LARRY LISS

Letterhead scanned.tif July 24, 2009

 

Pennsylvania 's Federal Delegation

U.S. Capitol

Washington , D.C.

Dear U.S. Congressman:

The Medal of Honor is reserved for presentation to military personnel who distinguishes him- or herself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his [or her] life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States . As commander of the 112,000 member Pennsylvania Veterans of Foreign Wars and on behalf of these combat veterans, I support awarding U.S. Army Captain Lawrence M. Liss-a Vietnam War veteran-with the Medal of Honor.

I hope you will closely review the after action reports that detail the extraordinary bravery demonstrated who put his life on the line to help save many lives. While CPT Liss was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his heroic service on a mission in Cau Song Be, May 14, 1967, more evidence has surfaced since the presentation of that award to warrant higher commendation. There is strong momentum on several fronts including in the U.S. Congress to honor CPT Liss with the Medal of Honor and we hope you will move with urgency to request this highly deserved recognition.

DFC photo.jpgWhile he is not seeking out publicity or personal gain from consideration as a Medal of Honor recipient, CPT Liss is a Pennsylvania resident who deserves to wear the medal. He put many lives ahead of his own during this and other missions. Surely, his story is inspirational and perfectly frames a picture of an American hero.

A comprehensive package has been assembled to document what happened on May 14, 1967. One officer, CDR David F. Williams, Jr., USNR (Ret.), recalls that mission and recently noted:

CPT LAWRENCE LISS

"I recognized that you all had demonstrated extraordinary courage and professionalism that day, plus a lot more superlative adjectives I could list. It is one thing to do a heroic act instinctively in a moment of danger; it is quite another to have time to think about it, do it once and see the danger up close and personal, and then do it several more times knowing the danger is mounting with each mission. You could have chosen at any time to not go back and no one would have faulted you.  But you kept going back for as long as there was hope for more rescues. You have my greatest respect and that of everyone who has read or heard about this rescue mission."

Important Mission Background

Retired LTC Wallace "Wally" Johnson, commander of the Cau Song Be Special Forces Camp on May 14, 1967, was located and contacted by the Windfall Films production team during filming of the "Vietnam Firefight" segment in the four-p ­ art Helicopter Wars documentary. LTC Johnson was familiar with the situation at the time of the rescue of the South Vietnamese unit from Cau Song Be Special Forces Camp. The rescue of the allied soldiers assigned to Cau Song Be was made on the final day of Operation Junction City, the largest operation conducted by U.S. and allied forces during the Vietnam War to date.

The 83-day operation began on February 22 and ended on May 14, 1967. The operation involved 22 U.S. battalions and 4 South Vietnamese Army battalions: elements of the 1 st Infantry Division, the 4 th Infantry Division, the 25 th Infantry Division, the 196 th Infantry Brigade, the 11 th Armored Cavalry Regiment and the 173 rd Airborne Brigade. The operation was conducted in War Zone C in Tay Ninh Province , as well as in bordering provinces. There were 2,728 known enemy casualties as a result of the operation.

The rescue at Cau Song Be occurred during the final day of this operation and was not listed as a significant action in light of the major engagement of forces. II Field Force Vietnam was the largest combat command in Vietnam : 1 st Infantry Division, the 3 rd Brigade of the 4 th Infantry Division, the 11 th Cavalry Regiment, the 196 th Infantry Brigade, the 199 th Infantry Brigade, the 1 st Cavalry Division, the 9 th Infantry Division, the 25 th Infantry Division, the 101 st Airborne Division and the 173 rd Airborne Brigade.

An operations officer in the II Field Forces Vietnam Flight Detachment wrote recommendations for the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross to Thomas Baca and Larry Liss, without seeking additional information about the mission. The operations officer did not interview Baca and Liss, nor did he connect with the Special Forces officers to include information about the extent of the mission flown by the aircraft. The recommendations for the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross to Jack Swickard and the Air Medal with "V" device for members of his crew (including Albert Croteau and Kenneth Dolan) were based on a narrative request made by another headquarters, rather than through the unit to which they were assigned. The recommendations did not include information other than from a narrative requested by the other headquarters from Swickard.

