Pittsburg State University will honored the service of one of its proud alumni Saturday with the induction of Lt. Col. Gary Hatfield, USA, Retired, into its ROTC Hall of Fame. Hatfield, who was also a member of the 1957 and 1961 NAIA championship football teams, will become just the 37thgraduate to earn this distinction.
“The Gorilla Battalion has an outstanding reputation for developing some of our nation’s best officers,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth Hutchison, PSU professor of Military Science. “A select few are chosen for the Hall of Fame. We’re proud to welcome Lt. Col. Hatfield back to campus, and of his service to our country.”
Hatfield held many positions during his 22 years of service to our country. Platoon leader, Company Commander, and Commander of the Armed Forces Radio and Television Organization to name a few. But his role as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, during a 1967 extraction mission, may be his most memorable.
Hatfield, according to the official record, was the aircraft commander assigned to extract a five-man reconnaissance patrol which was engaged by a numerically superior Viet Cong force. His aircraft arrived before the armed helicopters which were meant to provide cover for the extraction. Rather than wait, then-Captain Hatfield, “skillfully maneuvered his aircraft through Viet Cong fire, down through the high jungle growth into the small landing zone which was becoming engulfed by burning elephant grass. Despite the threat of the flaming grass and constant Viet Cong small arms fire directed at his aircraft, he successfully extracted the hard-pressed patrol.”
Hatfield would go on to serve two tours in Vietnam. During that time, he was awarded the Bronze Star, the Army Commendation Medal, the Air Medal (11th Oak Leaf Cluster) and the Air Medal for heroism for the evacuation of the crew of a downed helicopter. His own helicopter was shot down later that day.
During his second tour in Vietnam, he was again recognized for bravery under fire by receiving the Air Medal for Heroism with “V” Device by rescuing a long-range reconnaissance patrol near An Khe when the regular support aircraft could not accomplish the extraction. He also was awarded the Air Medal (22 Awards), the Bronze Star (1st Oak Leaf Cluster), and the Army Commendation (1st Oak Leaf Cluster).
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