KUNA, Idaho (MCT) — Bernard Fisher, who risked his life landing his attack plane to rescue a fellow pilot while North Vietnamese troops shot at him, died Saturday at age 87.
President Lyndon B. Johnson presented Fisher with the Medal of Honor for his heroics in rescuing Maj. Dafford "Jump" Myers on March 10, 1966, in the A Shau Valley along South Vietnam's western border with Laos.
"He was a heck of a pilot and one of the finest gentlemen I've ever met," retired Air Force Col. Eugene Deatrick said Tuesday by phone from Alexandria, Va.
Deatrick, 89, commanded the 1st Air Commando Squadron at Pleiku and had a distinguished flying career himself. Fisher, Deatrick said, took his responsibilities seriously but had a calm demeanor.
Col. David Iverson, commander of the 366th Fighter Wing at Mountain Home Air Force Base, called Fisher an "American hero."
"Bernie's life is an inspiration to those who met him and to all airmen who will continue to hear his story," Iverson said in a written statement. "The men and women of Mountain Home Air Force Base were blessed to have a special relationship with Col. Fisher. He visited and mentored airmen on numerous occasions, sharing his philosophy and leadership advice."
In Vietnam, Fisher and Myers were among a group of pilots strafing enemy positions to protect a camp next to a route used by insurgents flooding into South Vietnam from Laos. Myers' plane was shot down and he was forced to crash-land because he was flying too low to bail out.
Fisher acted after learning that a rescue helicopter was more than 30 minutes away and believing Myers had been injured and was in danger of being taken prisoner. He landed and spotted Myers in a hiding spot.
Once Myers climbed onto his wing, Fisher dragged him head-first into the cockpit of the Douglas A-1E Skyraider.
"He landed under fire, he taxied under fire, he took off under fire," said Tammy Fisher, a Kuna resident married to Fisher's son, Steven.
When Fisher landed back at Pleiku, the ground crew found 19 bullet holes in his plane.
President Johnson praised Fisher during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on Jan. 19, 1967.
"Major Fisher has won this honor — the nation's highest honor — because of uncommon gallantry in the face of death," Johnson said, according to an online transcript of his presidential papers. "The action for which we salute him today took place last March and took place during a very bitter and a very bloody battle."
It was the first time a Medal of Honor had been presented to an airman following the branch's split from the Army Air Corps. Fisher was the seventh serviceman of all branches of the military so honored during the Vietnam War.
According to the Idaho Military Museum, he was one of just 48 recipients of the Medal of Honor with "strong Idaho attachments."
Steven Fisher, 47, was born toward the end of his father's service in the Air Force. He learned about his dad's experiences when they would travel together to military conventions and other gatherings where Bernard would speak.
However, it wasn't until Steven enrolled at the Air Force Academy that he learned how revered his dad was.
"I didn't realize what a big deal he was. They knew all about him," he said.
Steven's older brother, Robbin, now 61, served a mission for the LDS church in Germany. There he met an Army veteran who was a local church official.
The man told Robbin Fisher that he was part of a group pinned down by some North Vietnamese fighters who had dug in at a cemetery. He said Bernard Fisher was flying a plane sent to locate the enemy position and report back. Instead, Bernard located the position and sent a 500-pound bomb through a 4-inch window in the stronghold.
"He told me he didn't think he would have lived if Dad hadn't done that," Robbin Fisher said.
Bernard Fisher enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1945. He later joined the Idaho Air National Guard and was given a commission in the Air Force.
Steven Fisher said his dad long had a desire to fly. He said his father talked about jumping off the roof of his house when he was a child, using newspapers as makeshift wings.
"That didn't go over so well," Steven Fisher said.
After Bernard Fisher retired from the Air Force as a colonel, he raised livestock, grew corn and lima beans, and was active as a Boy Scout leader. He helped train Scouts for wilderness survival, using skills he learned in the Air Force.
He also enjoyed flying over camps and dropping candy to the kids, Robbin Fisher said. And he handed out candy at church, said Linda Fisher, married to another son, Bradford.
Veterans Memorial Park at Third and Linder in Kuna is named after Bernard Fisher. So is a portion of Utah 193 near Hill Air Force Base south of Ogden.
Bernard Fisher is also survived by three other sons, Courtney, Tim and Scott.
His wife, Realla, who was born in Nampa and grew up in Kuna, died in 2008.
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