtzclaw said he hopes naming the ship after Lassen "Will also help us perpetuate, as generations progress, the Vietnam era which is all too quickly being forgotten."

It was important, he said that future generations remembered not only the era and politics of the Vietnam War, but also Lassen's - and others - commitment to duty.

"He's my hero" he said. "I owe my life, my allegiance to this individual. Every year on June 19, wherever I was in the Navy, I made a point of calling him or his family."

Holtzclaw said Lassen was a modest individual with a dry sense of humor who would have enjoyed the christening.

"If he were here, he would just say, 'you've got to be kidding me; they're doing this for me?'" Holtzclaw said. "He would say, 'this is really great; why are they doing this for me?' Because he was just doing his job.

"But the job he did was one probably one of 1,000 that others wouldn't have considered doing. That's the reason he's recognized as a Medal of Honor winner."

 


NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense

April 19, 2001

 

NAVY TO COMMISSION GUIDED MISSILE DESTROYER LASSEN

 

The Department of the Navy will commission Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer Lassen (DDG 80) Saturday, April 21, 2001, during an 11 a.m. EST ceremony at the Florida Aquarium Pier in Tampa, Fla. The ship is named in honor of Navy Cmdr. Clyde Everett Lassen, a native of Fort Myers, Fla., (1942-1994), who received the Medal of Honor for his courageous rescue of two downed aviators while commander of a search and rescue helicopter in Vietnam.

On June 19, 1968, Lassen, a lieutenant flying a UH-2 Seasprite helicopter, made several attempts to recover the pilots, but dense tree cover, enemy fire, and intermittent illumination conspired to frustrate his efforts. Determined to complete his mission, Lassen turned on the landing lights of his helicopter despite the danger of revealing his position to the enemy. After the pilots made their way to the helicopter, Lassen, his bullet-riddled helicopter dangerously low on fuel, evaded further anti-aircraft fire before landing safely on a guided missile destroyer, the USS Jouett (DLG 29). Lassen became the first naval aviator to be awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery in Vietnam. One previous Navy ship named Lassen (AE 3) (1941-1947), an ammunition ship named for the volcanic peak in the Volcanic National Park, Calif., received three battle stars during World War II.

Vice Adm. Edward Moore Jr., commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, will deliver the ceremony's principal address. Linda B. Lassen, wife of the ship's namesake and Barbara O. Pilling, wife of retired Adm. Donald Pilling, former vice chief of Naval Operations, will serve as ship co-sponsors. In the time-honored Navy tradition, the sponsors will give the order to "bring our ship to life." Lassen is the 32nd ship of 58 Arleigh Burke class destroyers currently authorized by Congress. These highly-capable multi-mission ships can conduct a variety of operations, from peacetime presence and crisis management to sea control and power projection, in support of the National Military Strategy. The mission of Lassen is to conduct sustained combat operations at sea. The ship is capable of fighting air, surface, and subsurface battles simultaneously. It is equipped with the AN/SPY-1D phased array radar, the most powerful air search radar in Navy's inventory. The ship contains myriad offensive and defensive weapons designed to support maritime defense needs well into the 21st century.

Cmdr. Sean O'Connor, a native of Rumson, N.J., is the commanding officer of Lassen. With a crew of 32 officers, and 348 chiefs and enlisted personnel, Lassen will be homeported in San Diego, Calif., as a member of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The ship was built by Litton Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., and is 513 feet in length and has four gas-turbine engines which power the 9,238 ton ship to speeds in excess of 30 knots. For more information on Arleigh Burke class destroyers, visit:

http://www.lassen.navy.mil

 


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