SSgt Jerry Elliott
MIA 1/21/68 – South Vietnam
(Then) Private First Class Jerry William Elliott was 19 years old and was celebrating his promotion to PFC on January 21st, 1968, when his unit “The Black Cats” was requested to conduct an emergency Combat Assault on Khe Sanh. Although unknown to anyone at the time the 77 day Battle of Khe Sanh had just begun.
PFC Elliott was the door gunner on Chalk #2 in a group of 7 Black Cat Hueys and 3 Alley Cat Gunships that would attempt to resupply Khe Sanh in the middle of battle. As the lead helicopters touched down, camouflaged spider holes burst open on the hillside as the 11th Company of the NVA 304th emerged from their hiding places.
As Chalk #1 (the lead helicopter) lifted off the ground to depart the hot LZ, PFC Elliott heard a loud explosion. After a moment of silence, he heard “Lead, you are on fire” through his helmet speakers. Chalk #1 had been hit by a B-40 round and exploded into a huge ball of fire. The wounded aircraft pitched about twenty feet forward on its nose, and tumbled down the side of a steep ravine. The crashed and burned Huey ended up approximately 50 feet down the hillside.
PFC Elliott knew the men in that helicopter needed help and he never hesitated. PFC Elliott jumped out of Chalk #2 and headed toward the down helicopter. As PFC Elliott was attempting his rescue mission, the warning lights on Chalk #2′s instrument panel lit up. All major flight systems threatened to fail, forcing PFC Elliot’s pilot to depart the LZ before the rescue attempt was complete. Chalk #2 circled the area in an attempt to spot Elliot. The pilot knew if possible, his door gunner would return to the landing spot for pick-up. “Leave no man behind” was a doctrine all combat soldiers tried to live by.
Quang Tri MACV Advsior LTC Joseph Seymoe and ARVN passengers were KIA in the crash. SSGT Billy Hill, crewchief, was doorgunning where the B-40 round hit the chopper and was missing. Both pilots, WO2 Gerald McKinsey, Jr. and CPT Tommy Stiner, along with SP5 Danny Williams, crewchief on Chalk #3 who also bailed out to initiate rescue, engaged the enemy in a firefight down in the ravine on the eastern side of the Old French Fort. McKinsey was KIA, but Stiner and Williams were able to escape and evade through the jungle under cover of darkness to the Khe Sanh Combat Base.
SP4 Joe Sumner, crewchief on Chalk #4, remembers Elliott boarding his ship, going forward to speak with the pilots, and jumping off just before they lifted into the air. The Black Cats had borrowed a Marine, PFC Rick Brittingham, to doorgun on Chalk #7, the last chopper in the convoy. His final memory of the battle before being critically wounded and blacking out were the astounding words of crewchief PFC James Payne when he exclaimed, “Holy ****, there’s an American down there!”
When the 2/5 Cav retook the Old French Fort from the NVA in April 1968, they recovered the undisturbed bodies of McKinsey and Seymoe. The Cav searched the area for two hours, but no additional remains were discovered. In April 2004, JPAC recovered partial remains from the loss site and mtDNA analysis proved this soldier was indeed American, although tests also determined it was not Elliott, his fate is still unknown.
His family still waits for answers! Please Never Forget!
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For more information about Jerry Elliott please read “Keeping The Promise: The Story of MIA Jerry Elliott, a Famly Shattered by His Disappearance, and a Sister’s 40-Year Search for the Truth”