On this day in 2014, a hero passes away. Bernard Fisher is best known for his heroism during the Vietnam War. He’d put his life on the line for a pilot who had been downed during a mission. Rescue helicopters were still half an hour away! Bernard Fisher knew what he had to do. He landed his own plane on a jungle runway, in the midst of hostile fire. He saved his fellow pilot.
“I couldn’t stand by and watch him get murdered without at least trying to rescue him,” Fisher later explained.
Fisher would receive a Medal of Honor for his actions.
On that day in March 1966, an American Special Forces camp was under attack by the Vietnamese, and Fisher was piloting one of the aircraft that was helping to fight the enemy back. Unfortunately, another plane in the group was hit as its pilot completed his second run.
The pilot of that plane was Major Dafford “Jump” Myers. His plane immediately caught on fire. Myers was already too close to the ground, so he was left with limited options. He would need to make an emergency landing on a battered runway near the Special Forces camp, despite the hostile fire.
Fisher was watching as all these events unfolded, and he even talked Myers through portions of the rocky landing.
“The aircraft settled on the runway,” Fisher later wrote. “[Myers] had tried to release the extra fuel tank attached to the belly prior to landing, but the release had failed, and the tank blew as soon as he touched ground. . . . The explosion appeared so devastating I couldn’t imagine how anyone could survive, but I circled the airfield just in case.”
Imagine Fisher’s surprise when he saw Myers tumbling out of the burning aircraft! Myers ran to a ditch and quickly slathered himself with mud. He would need some sort of camouflage while he awaited help.
Fisher called for a rescue helicopter, but he quickly realized that it would not get there soon enough. He decided to attempt his own rescue landing, as his Medal citation notes, although “aware of the extreme danger and likely failure of such an attempt.”
The runway really wasn’t long enough for his landing. And it was covered with debris and portions of Myers’s exploded aircraft. Perhaps it is unsurprising that Fisher had to abort his first landing.
Yes, you heard that right. Fisher made an approach to land not once, but twice—all in the face of enemy fire. He finally made it to Myers, though. When Myers was too weak to climb into the plane, Fisher “grabbed him by his flight suit and pulled him into the cockpit headfirst.” Myers “gave me a weak smile,” Fisher later reported, “and mumbled something like, ‘You are one crazy son-of-a-gun.’”
“[A]way we went,” Fisher concluded, “hoping like the dickens that we had enough runway to get airborne.”
The runway wasn’t really long enough, of course, but Fisher managed to pull off the feat anyway. Amazingly, both men survived the experience, although it was later discovered that Fisher’s plane had been struck by 19 bullets.
“I think that Americans are compassionate,” Fisher later said, “and will do most anything reasonable to help a man that is in trouble.”
I imagine most of us would agree that Fisher’s actions went well beyond a mere “reasonable” offer of help?! But, yes, his heroic actions certainly do represent the best of the American spirit, don’t they?