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 rarely mentioned, but 40 years ago today...

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T O P I C    R E V I E W
Txs Posted - 01/07/2013 : 10:46:29 AM
Those who think our world has suddenly started going crazy are either too young to remember or have forgotten a lot of things from the past.

Don't expect the major media to offer reminders that might help keep today's craziness in perspective...

Retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Charles H. "Chuck" Pitman, the branch's former Deputy Chief of Staff for Aviation, was at Veterans Memorial Park in Pensacola, Fla., on January 2, 2013. Forty years ago, on Jan. 7, 1973, Pitman volunteered to pilot a Sea Knight helicopter and helped police stop Mark Essex, the Howard Johnson's sniper in New Orleans, risking his life and his career.

New Orleans Times-Picayune
Like most other residents of New Orleans, Marine helicopter pilot Charles H. "Chuck" Pitman watched the television in horror on Jan. 7, 1973, as authorities tried to stop a sniper or snipers who had invaded the Downtown Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge that morning and fatally shot seven people, including three police officers. Shots rang out from various spots in the 17-story hotel, making police think there was more than one gunman, but the cops eventually contained the killer or killers to the roof.

Though cornered, whoever was on the hotel roof was out of the NOPD's reach. Disturbed, Pitman -- at the time a 37-year-old lieutenant colonel in charge of a Marine air unit stationed in Belle Chasse -- thought, "We've got to do something. Those people need help out there."

So Pitman did do something. He flew a Marine helicopter to the hotel on Loyola Avenue and helped police officers, some of them on board the chopper, kill 23-year-old Mark Essex, who investigators determined was the sole sniper. In doing so, however, Pitman placed his career with the Marines in jeopardy.

Four decades later, many New Orleanians are still thankful for Pitman's actions on the day Essex terrorized the city. "Without that helicopter and without his piloting, it would've been a lot worse," Moon Landrieu, New Orleans' mayor at the time, said recently. "The city owes him a debt of gratitude."

Antoine Saacks, a former police officer who boarded Pitman's copter that Sunday, said, "I always say the true heroes were Chuck and his crew, undoubtedly. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the man that's unwavering."

The Times-PicayuneBraving fire from Mark Essex on a hotel balcony, Times-Picayune photographer G.E. Arnold took this iconic image as officer Phillip Coleman died of a head wound in Duncan Plaza while his partner checks his pulse. Wounded officer Ken Solis lies against a tree while other police and bystanders take cover. The officers were trying to push pedestrians to safety when they were hit.

On the day he resolved to help the cops end the sniper's grip of terror on the city, Pitman ordered one of his subordinates to contact the New Orleans Police Department and offer the Marine air unit's help. An NOPD sergeant called back about 4 p.m. and accepted, asking for a helicopter with a searchlight.

Pitman, his co-pilot and two crew members immediately prepared to fly to the scene. However, in the rush to get there, Pitman had not gotten the high-level authorization necessary to undertake such a mission.

Though Pitman, along with the Coast Guard, did have standing permission to send helicopters to assist local responders' rescue efforts in case of a high-rise fire, such as the deadly one at the Rault Center on Nov. 29, 1972, six weeks earlier, there were no air rescues required at the hotel. Pitman recalled that on the day of the sniper, the Coast Guard didn't want to dispatch a helicopter to the Howard Johnson's because foggy weather and low visibility made flying dangerous.

So when Pitman flew his helicopter to the hotel with his crew, he exposed himself to a court-martial: He had deployed military personnel and resources to quell a civil matter, and he did not have permission to do so before taking off.

'I can't duke it out with heavy weapons or anything'

Entering the fight on that windy, frigid, rainy Sunday did not frighten Pitman. The combat veteran -- who was born in Chicago, grew up in an orphanage, moved to Wisconsin after being adopted and learned to fly by age 14 -- had joined the Marines in 1952.

He flew some 1,200 missions in the Vietnam War. His helicopters were shot down seven times, and he suffered a .50-caliber bullet wound to one of his legs.

"I enjoyed the excitement -- being in dangerous situations," Pitman said when asked why he volunteered to fly to the Howard Johnson's. "I didn't necessarily like killing anybody, but I liked being a part of the action. ... I was used to the sounds of battle, the fog of war."

