Navy Cross Recipient Shares History with Former Squadron

Story Number: NNS090809-08Release Date: 8/9/2009 4:49:00 AM
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By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Sarah E. Bitter, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West

CORONADO, Calif. (NNS) -- Current and former members assigned to the "Golden Falcons" of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 2 (HS 2) came together in their ready room for a bit of Naval and squadron history at Naval Air Station North Island Aug. 5.

Former HS 2 pilot, retired Cmdr. Neil Sparks, reminisced about his part in saving Lt. Cmdr. Demetrio "Butch" Verich, retired Navy pilot, who was shot down over Vietnam July 16, 1967. Sparks was awarded the Navy Cross for his gallantry during Verich's rescue.

During a mission over North Vietnam, Verich recalled his F-8 Crusader being hit by a surface-to-air missile. He ejected and parachuted into hostile territory. He landed near the wreck of his burning fighter jet and evaded enemy troops for 15 hours, awaiting a rescue.

Once Sparks and his crew arrived on location from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CVS 12), Verich was able to fire a flare to guide Sparks to his position.

Sparks and his crew braved enemy fire to finally drag Verich up into the aircraft. It took 20 minutes and three tries using the helicopter rescue sling, but Verich was finally able to grab hold and climb inside.

After Sparks and Verich finished telling their parts in the heroic tale, HS 2 Commanding Officer Cmdr. Terence Hoeft expressed his gratitude to the men and explained how the event changed search and rescue.

"It is an honor to meet you both and hear your story, said Hoeft, a Livonia, Mich., native. "I will never forget hearing your story from the both of you; I will remember it for the rest of my life."

The crew of the "Golden Falcons" enjoyed this unique opportunity to hear the firsthand accounts of this dramatic rescue.

"If I could use one word it would be, 'legendary,'" said Lt. Dave Colon, a Mount Holly, N.J., native. "It's very historic to see them come here to tell their stories to see a part of history right in front of us and relive it again in their own words."

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