Bernard F. Fisher is the first living US Air Force recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Moreover, he is the first USAF member to receive the medal from Vietnam. Born in 1927, this native of Idaho served briefly in the Navy at the end of World War II and then spent the period from 1947 to 1950 in the Air National Guard before receiving his Air Force commission in 1951. After pilot training, "Bernie" Fisher served as a jet fighter pilot in the Air Defense Command until 1965 when he volunteered for duty in Vietnam.
From July 1965 through June 1966 he flew 200 combat sorties in the A-1 E/H Spad as a member of the 1st Air Commando Squadron located at Pleiku Air Base, South Vietnam. On 10 March 1966, he led a two-ship of Skyraiders to the A Shau Valley in support of friendly troops in contact with the enemy. A total of six Spads were striking numerous emplacements when the A-1, piloted by Major Wayne "Jump" Myers, was hit and forced to crash-land into the A Shau. Myers bellied in on the 2,500-foot runway and took cover behind an embankment on the edge of the strip while Major Fisher directed the rescue effort. Since the closest helicopter support was 30 minutes away and the enemy was only 200 yards from Myers, Fisher quickly decided that the ground fire and weather precluded a normal helicopter rescue.
He then decided to land his two-seat A-1E on the strip and pick up his friend. Under the cover provided by the other A-1s, he landed in the valley, taxied to Myers' position, and loaded the downed airman into the empty right seat. Dodging shell holes and debris on the steel planked runway, Major Fisher took off safely despite many hits on his aircraft by small arms fire. Major Fisher returned to the United States, and, on 19 January 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor. Major "Bernie" Fisher returned to the Air Defense Command and flew jet interceptors until he retired.
The Douglass A-1E was a single-engine, propeller-driven fighter bomber that first saw service with the Navy in World War II. It was used extensively in the Korean War and then retired. The Air Force withdrew it from the " boneyard" specifically for use in close air support and helicopter escort during the Vietnam War. A 12,000-pound aircraft with 8,000-pound payload capacity and endurance capability of 5 to 6 hours, the Skyraider became the workhorse in counterinsurgency operations conducted by the Vietnamese Air Force and the United States Air Force. Capable of with standing automatic and small arms fire and carrying a variety of ordnance, the Skyraider was a favorite with fighter pilots and forward air controllers.