Because of the poor flying conditions, Pitman could hover only slightly above the ground after departing from Belle Chasse in a CH-46 Sea Knight, a twin rotor transport helicopter. He headed to the Mississippi River, tracked its course to the Crescent City Connection and then turned toward downtown, following the expressway. He landed the helicopter in a parking lot near City Hall and an under-construction stadium now known as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

To meet with NOPD Superintendent Clarence Giarrusso and get his instructions, Pitman had to walk into the Howard Johnson's lobby, where the command post had been set up. Pitman, stunned that the command post was in such a dangerous location, said the only reason he walked toward the hotel entrance was that he figured running might draw sniper fire.

Giarrusso asked Pitman if he had brought an armored helicopter. Pitman replied, "I'm not armored. I can't duke it out with heavy weapons or anything." Giarrusso then requested that Pitman use his helicopter to lift a 16,000-pound armored car to the top of the roof. Pitman, whose Sea Knight was unable to carry half that load, said, "I couldn't take that up on the best day of the year."

But Pitman agreed to fly a group of well-armed officers -- including Saacks, 26 at the time -- over the hotel to better see where the sniper was hiding. They would try to force the sniper out of his lair.

Confronting the sniper

During events chronicled by writer Chuck Hustmyre in an essay titled, "Under Attack: The New Orleans Police Department and the Howard Johnson's Hotel Sniper," Pitman approached the motor lodge by navigating between downtown high-rise buildings and sweeping in over the roof. Saacks remembers being impressed by Pitman's piloting skills.

"His maneuvering of that helicopter was unbelievable," Saacks, a former Marine, said almost 40 years later. "When you have someone like Chuck in the driver's seat, you feel confident in what you're doing. You know he's got your ass -- you're protected."

Pitman shone his searchlight on a roof cubicle where it had been reported that the gunman was lurking, but no one could see anything. Saacks and the other officers on board fired volley after volley, figuring that the gunman was hiding just inside the cubicle's metal door, leading to a stairway, or in either of two adjacent alcoves, which had cinderblock walls on three sides.

Pitman passed over the roof several times. Each time, Saacks blew holes in the cinderblock with his M-16 rifle. The sniper wasn't hurt, but whenever Pitman pulled the helicopter away to circle back, cops positioned in neighboring buildings said the sniper would run out of the cubicle and shoot at it. From time to time, bullets smacked the exterior of the copter.

The cops aboard the Sea Knight ran out of ammunition a couple of times, and Pitman had to land so they could reload. After one of those pit stops, the sniper hit the Sea Knight with gunfire but vanished when the helicopter began to pass over the hotel.

Pitman lingered over the roof and focused his searchlight on the cubicle as the cops blasted away. Saacks then realized how the sniper was able to hide so well: Whenever the helicopter approached, the sniper would apparently shimmy up a fire standpipe inside one of the alcoves, leaving him hidden from the officers' view.

The police on the helicopter then shot the pipe and split it open. Pitman began pulling away for another pass, taking the searchlight off the cubicle.

The gunman scrambled out to the roof to squeeze off a few more rounds at the helicopter. Pitman suddenly reversed course, reappearing over the hotel and scanning the roof with the searchlight. Suddenly, the light illuminated the gunman. He was several yards from the cover of the cubicle.

The sniper fired once at the helicopter. Pitman observed a flash and a red streak speeding toward him.

"When he fired ... at me, the helicopter jumped," Pitman joked, explaining that he instinctively jerked back on his controls. The bullet struck a little bit above the cockpit, hitting the transmission casing.

Pitman steadied the helicopter and kept the searchlight on the sniper. Saacks, his colleagues in the helicopter and the officers in surrounding buildings emptied their weapons at the figure on the roof. The sniper collapsed and died. He was struck more than 200 times.

It was 9 p.m., about 10 hours after the hotel had come under attack, but it wasn't until the next day that police finally recovered the sniper's body and decided there were no other gunmen in the hotel or on the roof. Though officials concluded that Essex was a lone killer, even today many of those who worked to stop him believe that he had at least one accomplice.