As a result, information of importance about the mission was not part of the award recommendations for the two flight crews. The mission received little attention because none of the aircrew members were killed or wounded, the mission occurred on a Sunday when many aircrews were not flying missions, the Cau Song Be rescue involved two aircrews who were on detached assignments rather than flying with their normal units, and the rescue occurred in remote areas.

LTC Johnson, who commanded the Cau Song Be Special Forces Camp on the day of the rescue, estimates the size of the enemy unit that encircled the allied soldiers rescued by the two helicopters at 600-700 North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong troops. Special Forces medic James Dopp assigned to Cau Song Be Special Forces Camp reports later reports showed the enemy force was a battalion of the 273 rd North Vietnamese Army regiment, consisting of 500-600 enemy soldiers. LTC Johnson, in an affidavit, said he believes the enemy unit was poised to overrun the Cau Song Be Special Forces Camp. Another Special Forces camp in the vicinity had been overrun, with loss of U.S. and South Vietnamese soldiers.

The extraction of the South Vietnamese military unit and its return to Cau Song Be, along with information about the location of the enemy force, likely prevented the Special Forces camp from being overrun. Special Forces operations reports show equipment was later brought to the camp at Cau Song Be to provide additional protection.

At the time the original awards recommendations were written, it was believed by the writers the group engaging the allied soldiers was a Viet Cong unit. There is no mention of a North Vietnamese force in the award citations or in the orders conferring the awards to the aircrews. Nor is there any mention of the size of the enemy force. The assumption by a higher command likely was the allied soldiers were extracted from an engagement with a smaller, irregular Viet Cong element rather than 600-700 regular NVA soldiers and Viet Cong soldiers.

LTC Johnson and medic Dopp estimate the number of South Vietnamese CIDG soldiers extracted at 80-100, in addition to 1 U.S. Special Forces advisor. Their estimates came to light in 2007 and 2008 after Dopp responded to an article on the Internet about the mission and Johnson became aware of a documentary about the mission.

At the time the DFC recommendations were written, no total number of extracted soldiers was given. In Jack Swickard's orders for the DFC, it mentions he carried 10 soldiers out on each of five lifts. There is no mention of the number of soldiers extracted in the award citations for Baca and Liss.

Statements by the aircrews show the two helicopters cut their way to the ground by chopping through bamboo and other vegetation, with resulting serious damage to the rotor blades. Operations and maintenance officers commented on the severe damage to the rotor blades, which were removed.

The maintenance officer at the 118 th Assault Helicopter Company, where Swickard, Dolan and Croteau were assigned, told Croteau the day after the mission both rotor blades on the aircraft they flew in the rescue were a total loss and had to be removed. Croteau examined the blades and could see the internal honeycomb structure exposed. The maintenance officer told Croteau he did not know how the aircraft could fly with rotor blades so severely damaged.

There is no mention in Swickard's DFC orders about the rotor blades being used to cut bamboo and other vegetation so his aircraft could descend to the ground for the rescue of the allied soldiers. The DFC citations for Baca and Liss mention the rotor blades were used to cut bamboo and vegetation only on their first descent, during the medical evacuation of 6-7 soldiers before the full rescue began.

The aircrews recall seeing allied soldiers being killed on the aircraft while they were boarding the helicopters or already had boarded. Medic Dopp also describes seeing allied soldiers shot as they tried to reach the helicopter flown by Baca and Liss during the medical evacuation that immediately preceded the rescue of the allied unit. There is no mention in the award citations and orders of the allied soldiers being killed during the extraction from the Landing Zone. Nor is there mention of allied soldiers being shot as they tried to reach the Baca-Liss helicopter during the medical evacuation.

MAJ Harry Drotor, the commanding officer of the II Field Force Vietnam Flight Detachment, where Baca and Liss were assigned, was upset with the pilots because they had flown an unarmed aircraft into combat to rescue the allied soldiers. Drotor told Liss he didn't care how high an award the crewmembers deserved, "you can't give a high medal to soldiers who disobey direct orders, no matter what." The commander also expressed his disapproval of the rescue to Baca. No mention was made in earlier reports of command influence in reducing the level of awards given for the Cau Song Be rescue.

