Tag Archives: Tan Son Nhut Air Base

10 March 1966

Major Bernard F. Fisher, United States Air Force, in the cockpit of a Douglas A-1E Skyraider. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Bernard F. Fisher, 1st Air Commando Squadron, United States Air Force, in the cockpit of a Douglas A-1E Skyraider, 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

 MEDAL OF HONOR

MAJOR BERNARD F. FISHER, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Major Bernard F. Fisher, United States Air Force, with D.W. Myers, 10 March 1966. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Bernard F. Fisher, United States Air Force, with Major Dafford W. Myers, 10 March 1966. The airplane is Major Fisher’s Douglas A-1E Skyraider, 52-132649. (U.S. Air Force)

Bernard Francis (“Bernie”) Fisher was born at San Bernardino, California, 11 January 1927. He was the son of Bruce Leo Fisher, a farmer, and Lydia Lovina Stoddard Fisher. He attended Davis High School, Kuna, Idaho.

Bernie Fisher served in the United States Navy from 10 February 1945 to 16 March 1946. He was an Aviation Machinist Mate 1st Class (AMM 1c). He was discharged following the end of World War II. Fisher attended Boise Junior College, Boise, Idaho from 1947 to 1949, and at the same time, served with the Air National Guard.

Mr. Bernard Francis Fisher married Miss Realla Jane Johnson at Salt Lake City, Utah, 17 March 1948. They would have six children.

Fisher transferred the University of Utah, where he was a cadet in the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force in 1951.

Fisher flew fighters in the Air Defense Command. He twice landed a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter following a complete engine failure. In 1965, Major Fisher volunteered for service in Vietnam, where he flew 200 combat missions. He was awarded the Silver Star for his actions during the Battle of A Shau, one day prior to the Medal of Honor action.

President Lyndon B. Johnson presented the Medal of Honor to Major Fisher at a ceremony in the White House, 19 January 1967. Fisher was the first to receive the newly-designed U.S. Air Force version of the Medal of Honor.

Colonel Fisher retired in 1974.

In 1999, the chartered U.S. Military Sealift Command container ship MV Sea Fox was renamed MV Maj. Bernard F. Fisher (T-AK-4396). The  41,000 ton ship remains in service.

Colonel Fisher died 16 August 2014, at Boise, Idaho, at the age of 87 years. He was buried at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery.

Major Bernard Francis Fisher, United States Air Force. (United States Air Force 050311-F-1234P-101)

The United States Navy and Marine Corps adopted the Douglas Aircraft Company AD-1 Skyraider just after the end of World War II. The U.S. Air Force recognized its value as a close air support attack bomber, but it wasn’t until the early months of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War that a number of Skyraiders were transferred to the U.S.A.F.

These aircraft were identified by Department of the Navy, Bureau of Aeronautics serial numbers, commonly referred to as “bureau numbers,” or “bu. no.” Once acquired by the Air Force, the two-digit fiscal year number in which the airplane was contracted was added to the bureau number, resulting in a serial number with a format similar to a standard U.S.A.F. serial number. For example, Major Fisher’s Skyraider, A-1E 52-132649, was originally U.S. Navy AD-5 Skyraider Bu. No. 132649, authorized in 1952. (The Douglas AD series was redesignated A-1 in 1962.)

While its engine idles, Douglas A-1E Skyraider 52-132649 is reamermed, Vietnam, 1966. (U.S. Air Force via Warbird Information Exchange)
While its engine idles, Douglas A-1E Skyraider 52-132649 is rearmed, South Vietnam, 1966. (U.S. Air Force via Warbird Information Exchange)

The Douglas AD-5 Skyraider was  designed as a two-place, single-engine, antisubmarine warfare aircraft. A low-wing monoplane with conventional landing gear, it has folding wings for storage aboard aircraft carriers. With two pilots seated side-by-side, the AD-5’s fuselage is both wider and longer than earlier AD-series aircraft. Two ASW mission specialists were seated in the aft cabin. In 1962, the AD-5 was re-designated A-1E.

The side-by-side cockpit arrangement of Bernard Fisher's Douglas A-1E Skyraider, on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (NMUSAF)
The side-by-side cockpit arrangement of Bernard Fisher’s Douglas A-1E Skyraider, on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (NMUSAF)

The AD-5/A-1E Skyraider is 40 feet, 0 inches long (12.192 meters) with a wingspan of 50 feet, ¼ inch (15.246 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 9½ inches (4.816 meters). The wings have a total area of 400.3 square feet (37.19 square meters). Its empty weight is 12,293 pounds (5,576 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 25,000 pounds (11,340 kilograms).