Cops, hotel employees, guests were among victims

A native of Emporia, Kan., Essex had been discharged from the Navy because of unsuitability of character and behavior disorders. An African-American man, he was enraged about racism he experienced in the Navy. He sympathized with radical Black Panther politics, loathed cops and came to New Orleans to meet up with a like-minded friend.

Essex actually committed his first slayings on Dec. 31, 1972, when he shot police cadet Alfred Harrell Jr. at Central Lockup with a .44-caliber Magnum carbine, and later officer Edwin Hosli Sr., who was investigating a warehouse burglary alarm tripped by Essex at the corner of South happyoso and Euphrosine streets. Harrell, Essex's only black victim, died immediately. Hosli, who was white, died two months later.

Essex eluded authorities for a week. Then, on the morning of Jan. 7, wielding his .44 carbine, he shot and wounded a grocer he surmised was helping the police, stole a car at gunpoint and drove to Howard Johnson's. He killed the hotel's general manager, W. Sherwood Collins; the assistant manager, Frank Schneider; and two guests, Dr. Robert Steagall and Betty Steagall, a Virginia couple who had been married just seven months.

Essex also killed a pair of NOPD officers, Phil Coleman and Paul Persigo, and the department's deputy superintendent, Louis Sirgo. In all, Essex had killed nine people and wounded 13 others on Dec. 31, 1972, and Jan. 7, 1973.

There could have been many more victims had Pitman not gotten involved when he did, according to Moon Landrieu. "The fact that we had a helicopter gave us a tremendous advantage because we didn't know where (Essex) was on the roof. We suspected we would get the upper hand (with the helicopter), and we did," the former mayor said.

'Chuck put everything on the line'

Pitman soon learned that his actions could lead to a court-martial. But he said the issue was dropped after his commander sought out longtime U.S. Rep. F. Edward Hebert, a New Orleans Democrat and at the time the powerful chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. It also worked in Pitman's favor that he didn't cause more casualties by, for example, being shot down or crashing the Sea Knight into a building.

Saacks -- who later became the NOPD's deputy chief but was fired in 1994 because of allegations involving a private security enterprise he ran on the side -- said he will always admire Pitman for what he did to help the NOPD foil Essex. "Chuck put everything on the line -- not only his life, but his career," Saacks said.

Charles H. 'Chuck' Pitman, now 77, retired from the Marines in 1990 as a lieutenant general.Pitman family

Pitman was transferred out of New Orleans in June 1973. Seven years later, he was in charge of the helicopter crews that participated in Operation Eagle Claw, an attempt ordered by President Jimmy Carter to rescue 52 Americans being held hostage in Iran. The mission ended in disaster when a helicopter collided with a transport plane, killing eight American servicemen.

Pitman considers Eagle Claw one of the most difficult moments of his career. But better days were ahead for him. He became the Marine Corps' deputy chief of staff for aviation in 1987, and attained the rank of lieutenant general in 1988.

Pitman, who has two sons and two daughters, retired from the Marine Corps in 1990. Now 77, he lives in Pensacola Beach, Fla., with his wife. Among other things, he is a consultant for an aircraft maintenance company and advises a special weapons and tactics training group based in Weatherford, Texas.

During his nearly four decades in the Marines, he earned numerous honors, among them a Silver Star for valor, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Bronze Star with Combat "V," a Purple Heart and 65 air medals. Nonetheless, he says he is perhaps most proud of having served alongside the New Orleans police during their clash with Essex on one of the darkest days in he city's history, for which he was made an honorary NOPD captain on Nov. 8, 1991.

"I'm glad I was able to do it," Pitman, who has visited New Orleans countless times to celebrate Mardi Gras, said in Pensacola Beach this month. "It makes you feel good doing something good for the country, good for the city of New Orleans."

This gives an idea of the amount of fire rained down on him from both the helicopter and neighboring buildings...

15   L A T E S T    R E P L I E S    (Newest First)
Txs Posted - 01/07/2013 : 7:32:12 PM
Originally posted by Rack Ops

Nope, I never heard of it....and I think the reason is obvious, hence my initial reply.
No argument that he was a serious militant, but this guy also fits the same profile we're seeing in all of today's spree killings - he was mentally ill.

Note that he'd recently been booted out of the Navy due to this.

