Remembering Our Own
US Coast Guard PSU 308’s Tribute to LT Jack Rittichier

Story by:   LCDR Rick DeChant
Photos by:   YN1 Tonya Harris


On October 6, 2003, Coast Guard units everywhere took the time to remember the loss of one of our own – a loss that occurred in Vietnam 35 years ago. On June 9, 1968, Coast Guard LT Jack Rittichier was shot down over Laos, Vietnam while attempting to rescue a downed Marine fighter pilot. LT Rittichier was serving with a U. S. Air Force Combat Air Rescue detachment as part of a pilot exchange program. The crash site of LT Rittichier’s helicopter, as well as his remains, were only discovered this past spring. On October 6, with his family members present, LT Rittichier was finally laid to rest with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

To honor the return home and burial of the Coast Guard’s only MIA from the Vietnam War, Coast Guard units were directed to lower their American flags to half-staff. At Camp Spearhead, Kuwait, some several thousand miles from Arlington, the story was no different. There the members of PSU 308 also remembered. Despite a heavy operational tempo, members of the unit used their off-duty time to assemble an Honor Guard detachment and organize a formal ceremony that would have made the Rittichier family proud.

The Unit stood at attention in full formation in the 110-degree sun as the Honor Guard marched forward, smartly raised the colors and then lowered them to half-staff. PSU 308’s commanding officer CDR Bruce Bruni then read a eulogy recognizing LT Rittichier’s heroic efforts on the day he died. The ceremony ended with a unit roll call with members responding loudly. The final name called was LT Rittichier’s. When no response was heard, the command to “present arms” was given by the Honor Guard squad leader. At that moment all unit members slowly raised their arms in a crisp salute to a pair of black flight boots and a Vietnam-era helmet, which had been placed on a table at the base of the flagpole. This honor is known as the “Salute To Boots.”

With the ceremony over, the unit dispersed as quietly as it had assembled. The flag remained flying at half-staff throughout the remainder of the day. At sunset, the members of the Honor Guard returned to retire the colors.

For PSU 308 the ceremony not only represented a remembrance, but a bonding as well – a bonding that linked two moments in Coast Guard history, the Vietnam War and Operation Iraqi Freedom. For two of the unit’s Chief Petty Officers who are Vietnam veterans, the ceremony also provided a connection to many of the men and women of PSU 308 who were born decades after the Vietnam War ended. For all, it provided an indelible lifetime memory.



#1 (MCV-012S): The PSU 308 Honor Guard sets
the flag at half-mast in honor of LT Jack Rittichier

#2 (MCV-015S): Flight boots and helmet symbolizing
LT Rittichier’s service in Vietnam.

#3 (MCV-020S): The PSU 308 Honor Guard
prepares “Salute to the Boots.”

#4 (MCV-019S): PSU 308 renders
a hand salute to honor LT Jack Rittichier.