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Following the Dexter Memorial Day Parade, folks will have the unique opportunity to hear firsthand from John Van Etten, a highly decorated Air Force serviceman, as he recounts his harrowing experience during the Vietnam War’s most daring rescue operation, known as Bat 21.

John Van Etten, known by his call sign Nail32 during his service, will share the riveting tale of Bat 21 Bravo, the call sign for Iceal Eugene “Gene” Hambleton, and his extraordinary rescue from behind enemy lines—a mission that stands as the “largest, longest, and most complex search-and-rescue” endeavor of the Vietnam War. The rescue operation resulted from the Air Force’s unwavering commitment to leave no one behind, regardless of the costs involved.

On the third day of the Easter Offensive on April 2, 1972, the largest combined arms operation of the Vietnam War, Bat 21 Bravo, found itself in dire straits. Hambleton, serving as a navigator aboard one of the two United States Air Force EB-66 aircraft, was part of a mission that tragically turned when an SA-2 surface-to-air missile hit their aircraft. Hambleton miraculously survived, parachuting into a battlefield swarming with a thousand North Vietnamese Army soldiers, setting the stage for an unprecedented rescue mission.

The complexity and danger of the operation were unparalleled. Efforts to save Hambleton led to five additional aircraft being shot down, resulting in the loss of 11 airmen, with two captured and another fighting to evade capture.

John Van Etten was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his courageous actions during this perilous mission.

Perhaps after the Dexter Memorial Day Parade has finished, you might consider making your way to Monument Park to hear firsthand Van Etten’s account of duty, bravery, and the unbreakable bond among those who serve.

Photo courtesy of John Van  Etten.

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