13 November 2006

Pilot Shot Down Over Laos 35 Years Ago to be Buried at Arlington Today

Air Force 1st Lt. James "Larry" Hull - AP Photo

1st LT. James Larry Hull, recipient of the Silver Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, Purple Heart, and nine Air Medals, will be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery today, November 13, 2006. He was shot down over Laos in 1971 and his remains were recovered in May of this year after years of negotiations with the Laotian government.

Pilot shot down over Laos to be buried:
[Hull's wife] knew her husband was flying over the Ho Chi Minh Trail and that the flights involved reconnaissance. What she didn't know was that he'd volunteered for the highly classified "Prairie Fire" unit, where he commanded the planes and helicopters that dropped Special Forces teams behind enemy lines and pulled fighters from the jungle to safety.

Unlike some other reconnaissance flights that typically flew no lower than 1,500 feet, these pilots flew as low as 50 feet, sometimes so low that tree limbs scraped the bellies of their planes.

"We had to find these guys in the jungle and we had to get right at the tree tops," said Tom Yarborough, a retired Air Force colonel who trained Hull and flew with him until the day he died.

On Feb. 19, 1971, Hull's unit was searching for the crew of an American helicopter that had been shot down. Yarborough had been flying above the soldiers who were on the ground fighting their way toward the wreckage, and in the afternoon it was Hull's turn.

"There was a heavy machine gun up on the slope; it had fired a couple of times," said Yarborough, who now works in Arlington, Va. "I told Larry about that gun, said, 'He's up there and he's firing.' That was the gun that shot him down."

The 25-year-old pilot died instantly, his body trapped behind the engine of his plane. A sergeant with him also died.

When a recovery team arrived at the scene, they were able to pull the body of the other man from the wreckage, Yarborough recalled. But with the enemy closing in and Hull's body pinned inside the cockpit, there was only time to grab one of Hull's dog tags and leave.

Flying over the site a few days later, Yarborough spotted enemy soldiers at the crash site. He could only imagine they were taking his friend's belongings.

Angered, he led another attempt to recover Hull's body. But when he shot a smoke rocket to mark the site for other members of the team, he accidentally struck the plane. It burst into flames.

With that, Yarborough had to do something unthinkable — leave his comrade's body behind.

1st Lt. James "Larry" Hull information and tribute site.
COMING HOME, Reflections by Retired Colonel Tom Yarborough

"You should have seen the sky today," Larry would exult whenever he went flying, training for his wings. "You should have seen the sky."

Welcome home, 1st Lt. Larry Hull.

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