“Where do we get such men”. A famous quote from a famous story called “The Bridges of Toko Ri by James Michener. After losing his favorite fighter pilot and SAR helicopter crew to enemy action, Admiral Tarrant, on the bridge of his carrier watches as two F-9 Panther jets prepare to launch on a combat mission over Korea uttered these closing lines: “Where do we get such men? They leave this ship and they do their job. Then they must find this speck lost on the sea. When they find it they have to land on its pitching deck. Where do we get such men”? Last line, the man on the loudspeaker “Launch Jets”.
Two weeks ago Tanker Pilot Jerome Laval and I had the great honor of participating in the last rites and tribute for such a man.
Walt Darran was a man of many great accomplishments and even greater modesty. Never one to blow his own horn Walt had great compassion and empathy for his brother and sister aviators.
It was many years before I knew of his heroism as a Naval Aviator in Vietnam. One night at his house I noticed a Distinguished Flying Cross displayed among his other medals and awards. “What’s that all about?” I asked pointing to the medal. “Oh, that’s what they give you when you’re young and stupid and you think you’re invulnerable”. He didn’t elaborate just saying it was for a RESCAP mission for a downed aviator. I knew there had to be a lot more to the story than that since only the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross outranks the DFC. The conversation shifted to airtankers as always and we didn’t discuss it further.
After Walt’s passing, his wife Chris gave me a copy of the actual citation. I thought it would be fitting to share it with Walt’s many great friends that may not have known about his heroism and dedication to his brother and sister aviators that he carried in his heart until his last day.
From: Commanding Officer, Attack Squadron ONE HUNDRED SIXTY FIVE
To: Commander and Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet
Via Commanding Officer, U.S.S. CORAL SEA (CVA-43)
- In accordance with the provisions contained in references (a) and (b), it is recommended that Lieutenant Walter William DARRAN, Jr.,
USN,646495/1310 be awarded an AIR MEDAL for heroism in aerial flight.
- On 10 September 1965 Lieutenant DARRAN, pilot of an A1H aircraft, was wingman of a two-plane Rescue Combat Air Patrol on-station off the coast of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. After about four hours on-station and just prior to being relieved, Lieutenant DARRAN’s flight responded to a call for search and rescue for an A4 pilot down in a small valley 5 NM SSE of Vinh. Because of the intense AAA in the area, the entry into the valley and the search had to be conducted at altitudes well below 1000’ AGL. The valley was between ¼ and ½ mile in width in the vicinity of the burning A4 wreckage where the SAR effort was centered. Lieutenant DARRAN conducted an intense visual search of the area in spite of the ground fire that gained in intensity throughout the period of his search. On one occasion, Lieutenant DARRAN conducted a rocket attack on a position west of the SAR scene and was successful in suppressing the fire from that source. A 57 MM battery located located to the west of the SAR scene maintained almost continuous fire in the vicinity of the search by firing over the 800 ft. hills that marked the western edge of the valley. This fire, bursting at about 1000’ altitude over the SAR scene required Lieutenant DARRAN to conduct his search below 500 feet; this continuously exposed him to the small arms and light automatic weapons fire. Lieutenant DARRAN continuously maintained the search in the extremely confined area on the downed A4 aircraft by using full power, flaps and very steep turns, notwithstanding the fact that his inability to vary his search pattern increased the chances of being hit by ground fire. Even though his fuel state was becoming very low, Lieutenant DARRAN continued the SAR effort until he received a hit in the cockpit from the intense ground fire and was forced to leave the scene. Despite a critically low fuel state and severe damage to his aircraft from AAA fire, Lieutenant DARRAN successfully returned to base after a flight of more than six and one half hours. In conducting the search, at dangerously low altitudes and continuously in the face of heavy fire from enemy guns, Lieutenant DARRAN displayed great courage and a complete disregard for his own personal safety and his actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Naval Service.
This award was later upgraded to the Distinguished Flying Cross.
I would add one line to this citation from John 15:13; “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”.
Fair winds Amigo, I will carry you in my heart for my remaining days.