Meet US Air Force Pararescueman Duane Hackney, The Most Decorated Enlisted Airman In History

By Ethan Cole on
 January 4, 2022

Becoming an Airforce Pararescue Jumper is not a simple task. There is an 80 percent dropout rate for the two-year training school. The Pararescue Jumpers are highly decorated members of the Air Force. However, one PJ stands above the rest, Duane Hackney.

Dangerous Missions

Among the 70 decorations Hackney earned in his lifetime, he was given an Air Force Cross, a Silver Star, four distinguished flying crosses, two Purple Hearts, and 18 Air Medals. All of the honors he earned through his life made him the most decorated airman in history.

Many of those honors were given to Hackney for doing his job. His expertise was put to good use on many difficult and dangerous missions. In some cases, the PJs jumped into dense jungles in North Vietnam to rescue pilots and special operators.

Once the jumpers reached their destination, they were on their own with no outside assistance. But, the PJs knew what they were getting into when they signed up, and Hackney was no exception. Hackney was from Michigan and went into the Air Force specifically to become a Pararescueman. He went into the mission in North Vietnam ready.

North Vietnam Rescues

However, the North Vietnamese Army was ready to fight as well. They had excellent air defenses, and even though the United States launches many air campaigns, they were not able to beat them.

The NVA pilots were flying Soviet fighters and were incredibly well trained. Having surface-to-air missile complexes didn't hurt either and it ensured they knocked U.S. planes out of the sky. When the pilots crashed, PJs were sent in to retrieve them. In the four years, the U.S. was fighting in Vietnam Hackney went on over 200 search-and-rescue missions.

It was a difficult job, but Hackney did it well. A couple of days into his first tour, he was shot and had a .30-caliber slug in his leg. A fellow PJ took it out and treated his wound.

In February 1967, Hackney made a jump and landed in the middle of the enemy. He was able to rescue the pilot, got back to the HH-3E Jolly Green Giant Helicopter, but it was shot down.

He could not find any other survivors in the wreckage, so he signaled for a pickup. The ordeal earned him the Air Force Cross, making him the youngest recipient. In 1991, he retired as Chief Master Sergeant Hackney.

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