The A-1E is powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, direct-fuel-injected, 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter), Wright Aeronautical Division R-3350-26WA (Cyclone 18 836C18CA1) twin-row 18-cylinder radial engine, with water/alcohol injection. This engine has a compression ratio of 6.71:1. The R-3350-26W has a Normal Power rating of  2,300 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., and a Takeoff/Military Power rating of 2,700 horsepower at 2,900 r.p.m., using 115/145 aviation gasoline. The engine drives a four-bladed Aeroproducts constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.115 meters) through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. The engine is 4 feet, 7.62 inches (1.413 meters) in diameter and 6 feet, 6.81 inches (2.002 meters) long. It weighs 2,848 pounds (1,292 kilograms), dry.

Bombs are loaded aboard Douglas A-1E Skyraider 52-132649 between missions, South Vietnam, 1966. (U.S. Air Force via Warbird Information Exchange)
Bombs are loaded aboard Douglas A-1E Skyraider 52-132649 between missions, South Vietnam, 1966. (U.S. Air Force via Warbird Information Exchange)

The A-1E Skyraider has a cruise speed of 170 knots (196 miles per hour/315 kilometers per hour), a maximum speed of 283 knots (326 miles per hour/524 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level with combat power (3,150 horsepower); and 286 knots (329 miles per hour/527 kilometers per hour) at 15,200 feet (4,633 meters). The service ceiling is 26,400 feet (8,047 meters). Carrying a 4,500 pound (2,041 kilogram) bomb load, its range is 524 miles (843 kilometers).

The A-1E is armed with four 20 mm M3 autocannon, with two in each outboard wing, and 200 rounds of ammunition per gun. The Skyraider can carry a combination of external fuel tanks, gun pods, bombs or rockets on 15 hardpoints. The maximum bomb load is 8,000 pounds (3,629 kilograms).

Douglas A-1E Skyraider 52-132649 after crash-landing. (U.S. Air Force)
Heavily damaged Douglas A-1E Skyraider 52-132649 after crash-landing near Cần Thơ, Republic of South Vietnam, 21 March 1965. Both pilots, Captains Jerry Pavey Hawkins and William Henry Campbell, were killed. (U.S. Air Force)

Douglas AD-5 Skyraider Bu. No. 132649 (c/n 9506) was built for the U.S. Navy by the Douglas Aircraft Company at El Segundo, California, in 1952. It was redesignated as an A-1E in 1962, and transferred to the U.S. Air Force in 1963.

52-132649 was hit by ground fire and crash landed near Cần Thơ, Republic of Vietnam, 21 March 1965. Both pilots, Captains Jerry Pavey Hawkins and William Henry Campbell, were killed.

The airplane was considered salvageable. It was picked up by a Sikorsky CH-54 Tarhe and transported to Tân Sơn Nhứt Air Base near Saigon, where it was repaired and then returned to service with the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing at Biên Hòa Air Base in November 1965.

Major Bernard F. Fisher, right, checks the status of an A-1 Skyraider with his crew chief, Technical Sergeant Rodney L. J. Souza, at Pleiku Air Base, 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

52-132649 was next assigned to the 1st Air Commando Squadron, 14th Air Commando Wing, at Pleiku Air Base. The Skyraider was returned to the United States in 1967 and was retired from service in January 1968. It was ferried from Hurlburt Field, Florida, to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, where it was put on display.

Major Bernard F. Fisher's Douglas A-1E Skyraider, serial number 52-132649, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Bernard F. Fisher’s Douglas A-1E Skyraider, serial number 52-132649, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 April 1975

Lockheed C-5A Galaxy 68-0218 lifts off from Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam, 4 April 1975. (CORBIS)
Lockheed C-5A Galaxy 68-0218 lifts off from Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam, 4:00 p.m., Friday, 4 April 1975. (CORBIS)

4 April 1975: Operation Babylift. As the end of the Vietnam War approached, it was decided to evacuate 2,000 orphans, most in the care of an American hospital in Saigon, Republic of South Vietnam, and to take them to safety within the United States. The first flight was aboard a U.S. Air Force Lockheed C-5A Galaxy heavy lift transport, serial number 68-0218, piloted by Captains Dennis W. Traynor III and Tilford Harp.

A medical team from Clark Air Base, The Philippines, commanded by First Lieutenant Regina C. Aune, Nurse Corps, United States Air Force, was aboard when the huge transport plane landed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon. When it was discovered that there would be about 250 orphans aboard, many of them sick or injured, another medical team from a C-141 Starlifter volunteered to accompany Lieutenant Aune’s team for the outbound flight.

When the Galaxy took off from Saigon at 4:00 p.m., there were 328 people aboard, including flight crew, medical teams, orphans and their escorts, as well as other U.S. personnel.

The C-5A quickly climbed to 23,000 feet (7,010 meters). Just a few minutes after takeoff, the locks of the rear loading ramp failed. Explosive decompression hurled people and equipment throughout the airplane which instantly filled with fog. Lieutenant Aune was thrown the entire length of the upper deck. The airplane was severely damaged with two hydraulic systems inoperative and many flight control cables severed.

The pilots could only control the airplane with engine thrust. They began an emergency descent and turned back to Tan Son Nhut.

