James Douglas Birchim

Army of the United States
16 July 1946 - 10 May 1971
Independence, California
Panel 39W Line 069

Distinguished Service Cross

Combat Infantry

Purple Heart, National Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign

The database page for James Douglas Birchim

02 Oct 2001

I was 21 at the time of my husband's loss. Several years ago I participated in a remembrance ceremony sponsored by the San Francisco Chapter, Special Forces Association in conection with the San Francisco Save Our Shade Ceremony.

A memorial from his wife,
Barbara Birchim

A Note from The Virtual Wall

On 15 November 1968, 1LT Birchim led an 8-man Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol from Forward Operating Base 2 on a search mission in Laos. During the mission, the patrol was ambushed and in evading the enemy Birchim suffered a broken ankle and fragmentation wounds. He radioed and requested that the patrol be extracted that evening.

Because the difficult terrain prevented helicopters from landing to exfiltrate the patrol, the men were to be picked up by McGuire extraction rigs, devices which were lowered through the trees to the ground. Once the ground troops attached themselves to the device they would be pulled up through the trees and carried in suspension until they could safely be brought aboard the helicopter or placed on the ground.

The first helicopter successfully extracted four men. The second aircraft, which had only three rigs aboard, hovered to pick up the other four men. 1LT Birchim ensured that the other 3 men were situated and then hung on the back of one of his men. Their rig was dragged through the trees, nearly dislodging them, but Birchim hung on for what was estimated to be about 30-45 minutes before falling from a height of about 2500 feet. The exact location could only be estimated.

All elements of 5th Special Forces Group in the area were notified, but Birchim's body was never found. Birchim's last location was placed in Kontum Province, South Vietnam, about half-way between the towns of Dak Sut and Dak To.

From the
POW Network

The recon team was engaged by enemy forces ... Upon extraction, during the hours of darkness, Lt Birchim and a young Special Forces NCO, both wounded, managed to latch themselves together in a single McGuire rig. They dangled from a rope through a violent, heavy tropical storm, holding on to each other in pitch blackness. Upon landing in South Vietnam, there were only ice laden clothes and gear and an unconscious, shivering young NCO passed out with rope burns cut deep into his hands where he had tried to hold onto Lt Birchim. Lt Birchim was gone, falling to the jungle floor below.

From the

1LT Birchim was placed in "Missing in Action" status and was promoted to Captain while MIA. On 10 May 1971, a "Presumptive Finding of Death" was issued by the Secretary of the Army.

Washington, D.C.

27 January 1972



1. TC 320. The following AWARD is announced posthumously.

James Douglas Birchim, Captain, Infantry
Command and Control Central, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne)

Awarded: Distinguished Service Cross
Date action: 15 November 1968
Theater: Republic of Vietnam
Reason: For extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with Command and Control Central, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces Group. Captain (then First Lieutenant) Birchim distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 15 November 1968, while serving as the team leader of a Special Forces long-range reconnaissance team operating deep within enemy-controlled territory with the mission of locating a missing team. After three days of fruitless search, Captain Birchim's team was ambushed by an enemy force. The team executed immediate actions to break contact. During the withdrawal, which scattered the team, Captain Birchim's ankle was broken by an exploding enemy grenade. In spite of his wounds, he successfully reassembled the team, led them out of the ambush area, and directed air strikes against the enemy. As the team moved toward an extraction zone, they were attacked twice by enemy forces. On both occasions, Captain Birchim's aggressive and courageous leadership enabled the team to break contact and continue toward the extraction site. During the last exchange, Captain Birchim was again wounded by an enemy grenade. At the extraction site, one of the helicopter's extraction ropes was rendered useless when it became tangled in the trees. After insuring that all other members of the team were secured in the remaining harnesses, Captain Birchim seized one of the extraction ropes in an attempt to ride "double" out of the jungle to safety. Weak from his wounds and exhausted by his efforts, Captain Birchim fell from the extraction rope during a storm on the return trip. Captain Birchim's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty, at the cost of his life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

The point-of-contact for this memorial is
his wife,
Barbara Birchim

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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Memorial first published on 2 Oct 2001
Last updated 10/17/2011