Remembering a Korean War Hero: Captain Elliot Dean Ayer, USAF

Daring a Bated Trap

From 1 June 1952 through 25 July 1952, Captain Ayer was Flight Commander of How Flight, a unit of the 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing stationed at K-46/Hoengsong, SK.

Captain Wayne Lear, USAF, pilot of the H-5 Dragonfly helicopter.

Late on the morning of 25 June 1952, Captain Ayer was selected to command Mission 1890. His challenge: to provide close air support for a lumbering old H-5 helicopter piloted by Captain Wayne Lear who would turn out to be among the bravest of the brave. Despite the heavy flak concentrations ion the area, he was determined to get young Ensign Ron Eaton off the mountain and out of the trap in which the Chinese were using him as bait.

Captain Ayer commanded “Filter RESCAP #1,” a flight of four F-51 Mustang aircraft (later joined by two 67th Mustangs) assigned a rescue combat air patrol mission (Mission 1890). How Flight was directed to escort “Pedro Tare,” the slow, vulnerable H-5 helicopter into the infamous “Iron Triangle” area approximately 25 miles northeast of Kumhwa to rescue a downed Navy pilot from the USS Bon Hom Richard (CV 31), Ensign Ronald D. Eaton.

By the time the helicopter had arrived in the area of the downed pilot, there were six F-51 Mustangs from the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group heavily engaged in the rescue operation. Captain Ayer was not only directing the air covering and fire suppression operation for six Mustangs, but doing so while his own plane was exposed to significant danger due to his assigning to himself and Lt. Connors the most vulnerable, low-level covering position for the helicopter.

Ensign Ronald Eaton, USN, pilot of the downed F4U Corsair.

On the first attempt to pick up the downed pilot, the Lear’s helicopter was damaged by enemy fire. The wounded pilot pulled away for more suppression fire. Captain Ayer directed additional more strafing attacks to suppress the ground fire. All six Mustangs, including Ayer and Connors, then made three strafing passes at the ridges where enemy gunners were heavily emplaced and hidden.

Airman Bobby Holloway, USAF.
Airman Bobby Holloway, USAF.

On the third harrowing rescue attempt under heavy fire and with the plane now badly shot up and both the incredibly brave pilot, Captain Wayne Lear and his medical technician, Airman Bobby Holloway wounded, Lear was able to troll the sling through the undergrowth to where Ens. Ron Eaton could grab it and be hauled up. With astonishing airmanship, Lear wrestled the badly damaged helicopter into the air and away from the withering fire. At one point, Holloway stood in the open door and emptied magazine of Carbine first directly into enemy trenches who were firing up at him from their bunkers.

H-5 Dragonfly helicopter during rescue hoist operation.
H-5 Dragonfly helicopter during rescue hoist operation.

About five miles down the valley, as the wounded Lear maneuvered the heavily damaged helicopter down a valley and away from the intense fire, the H-5 was hit again. Captain Ayer was escorting Captain Lear so closely that he was able to report seeing “parts flying from Pedro Tare. The helicopter was going down in a diving spin (presumed loss of tail rotor).

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Next: The Harrowing Rescue Continues