August 17, 1933 - June 9, 1968
from the Wypick family
from the Rittichier
A Coast Guard
C. Rittichier, was born within the Eighth Coast Guard District
boundaries in Akron, Ohio. Ohio is one of the 26 states in the Coast
Guard’s largest district. Rittichier was posthumously awarded the
Silver Star, the third highest combat honor below the Medal of Honor
and the Navy Cross, for his actions in Vietnam. Rittichier, like
thousands of other servicemembers, never returned home from Vietnam. He
is the only Coast Guardsman to be classified as missing in action (MIA)
Dave is two and Jack is three years old
War/Missing Persons Office, in Memphis, Tenn., has Rittichier listed as
MIA with the classification of killed in action (KIA), body not
recovered. According to the DPMO office, Rittichier’s MIA status is an
active investigation. An investigation is conducted by a team trying to
determine through eyewitness accounts, records and the last known
position of the MIA if an excavation is warranted or even possible. The
Department of Defense’s goal is to achieve the fullest possible
accounting for all personnel lost as the result of hostile action while
serving the United States.
Rittichier was one of the first Coast Guard helicopter pilots to serve
in Vietnam and our first to fall to enemy fire in Vietnam. To many, it
might come as a surprise the Coast Guard was there at all, nonetheless
a helicopter pilot.
According to Coast Guard press release, 47-68A, dated June 12, 1968,
Rittichier was among the first Coast Guard helicopter pilots to be
selected as part of an exchange duty with the Air Forces 37th Aerospace
Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Da Nang Air Base, Vietnam. The exchange
program called for each of the services to trade five pilots, three
helicopter and two-fixed wing, to acquaint them with the other services
tactics, techniques and activities.
For Rittichier, stationed at Coast Guard Air Station Detroit at the
time, Coast Guard search and rescue missions were something he did
well. In June 1967, Rittichier was awarded the Air Medal for his role
as co-pilot in a rescue on Lake Huron. They flew 150 miles in blinding
snow and ice conditions to rescue eight men stranded on a grounded West
German motor vessel.
Once on scene, Rittichier assisted in transferring the stranded
NORDMEER crew to safety aboard the USCGC MACKINAW. The Coast Guard also
awarded Rittichier with a Unit Commendation Award for his rescue work
during the Hurricane Betsy relief effort while attached at Coast Guard
Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C. Calling on his piloting skills that
got him through difficult conditions such as sleet, snow, heavy rains
and even hurricane conditions, Rittichier was off to Vietnam and the
challenging duties ahead.
The area that Rittichier flew over in Vietnam was much different than
he was used to. Instead of flying over lakes and oceans, he was now
flying above treetops and mountains. Information provided by the Coast
Guard Historian’s Office cites examples of heroism by Rittichier.
Within two weeks of arriving in Da Nang, Vietnam, Rittichier was
awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Four members of a downed U.S. Army helicopter were trapped by hostile
ground fire. Rittichier, serving as the co-pilot on the mission, was
able to rescue the trapped soldiers. Less than a month later, he won a
second Distinguished Flying Cross. Acting as the rescue commander, with
the light of illumination flares, Rittichier managed to maneuver his
rescue craft into a narrow opening surrounded by trees and a mountain
slope to rescue nine survivors of a downed helicopter.
On June 9, 1968, two months and a day after arriving in Vietnam,
Rittichier made his last rescue attempt. Press release 47-68A, a
biography prepared by Coast Guard Historian’s office and Rittichiers’
citation for the Silver Star pieced together the last rescue attempt by
A Marine Corps fighter pilot parachuted into a temporary North
Vietnamese soldier’s camp. The pilot sustained a broken leg and arm in
the jump. The North Vietnamese troops used the pilot as human bait to
draw rescue helicopters within killing range of gunfire and air
strikes. Another helicopter had already made three unsuccessful
attempts to rescue the pilot before breaking off to refuel. Rittichier
took his turn at rescuing the downed pilot. Heavy enemy fire forced him
to break off before he could reach the pilot. Other helicopters put
down fire to clear the area of North Vietnamese troops. Rittichier once
again dove in to attempt to pick up the Marine Corp pilot. As the
helicopter hovered above the downed pilot, heavy ground fire hit the
aircraft. Rittichier attempted to bring the helicopter back up. The
helicopter, damaged heavily by North Vietnamese attack, crashed into
the ground and exploded. Other helicopters in the area flew over the
burning wreckage and reported no survivors.
Rittichier was one of seven Coast Guard combat
deaths during the Vietnam War. For his actions, Rittichier was
posthumously awarded the Silver Star. His citation for the Silver Star
“LT Jack C.
United States Coast Guard
distinguished himself by gallantry in connection
with military operations against an opposing armed force
as rescue crew commander of an HH-3E helicopter in
Southeast Asia on 9 June 1968.
On that date,
Rittichier attempted the rescue of
a downed pilot from one of the most heavily defended
areas in Southeast Asia. Despite intense accurate hostile
fire, which had severely damaged another helicopter,
LT Rittichier, with undaunted determination,
indomitable courage and professional skill,
established a hover and persisted in the rescue attempt
until his aircraft was downed by hostile fire.
devotion to duty,
LT Rittichier reflected great credit upon himself and
the United States Coast Guard.”
Jack and the
together out for a stroll
time together, 1968
Jack and a
couple of his
by one of
his patch designs
Rittichier, Easter 2003
dedication of building in Jack’s honor
my POW/MIA bracelet in July of 2002, I didn’t dare hope that one day I
would be contacted by Jack’s family. On March 11, 2003, I received a
telephone call from Dave & Maggie, Jack’s brother and
sister-in-law. In May I received my first letter from Carol Wypick, Jack’s widow, who is now remarried.
I am humbled to have come to know this family who has endured such
sadness for so long.
“Faith, Hope and Love” by Stacey N.
Jones @ www.faraway-soclose.org
I would like
my heartfelt gratitude to Dave and Maggie Rittichier. Dave is Jack’s
brother in the photo above, of the two boys with their mother. Dave and
Maggie have opened their hearts and lives to me without question. In
spite of 35 years of not knowing what happened to Jack, they are
positive in dealing with now knowing what did happen, and the
possibility that Jack is home. John & Carol Wypick have shared
many of their thoughts and feelings with me. Also, Stacey N. Jones Binning who
has a heart the size of Alaska, has provided information for those who
are interested in or have followed Jack Rittichier’s story. On October
3, 2003, I met the Rittichier family. The family invited me to attend
the memorial and burial services for Jack. On Monday, October 6, 2003
LT Jack was flown into Andrews Air Force Base from Hickham Air Force
Base, Honolulu, Hawaii. The funeral service for Jack was held at Ft.
Myers Church, Virginia. Graveside services followed, with full military
honors, on Coast Guard Hill in Arlington National Cemetery.