Vietnam veteran awarded Silver Star 45 years after rescue
PHOENIX — Smoke and fire enveloped the afternoon of April 18, 1972.
The town of An Lộc in South Vietnam was under siege by the Viet Cong, who had the area surrounded. Hercules C-130s tried dropping supplies to the defenders, but the Viet Cong’s anti-air weaponry often shot at them before they could make the drops.
Spc. 4 Leonard "Bruce" Shearer, who now lives in Glendale, was part of a four-man crew manning a Bell UH-1H Iroquois or "Huey" helicopter tasked with reporting enemy troop movements. The helicopter crew had to cut its reconnaissance mission short, however, when Shearer noticed a C-130 engulfed in flames as it streaked across the sky.
"Did you see that?" the 19-year-old Shearer asked the pilots.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Roger Monette, chased the transport plane as it plummeted toward the ground while Capt. Robert Frank, another pilot and mission commander, radioed for another Huey to join them at the crash site.
As the Huey settled near the flaming wreckage, Shearer leaped from the helicopter without any orders and waded through knee-deep mud to find the C-130’s navigator, Maj. Roger Kilpatrick, slumped by the nose of the plane. Kilpatrick had escaped through a hatch at the top of the plane, but had to slide down the side as he didn’t have a ladder. The fall had left him dazed.
As the two made their way back to the helicopter, Kilpatrick said he was part of a seven-man crew who were likely toward the back of the plane.
Shearer trudged back toward the flaming wreckage as rice paddies burned around him, and entered the plane through a gaping hole torn open on its right side. There, he found and rescued four more men, including a South Vietnamese soldier whose legs were shot up from small-arms fire. Shearer was carrying him back to the helicopter when out-of-sight enemy soldiers opened fire.
One of the Huey’s gunners, Spc. 4 John Deslauriers, returned fire as Shearer made his way back. The two Cobra gunships that had accompanied the Huey during the reconnaissance mission launched rockets into the tree line.
"I never saw 'em, because (there was) just too much smoke, fire, people shooting at us; it gets confusing," Shearer said. "It's called 'the fog of war' and it gets real confusing."