Sidebar 4 – A Bad Day at Mu Gia

On 6 Feb 67, another O-1F was shot down over the Mu Gia Pass. The low and slow O-1F Forward Air Controller (FAC) aircraft had been restricted from flying in the area for almost 10 months. With all the Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) massed there, the little O-1s didn’t stand a chance of surviving the NVA gunners.

I don’t know why Capt. Lucius L. Heiskell and another O-1 as his wingman (both from the 23rd TASS at NKP) flew into the area that day. I suspect they saw targets and were trying their best to do the job of interdicting the traffic on the HCMT. They likely saw targets and were determined to “take them out.” Whatever the case, Capt Haskell was shot down and managed to bail out. His wingman saw a good ‘chute, and he reached the ground safely.

But they were in bad guy country. Heiskell radioed to the orbiting wingman that he was surrounded. On the ground, Heiskell evaded the NVA. About 10 AM, a Search and Rescue (SAR) effort began. A pair of Jolly Green Giants (HH-3E) helicopters launched from NKP along with escorting A-1 “Sandys.”

By this time in the war SAR helicopters worked in pairs… one “high bird” to give cover and as a back-up if something went wrong… and one “low bird” to do the pick-up. On this day something went very wrong.

Pic of the HH-3E Jolly Green Giant taken at Da Nang Air Base, Vietnam in 1968. (USAF Photo)

Airman Second Class (A2C, E3) Duane Hackney, on temporary duty at NKP, was on the “low bird,” Jolly 05. When the Jolly 05, arrived it went into a hover, and A2C Hackney volunteered to be lowered to the ground to search for Capt. Heiskell.

Duane Hackney joined the Air Force at 17… right out of high school… in Jun 65. According to one source, Hackney said he joined “on a whim to get out of cutting grass back home.” He volunteered to become a PJ (pararescueman)… and… when he completed the year-long PJ training he volunteered to go to Vietnam. On 27 Jun 66, he was assigned to the 37th Aerospace Rescue & Recovery Squadron (ARRS) at Da Nang Air Base in Vietnam.

Airman Hackney in the doorway of a Jolly Green Giant with a jungle penetrator. (USAF Photo)

As he was being lowered into the jungle on 6 Feb 67, Hackney had already earned an Airman’s Medal, a Distinguished Flying Cross, a Purple Heart and Air Medals for “single acts of heroism.” Both the Airman’s Medal and DFC were for heroism. He received his first Purple Heart for wounds on his first combat mission.

Once on the ground, Hackney began the search for the downed O-1 pilot. After Hackney searched, without success, near the pilot’s last reported position, the SAR was called off. Later in the afternoon, another pilot over the Mu Gia Pass made radio contact with Capt. Heiskell.

Again the rescue force was scrambled out of NKP… and again, A2C Hackney was on board the “low bird.” This time Hackney found Capt. Heiskell and got the wounded pilot on board the Jolly Green Giant. But… as the Jolly was exiting the area, it was hit by 37mm AAA fire.

Hackney put his own parachute on Capt. Heiskell and helped him out the door. Then the PJ found another parachute. But, as he was putting it on, a second 37mm shell hit the Jolly. The explosion blew Hackney out of the helicopter before he could buckle the parachute harness. He managed to pull the rip-cord and hang on with just his arms in the harness.

The chute opened in time. Hackney was on the ground with the NVA all around him. Although burned and wounded by shrapnel from the explosion, he evaded the soldiers hunting him. A short time later he saw an A-1 “Sandy” and fired his flair. It was spotted by the “Sandy Man.”

As the “high bird” came in, Hackney waved his arms, and Jolly 36 made the pick-up. Unfortunately, none of the other crew members of Jolly 05, nor Capt. Heiskell survived. Four souls were KIA. For giving up his own parachute and attempted save of Capt. Heiskell, the USAF awarded A2C Duane D. Hackney the Air Force Cross.

Duane D. Hackney being awarded the Air Force Cross and Purple Heart by USAF Four-Star General  Howard M Estes. (Note that Hackney had been promoted to Airman First Class at the time of the award.) (USAF Photo)

Airman Hackney didn’t stop there. As soon as he could, he returned to flying and more rescues. He earned three more DFCs for rescues, a total of eighteen Air Medals for heroism, and a Silver Star for saving the lives of six men during a rocket attack on Da Nang.

In 1968, he received the Cheney Award for “an act of valor, extreme fortitude, or self-sacrifice.” (This may have been the 1967 award presented in 1968.) He completed 200 combat missions during his three tours in Southeast Asia. Ultimately he received 28 medals for valor and more than 70 awards & decorations. (Only one Cheney Award is given each year by the USAF.)

In 1991 Hackney retired from the USAF as a Chief Master Sergeant (CMSGT). Unfortunately, he died two years later at age 46 of a heart attack.

A2C (CMSGT) Hackney exemplified the PJ’s motto:

“That Others May Live.”

Although my information comes from a variety of sources, the best single source was a 2010 article in Air Force Magazine written by John T Correll. It has more details about Hackney, and I recommend it to you. Click here for the full article. (opens in a new tab.)

2 thoughts on “Sidebar 4 – A Bad Day at Mu Gia

  1. An All-American Hero… I heard stories about Duane’s heroism Reading this has solidified my understanding of his heroism and sacrifice I served one tour at NKP and as a PJ myself I knew of his legend And believe me we all managed to at some point in our service earn that sacred motto “That others may live” and hold our heads high Maroon Beret! HooYah!

    • Thank you for your comments. It’s always good to hear from a fellow Air Commando. Feel free to add anything you like.

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