Worthy of a Medal of Honor

CPT Liss volunteered to co-pilot an unarmed, VIP helicopter, in an attempt to carry reinforcements and evacuate wounded from a site approximately 8 miles from the Cau Song Be Special Forces Camp. While his command pilot flew towards the intended landing zone, CPT Liss continued to call for additional help on the helicopter's radios, and determine the most advantageous approach by which the helicopter could make a successful landing. To reach the landing zone and evacuate the troops, the helicopter had to negotiate the landing by cutting down bamboo trees which had overgrown the single lane dirt road. While the command pilot was accomplishing the landing, CPT Liss was able to ascertain the full extent of the impact of the ongoing battle.

Upon landing back at the camp, the US Special Forces Commander requested that the crew go back again in an attempt to rescue all of the 100 some US and South Vietnamese soldiers trapped by a superior enemy force. CPT Liss then took the controls and flew the second and fourth of five extractions. As on the first landing, Captain Liss had to cut his way down through the Bamboo trees surrounding the landing site, while his other pilot managed the loading of the evacuees. CPT Liss then lifted the helicopter straight up, turned and flew back to the camp to unload the troops keenly aware of the damage to the helicopter. CPT Liss' helicopter was joined by another helicopter which was equipped with machine guns for added protection.

On the third approach, Captain Liss realized that all radio contact had been lost with the forces being evacuated. He also saw that the troops attempting to evacuate the landing zone were moving too slow. CPT Liss, without the protection of a "flak vest," unflinchingly leaped out of his seat, exposing himself to continuous ground fire from enemy combatants closing in on the landing zone to assist the troops on board. He also defended the aircraft by engaging the enemy with his 45 and rifle until he ran out of ammo. After clearing the helicopter for takeoff, CPT Liss jumped back into the cockpit and the helicopter took off. As stated prior, CPT Liss took over and flew the "4 th " extraction, held his ground while loading was taking place, knowing full well that the perimeter had shrunk to a diameter of about 50 feet and that the enemy was increasing its resolve to stop the extraction and bring down the helicopters. He took off and returned to the camp.

On the 5 th landing and knowing full well that there was no perimeter left to offer any protection, CPT Liss again left the cockpit with total disregard for his own safety and continued to assist evacuees onto the aircraft. At that point, he knew that he and his crew had to take all of the remaining 18 soldiers, since they would surely face capture or death if left behind. CPT Liss instructed troops into the cargo bay and had the others stand on the skids. He returned to his seat in the cockpit and gave the "go" sign to take off to his command pilot. As the helicopter was taking off, CPT Liss grabbed two of the Vietnamese soldiers hanging on to his door and window by their lapels so that they wouldn't fall to their deaths and hung on to them until the helicopter landing safely at the camp.

Just reading this account gets your blood pressure racing and you can just imagine the intense atmosphere surrounding every second of this rescue. It is clear that CPT Liss was a courageous leader committed to preserving the lives of his comrades while having no regard for his own safety. You cannot deny that CPT Liss distinguished himself "conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States ."

His story is real and well documented. We hope that you put as much dedication and effort into awarding him the Medal of Honor as he did on that day so that others could live in freedom.

Finally, I can confirm that CPT Liss is still watching the backs of his brothers in arms. In fact, he requested that if I to write you that I should include his recommendations for honors to others as a salute to their brave service that day: WO Tom Baca for the MOH; WO Jack Swickard, MOH; LT Al Croteau, DSC; MSGT Robert (Hoot) Gibson, DSC; SPC James Dopp, Silver Star; MSGT Dan Lawler*, Silver Star; and MSGT Doug Lloyd*, Silver Star (* signifies that MSGTs Lawler and Lloyd were killed in action that day).

Respectfully,

Frank G. Mills, Sr. - PA VFW State Commander

Vietnam War Veteran

 

 

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