BRIDGES, JERRY GLEN

Remains Recovered 14 February 1995; Identified 28 March 2001
Name: Jerry Glen Bridges 
Rank/Branch: Staff Sergeant/US Army 
Unit: 243rd Assault Helicopter Company 
10th Combat Aviation Battalion 





Date of Birth: 07 January 1948
Home of Record: Columbia, TN
Date of Loss: 20 October 1968 
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 122945N 1090753E (BP890830)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 4
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: CH47A "Chinook"
Other Personnel In Incident: Charles E. Deitsch; Henry C. Knight; Charles H. Meldahl and Ronald Stanton (remains recovered) 

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:  The Boeing Vertol CH47 Chinook heavy lift helicopter arrived in Southeast Asia in September 1965 and could carry almost anything. Airlifting troops, supplies, artillery pieces and field equipment were routine tasks for "The Hook." More important, with its two Lycoming T-55-L-7 turboshaft engines offering 4,400shp, it could salvage downed aircraft and return them for repair. Few helicopters were as powerful or as versatile as the Chinook.

On 20 October 1968, CW3 Charles E. "Pappy" Deitsch, aircraft commander; WO1 Henry C. "Hank" Knight, pilot; SP5 Charles H. "Chuck" Meldahl, crewchief; then SP4 Jerry G. Bridges, flight engineer; and SP4 Ronald "Ron" Stanton, door gunner; comprised the crew of the lead CH47A helicopter (serial #66-19053), call sign "Freight Train 053," in a flight of three that departed Dong Ba Thien Airfield to conduct an early morning resupply mission to Ban Me Thuot, South Vietnam. Freight Train 053 was carrying a cargo of medical supplies, ammunition and other equipment.

Dong Ba Thien Airfield was located on the coast of South Vietnam just to the north of Cam Ranh Bay, Ninh Thuan Province. The flight path first took them approximately 34 miles north to Ninh Hoa, and then west-northwest over rugged jungle covered mountains into the central highlands, Khanh Hoa Province, South Vietnam. CW3 Deitsch planned to follow Highway 21 to the Ban Me Thuot where American troops were under siege.

Because a typhoon had just passed offshore adjacent to their base and Tropical Storm Hester was gathering steam just over the horizon, weather conditions were poor at best. Heavy winds were frequently gusting to dangerous levels and often changing directions. Wind sheers were also reported throughout the day. The cloud overcast added another dimension to the already difficult flying conditions by periodically lowering to dangerous levels to shroud mountain peaks from sight, then rise up making the conditions a little less treacherous.

Once airborne, two of the three Chinooks were ordered to break away from the resupply mission to assist with a search and rescue (SAR) mission for a downed pilot who needed an emergency extraction while CW3 Deitsch was ordered to continue with the briefed mission.

At 0700 hours, CW3 Deitsch made a standard radio check with air traffic control reporting they were over the Ninh Hoa Valley and heading west. The second radio check was scheduled for 0710 hours, but it was never made. Air Traffic Control personnel were unable to reestablish radio and radar contact with Freight Train 053 and when the Chinook failed to arrive at Ban Me Thuot by 0800 hours, it was determined to be overdue and an intensive SAR operation was immediately initiated using both air and ground resources.

The last known position of Freight Train 053 was over the western portion of rice fields that bordered the eastern slope of a rugged and heavily forested mountain range located just south of the Song Cai River and less than ½ mile south of Route 21, the primary northwest to southeast highway running between Ban Me Thuot and Ninh Hoa. It was also 2 miles southeast of Duc My, 5 miles west of Ninh Hoa and 67 miles east-southeast of Ban Me Thuot.

Over the next eight days US forces searched along the Chinook's entire flight path from the lush double canopy jungle covered countryside surrounding Ban Me Thuot eastward over the rugged mountains, across the densely populated marshy rice paddies to the city of Ninh Hoa. Further, the massive search effort included canvassing all of the villages throughout the Ninh Hoa Valley to the east, northeast and southeast of the helicopter's last known position.

These efforts failed to find the aircraft wreckage or to produce any information on the missing helicopter or its crew. At the time formal search effort were terminated, Ron Stanton, Jerry Bridges, Charles Deitsch, Hank Knight and Chuck Meldahl were all reported as Missing in Action.

In early 1984, three Vietnamese nationals living in a refugee camp in Malaysia turned over to US representatives human remains they stated they recovered from several sites in Vietnam including Freight Train 053. In August 1986, the wreckage of a Chinook helicopter bearing tail number 619053 was correlated to this loss incident.

On 4 March 1994, a joint US/Vietnamese team under the auspices of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) traveled to Khanh Hoa Province to further investigate the loss of Freight Train 053. Team members conducted a site survey of the wreckage located in dense jungle on a steep mountain slope. Among other things, the team found only a large piece of the aircraft's tail section that boar the Chinook's serial number. They also found signs that the aircraft had burned in an intense fire on impact. What little remained after the fire had been heavily scavenged or washed downhill over the years.

The actual crash site excavation was conducted over a two-week period in late 1994. In addition to small bits and pieces of wreckage, cargo and personal affects, 70 possible bone fragments and 5 teeth/parts of teeth were recovered. After an inspection by Vietnamese personnel from their Office Seeking Missing Persons, the remains were turned over to US representatives and transported to the Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CIL-HI) for examination.

CIL-HI specialists were able to identify individual remains through dental and mt-DNA comparisons of Jerry Bridges, Hank Knight, Chuck Meldahl and Charles Deitsch. They were unable to obtain a positive individual identification for Ron Stanton. SP4 Stanton was declared remains recovered based on a group identification while CW3 Deitsch, WO1 Knight, SP5 Meldahl and SP4 Bridges were considered to be remains recovered by individual identifications. Shortly thereafter the remains were returned to each man's family for burial.

On Friday, 25 May 2001, a joint burial of the commingled remains of the crew of Freight Train 053 that CIL-HI was unable to separate was held in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors and a flyover by 5 Chinook helicopters. Chuck Meldahl's family chose to have his remains placed in the same joint casket while the family of Hank Knight requested a separate casket, but that it be buried next to the shared casket. A headstone bearing all five names was placed over the joint gravesite. Separate funerals for the individually identified remains of Jerry Bridges was held in Tennessee and Charles Deitsch in Texas.

The families of Freight Train 053 finally have the peace of mind of knowing where their loved one lies. For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fate could be quite different.

Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.