Naval Air Station Whiting Field remembered a true hero and patriot during a ceremony renaming the base auditorium as the Cmdr. Clyde E. Lassen Auditorium Jan. 17.
Lassen was the only Navy helicopter pilot to earn the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War. The ceremony was also a highlight of the installation’s ongoing commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
Following a multimedia presentation honoring Lassen’s heroic efforts, guest speaker retired Capt. Dick Catone, former Training Air Wing 5 commodore, shared personal memories of Lassen and fondly recounted Lassen’s humility and character.
“Clyde was a very humble man; his loyalty to his country, family, and fellow shipmates epitomize his life,” Catone said. “If he were here, Clyde would tell you, ‘I was just doing my job like any other helicopter pilot.’ His life is an inspiration to all who were fortunate to have known him.”
Late in the night, Lassen and his crew were sent to rescue two downed aviators who were shot down over North Vietnam, June 19, 1968. Running low on fuel in a damaged UH-2 Seasprite helicopter, the team successfully pulled the pilots out on the fifth attempt. It was the first nighttime helicopter rescue attempt over Vietnam.
Prior to being commissioned, Lassen received his enlisted training at NAS Pensacola. After concluding his service in the Vietnam War, he served as an instructor pilot in the local area and ended his Navy career as Helicopter Squadron (HT) 8 commanding officer.
Among the ceremony’s attendees were several of Lassen’s squadron mates from Navy Helicopter Combat Support Squadron (HC) 7, with whom he served in Vietnam. Following the ceremony, the men assisted Commanding Officer Capt. Todd Bahlau with the unveiling of the new building facade, featuring backlit wings of gold and lettering indicating the auditorium’s new designation in Lassen’s honor.
The auditorium serves as the location where 100 percent of the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps rotary wing aviators receive their wings of gold designating them as naval aviators. Training Air Wing 5 holds winging ceremonies every two weeks onboard NAS Whiting Field, the busiest air complex in the world, which produces more than 600 winged aviators per year.
Hill Goodspeed, National Naval Aviation Museum historian, served as the featured speaker at the event. Goodspeed attended the 25th reunion for Lassen’s crew and the two rescued pilots in 1993 at the museum and shared his memories of the men reminiscing about that daring rescue. He spoke about how Lassen humbly recounted the details of the mission, 25 years earlier to the day. According to the historian, everyone present was mesmerized by Lassen’s retelling of the story.
“In disbelief, we listened as Lassen told of the sudden darkness as the last of the flames extinguished, and the jolt of the Seasprite striking a tree as he attempted to maneuver to a position from which the downed aviators could be hoisted aboard,” Goodspeed said.
He went on to explain how Lassen reacted to the appreciation, after returning safely from the rescue mission.
“When safely on deck, Lieutenant Commander John ‘Zeke’ Burns [one of the rescued F-4 Phantom II pilots] tapped Lassen on the shoulder to thank him,” Goodspeed added. “’He replied, just as cool as a cucumber,’ Burns remembered, ‘We’ve been over here several months now – nice to have something to do.’”
Goodspeed told those present at the dedication Lassen “fulfilled that obligation held sacred by all who serve, to come to the aid of comrades in arms with a willingness to put himself in danger in the process. That is the legacy of the Medal of Honor and those who wear it. That is the legacy of Commander Clyde Everett Lassen.”
For more news from Naval Air Station Whiting Field, visit www.navy.mil/local/naswf/.