Medal of Honor: Bernard F. Fisher
Every weekday for 110 straight days we will feature a different living recipient of the Medal of Honor. These are the men who have received their nation's highest military honor. Brian is a board member of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. The words and photos are courtesy of Artisan Books, publishers of "Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty by Peter Collier with photographs by Nick Del Calzo.
BERNARD F. FISHER
Major, U.S. Air Force 1st Air Commandos
After serving briefly in the Navy at the end of World War II, Bernard Fisher spent 1947 to 1950 in the Air National Guard, then joined ROTC while he was a college student in Utah. Commissioned a second lieutenant in the Air Force in 1951, he served as a jet fighter pilot in the Air Defense Command until 1965, when he volunteered to serve in Vietnam.
During his first year there, Fisher, now a major, was assigned to the 1st Air Commandos and flew two hundred combat missions in a propeller-driven A-1E/H Skyraider, which was suited for close support missions because it could carry large bomb loads, absorb heavy ground fire, and fly for long periods at low altitude.
On March 10, 1966, Fisher and his wingman were headed to a U.S. Special Forces camp near the Cambodian border where North Vietnamese troops were on the verge of overrunning an outnumbered contingent of Green Berets. Near their target, the two Skyraiders were joined by four other planes. They all had to run a gauntlet of enemy antiaircraft guns as they flew straight down the A Shau Valley and delivered their bombs. The cloud cover was so thick that they were forced to fly as low as three hundred feet, allowing enemy guns on either side of the valley to fire down on them.
Once the six planes completed a strafing run, they made the 180-degree turn and lined up for another.
The plane that Major D. W. “Jump” Myers was flying was hit and burst into flames. Too low to bail out, Myers crash-landed on the Special Forces camp’s airstrip and hid from the enemy in the underbrush
near an embankment. While the other aircraft began to strafe the area around Myers to keep the North Vietnamese away, Fisher called for a helicopter rescue. When he heard the nearest choppers were at least half an hour away, and seeing that the North Vietnamese were closing in on Myers, Fisher decided to land and pick up the airman himself. “I’m going in,” he radioed the other planes.
The short, 2,500-foot airstrip was littered with signs of battle—unexploded ordnance and debris from nearby buildings. Fisher touched down, but he was going too fast to stop and had to climb out and make another approach. The second time, he managed to skid to a stop before reaching the end of the runway. Then he turned and taxied to where Myers was hiding as the other aircraft continued to provide cover from above. Myers rushed out and climbed onto the wing of the plane; Fisher opened the canopy and pulled him in. Then, dodging the shell holes and parts of exploded bombs on the steel-planked runway, Fisher pushed forward on the A-1’s throttle and headed down the strip. With the enemy concentrating fire on him from both sides, he managed to get enough ground speed to lift off at the end of the runway. When he returned to base at Pleiku, the ground crew counted nineteen bullet holes in his plane.
Bernard Fisher was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Lyndon Johnson on January 19, 1967, the first airman in Vietnam to receive this distinction. He returned to the Air Defense Command and flew jet fighters until 1974, when he retired as a colonel. In 1999, the Navy honored Fisher by naming a newly commissioned container ship the Bernard F. Fisher.
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