Dieter Dengler was an immigrant from Germany. His lifelong dream to be a pilot led him to first join the Air Force, and then the Navy. Accepted into the flight training program, he was eventually assigned to fly Douglas AD Skyraiders. In 1965 his squadron was flying missions off the deck of the USS Ranger in support of operations in Vietnam.
He was shot down in Laos in February 1966 and captured by the Pathet Lao. He led an escape in June. On July 20th, 1966, after evading capture and surviving a month in the jungle, he managed to signal a C-130. It was a near thing, because no recent pilots had been lost in that area, but he was rescued by the Air Force.
The Air Force and the Navy squabbled over him, and a team of Navy Seals “rescued” him from the Air Force and returned him to the USS Ranger. He had to be hospitalized due to malnutrition and parasites, but he recovered, was promoted, and awarded the Silver Star.
There is a new book about his life, titled Hero Found: The Greatest Escape of the Vietnam War.
The Navy Cross is presented to Dieter Dengler, Lieutenant (j.g.), U.S. Navy (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism during an extremely daring escape from a Prisoner of War stockade on 30 June 1966.
Playing a key role in planning, preparing for, and developing an escape and evasion operation involving several fellow prisoners and himself, Lieutenant (j.g.) Dengler, keenly aware of the hazardous nature of the escape attempt, boldly initiated the operation and contributed in large measure to its success.
When an unplanned situation developed while the escape operation was being executed, he reacted with the highest degree of valor and gallantry. Through his courageous and inspiring fighting spirit, Lieutenant (j.g.) Dengler upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
–Lt(J.G.) Dengler’s Navy Cross Citation