Jack Columbus Rittichier 
August 17, 1933 - June 9, 1968

Jack’s high school picture


from the Wypick family          from the Rittichier Family

Jack’s links

Vietnam Hero

A Coast Guard hero, Jack 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) in Vietnam.

Ruby (mom), Dave, and Jack, 1936;
Dave is two and Jack is three years old

The Defense Prisoner of 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 Rittichier.

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 reads:

“LT Jack C. Rittichier
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, LT 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.

By his gallantry and devotion to duty,
LT Rittichier reflected great credit upon himself and
the United States Coast Guard.”


Jack and the Mopheads


Carol & Jack relaxing

Carol & Jack together out for a stroll

Jack & Carol last time together, 1968

Jack and a couple of his newest friends

Jack standing by one of his patch designs

Dave and Maggie Rittichier, Easter 2003

Maggie and Dave at dedication of building in Jack’s honor

When I first received 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 to express 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.