Unable to maintain flight, at about 4:45 p.m., the Galaxy touched down in a rice paddy two miles short of the runway at 270 knots (500 kilometers per hour). It slid for a quarter mile, became airborne for another half mile, then touched down and slid until it hit a raised dike and broke into four sections. 138 people were killed in the crash.

Colonel Regina C. Aune, USAF NC (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Regina C. Aune, NC USAF (U.S. Air Force)

Although herself seriously injured, Lieutenant Aune began evacuating the children. When rescue helicopters arrived, they were unable to land close to the wrecked transport, so the children had to be carried.

After she had helped to carry about eighty babies, Regina Aune was unable to continue. She asked the first officer she saw to be relieved of her duties and then passed out. At a hospital it was found that she had a broken foot, broken leg and broken vertebra in her back, as well as numerous other injuries.

Regina Aune became the first woman to be awarded the Cheney Award by the Air Force, which was established in 1927 and is awarded “to an airman for an act of valor, extreme fortitude or self-sacrifice in a humanitarian interest, performed in connection with aircraft, but not necessarily of a military nature.

Captain Mary T. Klinker, NC USAF. (St. Elizabeth's School of Nursing)
Miss Mary Therese Klinker. (St. Elizabeth’s School of Nursing)

11 members of the crew of the Galaxy were among the dead, including Captain Mary Therese Klinker, Nurse Corps, United States Air Force.

Mary Therese Klinker was born at Lafayette, Indiana, 3 October 1947. She was the daughter of Paul Edward Klinker and Thelma Mary Deane Klinker. She attended Central Catholic High School in Lafayette, graduating in 1965. She then enrolled at St. Elizabeth’s School of Nursing, also in Lafayette. She graduated as a Registered Nurse, May 1968. On graduation, Miss Klinker worked for St. Elizabeth’s.

Miss Klinker joined the United States Air Force, 9 January 1970, and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Nurse Corps. She qualified as a flight nurse and was promoted to the rank of captain. In 1974, Captain Klinker was assigned to the 10th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Fairfield, California.

Captain Mary Therese Klinker, Nurse Corps, United States Air Force, 10th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, was the last United States service woman to die in the Vietnam War. Captain Klinker was posthumously awarded the Airman’s Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal. She is buried at St. Boniface Cemetery in her home town of Lafayette, Indiana.

Captain Mary T. Clinker, Nurse Corps, United States Air Force.

The pilots, Captain Dennis W. Traynor III and Captain Tilford W. Harp, were both awarded the Air Force Cross for what General Paul Carlton, Commander, Military Airlift Command, called “one of the greatest displays of airmanship I have ever heard related.”

Capt. Bud Traynor was piloting the C-5A Galaxy that crashed in 1975 in Saigon as part of Operation Babylif
Captain Dennis W. Traynor III, United States Air Force

AIR FORCE CROSS

CAPTAIN DENNIS W. TRAYNOR III

Action Date: 3-Apr-75

Service: Air Force

Rank: Captain

Company: 22d Airlift Squadron

Division: Clark Air Base, Philippine Islands

Air Force Cross
Air Force Cross

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Captain Dennis W. Traynor, III, United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism and airmanship while engaged in a humanitarian mission as Aircraft Commander of an Air Force C-5A aircraft of the 22d Airlift Squadron, Clark Air Base, Philippine Islands, in action at Saigon, Vietnam on 3 April 1975. On that date, the aircraft, carrying 330 passengers and crew, experienced a serious in-flight emergency which could have resulted in the loss of life for all aboard. With no aircraft controls except one aileron and the engines, Captain Traynor guided the crippled aircraft to a crash landing in a rice paddy, thereby saving the lives of 176 of the people on board. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness, Captain Traynor reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

AIR FORCE CROSS

CAPTAIN TILFORD W. HARP

Action Date: 3-Apr-75

Service: Air Force

Rank: Captain

Company: 22d Airlift Squadron

Division: Clark Air Base, Philippine Islands

Air Force Cross
Air Force Cross

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Captain Tilford W. Harp, United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism and airmanship while engaged in a humanitarian mission as Co-Pilot of an Air Force C-5A aircraft of the 22d Airlift Squadron, Clark Air Base, Philippine Islands, in action at Saigon, Vietnam, on 3 April 1975. On that date, his aircraft, carrying 330 passengers and crew, experienced a serious in-flight emergency which could have resulted in the loss of life for all aboard. With no aircraft controls except one aileron and the engines, Captain Harp provided exceptionally vital assistance to the Aircraft Commander in guiding the crippled aircraft to a crash landing in a rice paddy, thereby saving the lives of 176 of the people on board. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness, Captain Harp reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Crash site of Operation Babylift's Lockheed C-5A Galaxy, 68-0218, near Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam, 4 April 1975. (U.S. Air Force)
Crash site of Operation Babylift’s Lockheed C-5A Galaxy, 68-0218, near Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam, 4 April 1975. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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