The following is an email exchange forwarded to me by Shelley McElheny. Shelley was one of a group of 43 Vietnamese refugees rescued by the Strauss in 1980. For the past 26+ years she has been trying to locate the crew of the plane that radioed the Strauss making the rescue possible. She finally located the crew in January of this year and this email is her first contact.
Webmaster USS Joseph Strauss DDG 16
Great news at last! Locating a VP crew for Vietnamese BP Rescue 1980
Dear Don, Larry and the rest of VP-40, Crew One
It's a dream come true! After 26.5 years wondering and many years of
searching I have finally found the crew that spotted my boat in the South China
Sea in 1980. There is no words to describe how happy I am and I would like to
take this opportunity to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for saving
our lives that day. My name is Shelley McElheny (was Ngoc Giang) and I was 17
at the time of the rescue. Our boat had been drifting for many days (I could
not remember exactly for how long) and we had no way of telling where we were at
all. The trip that started with 48 people (many of those are young children)
and was intended for 3 days ended up adrift for 13 to 15 days. We already ran
out of water and food for a while and had lost 4 children toward the end (the
5th child ended up dying very soon after we were rescued by the USS Joseph
Strauss DDG-16). I remember that we saw ships at distance every once in a while
without visual aids and we tried to get help any way
we could think of but none approached us. It was a hopeless situation until
July 15th, when your aircraft spotted us and called for the Strauss to come pick
us up. Without your crew's help and the help of the DDG-16 vessel we would not
have made it. On behalf of the Vietnamese Boat People, group "43", we sincerely
THANK YOU so very much for saving our lives! We are forever grateful for your
Also, thank you all who have been helping me to search for the P3 aircraft
since 2002. Special thanks to Mike Ragole and Jim Ellis who have recently lead
me to the right contact.
I could not find email addresses of all the crew members for VP-40 Crew 1 or
everyone who's been involving in the search so please forward this email to
those that I might have missed. I would also like to have emails of other crew
members who were on the plane on the day of the rescue. God bless you all. God
May you all have a wonderful New Year!
p.s. In case you wonder about the status of the BP group "43" after the rescue here
is a brief summary:
We got picked up by the USS Joseph Strauss DDG-16 on the same day that you
spotted us (afternoon July 15th, 1980). We were treated with nothing but
kindness from the wonderful crew of DDG-16. We stayed overnight on the ship and
were brought to Subic Bay the next morning. Shortly after that we flew to
Palawan refugee camp in the Philippines to go through resettlement process.
About 3 to 4 months later we traveled by a Philippino boat to Manila to complete
the final process before coming to America. A small group of us settled in
California in December 1980 and remain here since. The rest left the refugee
camp later and settled in either Florida, Canada or probably some other states
of America which I don't have knowledge of. Some of us who were still young at
the time had the chance to go to school and have become professionals in various
fields: 3 that I know of are engineers, one is a chiropractor, one is a college
professor, one is a teacher, etc. None of which could have
happened without the help of the P3 and DDG-16 crews in saving our lives.
Again, THANK YOU! For me, I obtained a BS degree in Electrical at Cal Poly
Univ. Pomona in 1987 and worked for Aerojet (now Northrop Grumman) in Southern
California for 9 years. During that time I also got my Master Degree from the
same school and in 1996 I came to work for Lockheed in the Bay area. I am now
happily married with 2 small children (see attached picture) and working
half-time for Lockheed in Sunnyvale. My wonderful husband also works for
Lockheed and with his help I was able to locate the DDG-16 crew/association in
2002 (from which I learned that the aircraft that spotted us was a P3 and the
search for the right one started since.) Please let me know if any of you
happens to live close by or if you ever travel this way I would love to meet to
personally express my gratitude. My home email address is
email@example.com. Hope you hear from you soon!
Sent: Friday, January 05, 2007 1:47 PM
Cc: Ragole, Michael P Roecker, Greg
Subject: Re: FW: Need help locating a VP crew
Thank you for asking. Contrary to popular opinion it was not a VP-1 aircraft
deployed to Cubi Point that located this particular boat. VP-1 was flying P-3
Bravo's at the time and the airplane in the picture is a P-3 Charlie (note the
pod). So .......
Contrary to a VP-1 crew and aircraft, it was VP-40, crew one, in P-3C Bureau
Number 159325. We were on a routine PMB to PMB patrol. I was the PPC/MC, LT
Mike (Dobie) Gilles was the Tacco, LT Doug (Dawg)Pinion was the 2P, LTJG Larry
(Lack-of) Luck was the Nav/Com, LTJG Dave (No-name) Detwiller was the 3P.
VP-40 had just relieved VP-19 in Misawa. Al Branch was the CO, Terry Olson was
the Ops Officer soon to be relieved by me, Jake Axtman was the XO, Don McArthur
was Admin, Jeff Peck was Training, Jim Wyatt was Maintenance and Max Britton was
Safety. My crew (Crew One) was on a short detachment to Cubi to augment VP-1.
Chip Landon was VP-1's CO at the time. Tom Morrisey (sp?) was VP-1 XO. I don't
think Al Ross was the OIC yet at the Patwing Det, but I'm not sure who was.
E.K. Anderson, the Head Laser of Kami-Seya, was CTF-72. Jerry MacKay was CPWP.
Although my recollections are a bit fuzzy, it was quite a remarkable event. It
was near the end of the mission when the SS-3, whose name escapes me right now,
but was a very young and brand new AWAN, spotted a small target. Being the ASW
wizards of the west coast, and just knowing the small contact was a Soviet
periscope, we dropped down to 200' and set condition one for ASW. We could
smell CTF-72 ASW Crew of the Month honors coming our way ......
The first pass was almost the only pass except for the fact that the aft
observer spotted all the folks on the small boat. I was in the left seat
flying and put the contact on the right side - I didn't see a thing (what's
Because of the observer's call, we did a 90/270 and came back over the boat. We
dropped a sonobuoy to mark the position electronically in case we lost the
contact visually or lost the radar or in case the boat sank. It was in sad
shape (I saw it on the second pass - amazing).
We started an orbit, shut down one maybe two engines (I'm not sure now) and
began looking for any nearby ships. It was pure serendipity that we located and
contacted the Strauss. They just happened to be in the area - I think we
initially contacted them broadcasting in the blind on fleet common (UHF/VHF).
They diverted and steamed directly over to the boat. The Strauss was a class
act in all respects. We hung around on-top until the Strauss had positive
visual contact with the boat, and had started its approach. We couldn't stay
around to see the rescue because we were low on JP, and besides, I had a date
with a waitress at the O-club.
We landed back in Cubi after logging 12.5 hours, debriefed at the speed of heat
with the ASWOC, changed in to flower shirts and long pants and headed to town.
After all, we were in Cubi.
Thanks for the chance to remember.
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