More relevant to our times, THAT is the elephant in the room we're being led to ignore.
Rack Ops Posted - 01/07/2013 : 7:32:04 PM
Here's an interesting tidbit that I happened to stumble across while looking at information on this incident and the UT shooting....

Charles Whitman earned Eagle Scout at the age of 12 years, 3 months....which may make him the youngest ever to hold the title. A kid in 2010 may have beat him, but the Scouts don't "officially" keep track of that, so no one really knows for sure.
Rack Ops Posted - 01/07/2013 : 7:24:36 PM
Originally posted by Txs

As an example, did you actually recall this incident before opening my original post?

Nope, I never heard of it....and I think the reason is obvious, hence my initial reply.
kimi Posted - 01/07/2013 : 7:20:06 PM
Originally posted by Rack Ops

The reason you don't hear about it is because the shooter was a black militant.


andrewsw16 Posted - 01/07/2013 : 7:15:51 PM
I too remember this shooting. The TV station was broadcasting live throughout the siege. Ironically, it did add some demand for the .44 mag carbines for a while.
Txs Posted - 01/07/2013 : 7:15:45 PM
Originally posted by Rack Ops

Mark Essex killed 9 people and injured 13

Charles Whitman killed 15 (16 if you count a fetus) and injured 32.

Essex's spree began a week prior to him climbing to the roof of that hotel. Other victims are attributed to him by various sources, depending on whose total count you're looking at.

One way or another, the fact remains this incident remains basicsally unknown to most.

As an example, did you actually recall this incident before opening my original post?

Just imagine the non-stop, 24 hour media coverage something like this would receive today....

Rack Ops Posted - 01/07/2013 : 6:52:58 PM
Originally posted by Txs

Over the years - and especially here recently - we've all heard the University of Texas clock tower sniper mentioned in the media coverage of spree killers. So much so that a fair percentage of the population can even tell you that azzhat shooter's name.

Now compare that with this New Orleans incident. This one went on for much longer, had greater media coverage at the time, resulted in a greater number of casualties and contained even more dramatic elements, but these days it's actually rare to find anyone who's even heard that this happened.

Mark Essex killed 9 people and injured 13

Charles Whitman killed 15 (16 if you count a fetus) and injured 32.
Txs Posted - 01/07/2013 : 6:43:13 PM
Over the years - and especially here recently - we've all heard the University of Texas clock tower sniper mentioned in the media coverage of spree killers. So much so that a fair percentage of the population can even tell you that azzhat shooter's name.

Now compare that with this New Orleans incident. This one went on for much longer, had greater media coverage at the time, resulted in a greater number of casualties and contained even more dramatic elements, but these days it's actually rare to find anyone who's even heard that this happened.

It's amazing that something as huge as this was has since become an all but forgotten piece of our history, but that's due to it being almost completely ignored by the news media over the years.

Not to be construed as any sort of tin-foil-hat/conspiracy statement, but this is a good example of how the news media tail can wag the dog.

Marketing 101 says to create a sense of urgency in the consumer's mind:

'Oh my God! The sky is at 11:00.'
SG Posted - 01/07/2013 : 2:57:00 PM
A true bad azz!Amazing story.
gunpaq Posted - 01/07/2013 : 2:08:48 PM
I remember that shooting and the TV coverage. Cops standing shooting into the building and bullets recocheting back dropping the cops..........reports said there was more than one shooter.
allen griggs Posted - 01/07/2013 : 12:30:13 PM
Well I am glad you said that Rack Ops.
I was 22 when this happened. With my lifelong fascination with firearms I have always kept up with events such as this one.
I am from the South, and lived in Atlanta when this happened.

I have never before heard of this shooting.
Rack Ops Posted - 01/07/2013 : 12:17:02 PM
The reason you don't hear about it is because the shooter was a black militant.
grumpygy Posted - 01/07/2013 : 11:47:36 AM
Just wish they would have shown him with the helo he flew.

Cause knowing them he did good just keeping it in the air.
allen griggs Posted - 01/07/2013 : 11:37:30 AM
What a warrior!
It is one thing to go under fire when ordered to do so, it takes even more guts to risk a court martial.
Sooeyman2035 Posted - 01/07/2013 : 11:11:21 AM
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