"That Others May Live" is the motto of the USAF Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service--Frederic M. "Marty" Donohue more than lived up to that motto! During his career, he flew 132 combat missions and conducted over 100 peacetime rescues. He also commanded the rescue support unit for 10 manned space launches and earned a permanent place in history as lead helicopter pilot on the Son Tay POW Camp rescue attempt. Donohue was commissioned in August 1954 through AFROTC at San Diego State University. After a tour in Germany as a radar controller, he entered pilot training in 1957. Following an assignment as an H-19 and H-43 helicopter instructor pilot, Donohue was selected to fly with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) as an exchange pilot.
While with the RAAF, he inserted special operations forces throughout New Guinea and Malaysia in campaigns to suppress insurgents. After returning to the states, he was in the initial cadre responsible for development of HH-53 Jolly Green Giant helicopter tactics. In 1967, he then deployed with the first HH-53s sent to Southeast Asia and, while there, was credited with three combat rescues. Assigned to Eglin AFB, Florida, in 1968, he instructed HH-53 combat rescue techniques and commanded the launch site recovery team for Apollo missions 7 through 16. Donohue was the first pilot to complete a hover pickup of an Apollo capsule.
In 1970, he made the first trans-Pacific helicopter flight, traveling from Eglin AFB to Da Nang AB, South Vietnam. On the night of 20-21 November 1970, he led the helicopter assault on Son Tay in North Vietnam--for this he was awarded the Air Force Cross. After graduation from Air War College in 1972, he commanded the 54th Rescue Squadron at Pease AFB, New Hampshire. Promotion to colonel in 1972 led to several staff assignments; he served as the Chief of Unconventional Warfare on the staff of the Joint Chiefs and then became the Chief of Contingency Plans for Southeast Asia at Pacific Command Headquarters. Next, Donohue served as Deputy Chief of Staff, Plans, for Thirteenth Air Force at Clark AB. While in the Philippines, he conceived and organized the use of USAF tactical hospitals, while on deployment exercises, to treat rural Filipinos. He subsequently received the Philippine Legion of Honor. Colonel Donohue completed his distinguished Air Force career after an assignment to USCENTCOM. In his new career with FLIR Systems, he still flys helicopters.
Major Marty Donohue flew his HH-53, Apple Three, to the Son Tay POW Camp, just 20 miles west of Hanoi. As lead, he was the first to arrive over the objective. He hovered as two door gunners poured 4,000 rounds per minute into the guard towers and barracks. He then landed in a nearby rice patty and waited 27 minutes to airlift the prisoners to freedom. Despite total surprise and an exceptionally well executed operation, no prisoners were found. The frustration felt by the raid participants was best expressed by the abbreviation on their unofficial patch, "Kept In The Dark/Fed Only Horse...."