Why I always carry a flashlight.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts about my wife growing up on Brothers Grimm stories, and how we will be sharing these same stories with our children.  I was thinking about one story I grew up with this morning which my father told me when I asked him why he always carried a flashlight.

On a foul night in the mid 1960s, two brave men of the US Air Force were flying photo reconnaissance over North Vietnam in their F4 Phantom.  Unfortunately their target was well defended, and they were forced to eject after receiving heavy ground fire.  This is the story of one of those brave men who I’ll call M, and all of the other brave men who risked their lives to rescue him.

After ejecting from his Phantom, M found himself in the middle of enemy territory.  He commenced escape and evasion, while radioing in to request rescue.  The enemy was swarming all around him, and the only thing which saved him from immediate capture was the darkness and his own wits.  Fortunately for M, the Navy had a carrier stationed in the gulf and an SH3 Sea King helicopter immediately scrambled to rescue him.

At the same time, an entire host of other aircraft from multiple branches of the US military went into action in an effort to save M from capture.  Fighters and bombers from the Air Force and Marines all assisted in communicating with M and directing the rescue helicopter to his location.  One of their own was in great danger, and they would do whatever they could to help get him out safely.  They knew roughly where M was, but rescuing him was especially challenging because it was pitch black and the area was heavily defended.  The same fire which took down his supersonic F4 would now be directed at the slow moving chopper and crew attempting to rescue him.

Somehow the chopper managed to make it through the heavy fire, heavier now because the enemy knew an airman was down and someone would be coming in to try to rescue him.  The door gunners on the chopper laid down suppressive fire with their machine guns in all directions, and an Air Force bomber came in low and took out a source of especially heavy anti aircraft fire.  The chopper was there, and M could see it.  But they couldn’t see where he was.  With the closeness of the enemy, fuel constraints, and the amount of fire the rescue helicopter was under, there was very little time to determine if he was going to be captured or rescued that night.

M turned on his flashlight and shined it in the direction of the helicopter, hoping he could direct them in.  The pilot saw his light and told him to turn it off;  he now knew where he was.  With the door gunners firing continuously at approaching enemy troops, the Sea King found a nearby clearing and managed to just barely touch the ground in a sort of half hover, half landing.  All of the enemy ground forces looking for M saw the helicopter come in, and immediately converged on the chopper.  But M was already in a dead run, the run of his life.  He ran until he reached the chopper, and dove into the open door.  He was running so fast and dove so hard that he slid across the bottom of the big helicopter on the sea of spent brass on the floor.  He would have slid straight out the door on the other side had a crew-member not caught him and held him in as the chopper made its ascent.

My father was the pilot of the Sea King helicopter that rescued M that foul night all of those years ago.  He was awarded the Silver Star for the rescue.  To this day he always has a flashlight handy, a lesson he learned from M, the brave F4 pilot he met so long ago.  And so do I.

Information on source of F4 and Sea King images available from Wiki Commons.

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20 Responses to Why I always carry a flashlight.

  1. Gorbachev says:

    That, Dalrock, is a damned amazing story.

    I’m going to go get a flashlight now.

    Your dad deserved his silver star.

    This is truly the stuff of actual men.

    Where are those men.

    BTW, any knowledge of what happened to the other pilot?

  2. dalrock says:

    Thanks Gorbachev.

    BTW, any knowledge of what happened to the other pilot?

    He was rescued later in the daylight. He was probably saved by the focus on M during the night. The whole thing was a hornets nest by the time it was all done. Lots of attack aircraft going in and napalming AAA sites, etc. Another chopper was shot up just as it crossed the beach and had to turn back. Most of those brave men weren’t awarded any medals, but they knew what they had done to save one of their own.

  3. Gorbachev says:

    These guys were real men.

    That I respect.

  4. Samson says:

    Ah, yes, the venerable Sea King, workhorse of the 1960s.

    And still the navy’s mainstay here in Canada. Sigh.

  5. dalrock says:

    I grew up playing with models of Sea Kings and F4s, long before I knew their significance to my father. I have to admit I have a soft spot for both. The Sea King really was a great helicopter. They were the helicopter that flew the US President (Marine One) until 1989. I found this picture of President and Nancy Reagan standing on one. It gives a sense of just how big they really are.

  6. Gorbachev says:

    No way.


    Buy some new ones.

  7. dalrock says:

    BTW Gorbachev,

    If you are serious about buying a flashlight, check out the next gen of LED lights (Cree). I picked up one that is the same form factor as a Mini Mag (2 AA), but with 115 lumen. The thing is almost 10X brighter than the Mini Mag, and the batteries last just as long. The same light in the headache bag pic. I can’t find any more of the 2 AA lights, but they still have 3 AAA Coleman Max lights in the local Wal Mart. Some are even brighter.

  8. Gorbachev says:

    I was serious, and I’m going to get one and put it in my camera kitbag. It goes with me everywhere (worky stuff). I’ll get a few.

    An interesting callsign of the times. You may have marginally increased flashlight sales across the nation.

  9. Anonymous age 68 says:

    I have carried a flashlight with me, for years, thought he flashlight has changed. I have a 3 – AAA light now, a heavy duty metal one, small, from Wal-mart. I don’t usually need one in the daytime, but I find that night comes without planning, and when I need one I have it.

  10. Tarl says:

    I think the lesson here is not “always carry a flashlight” but “always have a helicopter on-call to come and get you out of trouble”. =)

  11. Gorbachev says:


    I think I need to get me one of those, too.

  12. dalrock says:

    I’d settle for a carrier battle group on the ready. Well stocked with SEALs and Marines of course.

  13. Heathcliff says:

    Check out the Surefire E1B

  14. MW says:

    Upon joining up, a sergeant growled at me that a good infantryman always carried a notebook and pencil, a knife, a watch, a lighter, and a flashlight with a red filter.

    Thanks for bringing back some good memories!

    What a story!

  15. dalrock says:

    Thanks for bringing back some good memories!

    What a story!

    Made my day! Thanks!

    And thanks for your service as well.

  16. J says:

    What a great story! You must be really proud of your dad.

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  20. Mike43 says:

    “Upon joining up, a sergeant growled at me that a good infantryman always carried a notebook and pencil, a knife, a watch, a lighter, and a flashlight with a red filter.”

    We’re still teaching that; well, at least in 2009 when I retired. Personally, I think every man should carry that. I still do.

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