Richard Kibbey played high school football for Bethlehem Central. Here, he is pictured wearing No. 47 in the second row. The football team finished 6-1 in 1951. (Yearbook picture)
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The family of a fallen Vietnam War helicopter pilot will finally be able to lay him to rest this week.
In 1967, Col. Richard Kibbey was a rescue helicopter pilot in Vietnam when his Sikorsky “Jolly Green Giant” was shot down after retrieving a downed pilot in the Mu Gia Pass valley of North Vietnam. Last August, his family was notified that his remains had been identified.
Kibbey’s flag-draped casket will arrive in a Dignified Arrival ceremony at Reagan National Airport shortly before 1 p.m. on Thursday, March 28, in Washington, D.C. The ceremony will be followed by a viewing at Jefferson Funeral Chapel in Alexandria, Virginia, at 3 p.m. before a funeral service at Arlington National Cemetary the following day on Friday, March 29, at 11 a.m.
Kibbey was the eldest of four children, three of whom served in the armed forces. The family lived on Borthwick Avenue in Delmar. He graduated from Bethlehem Central High School where he lettered in baseball, track and football. He also excelled in the classroom. Once he graduated in 1952, he went on to pursue a science degree at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy. He married his high school sweetheart, Mary Ann Foss, in 1954. Three years later, he was commissioned to the Air Force.
According to military reports, Kibbey was the co-pilot of a Sikorsky HH3E “Jolly Green Giant” on Feb. 6, 1967. He was joined by pilot Major Patrick H. Wood, flight mechanic SSgt. Donald J. Hall and pararescueman A2C Dwayne Hackney. The crew took the lead in a rescue mission to retrieve Air Force pilot, Capt. Lucius L. Heiskell, whose single-prop O-1F “Birddog” was shot down over the Mu Gia Pass near the Laos-Vietnam border.
Kibbey and his crew successfully retrieved the downed pilot. However, as they proceeded to leave the valley, their helicopter caught fire after it was hit with heavy gunfire.
The Mu Gia Pass was one of two major arteries to the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a pathway that meandered through mountains and thick jungle that was used to supply enemy forces. Between April 1965 and December 1971, 43 American airmen were downed and later listed as either missing or captured.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.