Tag Archives: Vietnam War

26 April 1966

Major Paul J. Gilmore and 1st Lieutenant William T. Smith with their McDonnell F-4C Phantom II, 26 April 1966 (vnmilitaryhistory.net)
Major Paul J. Gilmore and 1st Lieutenant William T. Smith with their McDonnell F-4C Phantom II, 26 April 1966 (vnmilitaryhistory.net)

26 April 1966: Major Paul J. Gilmore, aircraft commander, and First Lieutenant William T. Smith, pilot, flying McDonnell F-4C-23-MC Phantom II 64-0752, shot down the first Vietnam People’s Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 during the Vietnam War.

Douglas RB-66B-DL Destroyer 53-422. (U.S. Air Force)
Douglas RB-66B-DL Destroyer 53-422. (U.S. Air Force)

“. . . on 26 April, Maj. Paul J. Gilmore, in the front seat of the lead F-4C, and 1st Lt. William T. Smith in the back, downed the first MiG-21 of the war. They were part of a flight of three F-4s flying escort for two RB-66s. Launching from Da Nang, they rendezvoused with the RB-66s and proceeded north to the Red River, where one RB-66 and one F-4 split off for a separate mission. Gilmore, flying the other F-4, and the other RB-66 proceeded north east of Hanoi. Almost at once they spotted two or three MiGs coming high in the 2 o’clock position and closing rapidly. Gilmore and his wingman jettisoned their external tanks, lit their afterburners, and broke into a hard left descending turn while the RB-66 departed the area.

“Gilmore pulled out of his vertical reversal at 12,000 feet [3,657.6 meters], with his wingman flying a tight wing position. They pulled up after the MiGs, which were in afterburner, heading northwest at 30,000 feet [9,144 meters].

Vietnam Peoples' Air Force Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21PF, 1972.
Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21, 1972.

“The second MiG was descending very slowly, trailing white vapor toward the east. The F-4 aircrews lost sight of this aircraft as they closed rapidly on the first, which was making gentle clearing turns as he climbed away. Gilmore had several boresight lock-ons but was out of range for a good Sparrow shot. At a range of 3,000 feet [915 meters], Gilmore fired one Sidewinder with a good tone; he then maneuvered to the left to gain more separation and as a result did not see his first missile track.

“Later, Gilmore reported that he had not realized that he had scored a victory with his first missile: ‘My wingman, flying cover for me, told me later the MiG pilot had ejected after I fired the first missile. I didn’t realize I’d hit him the first time. My wingman wondered why I kept after him as I had hit him the first time and the pilot ejected.’ Because of radio difficulties, his wingman could not inform Gilmore of his success.

U.S. Air Force ground crewmen prepare to load four AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared homing air to air missiles (top row) and four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided air-to-air missiles (bottom row) aboard an F-4C. This aircraft, F-4C-23-MC Phantom II 64-0793, is teh same type fighter flown by Major Gilmore and Lieutenant Smith, 26 April 1966. (U.S. Air Force)
U.S. Air Force ground crewmen prepare to load four AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared-homing air-to-air missiles (top row) and four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided air-to-air missiles (bottom row) aboard an F-4C. This aircraft, F-4C-23-MC Phantom II 64-0793, is from the same production block as the fighter flown by Major Gilmore and Lieutenant Smith, 26 April 1966. (U.S. Air Force)

“After his maneuver to gain separation, Gilmore pulled up behind the pilotless MiG-21 again and fired another Sidewinder without effect. He again rolled left, pulled up, and fired his third Sidewinder at a range of 3,000 feet. ‘After missing [he thought] twice,’ Gilmore later told a newsman, ‘I was quite disgusted. I started talking to myself. Then I got my gunsights on him and fired a third time. I observed the missile go directly in his tailpipe and explode his tail.’

“The two F-4 aircrews  then descended to watch the debris impact. As Gilmore commenced his pull-up he spotted another MiG-21 tracking his wingman and called for a defensive split. He broke to the left and down while his wingman broke to the right and up.

“When Gilmore emerged from the roll, he sighted the MiG ahead, in afterburner and climbing away. He rolled in behind this aircraft and climbed in afterburner until he was directly behind. He fired his fourth Sidewinder, but the range was too short and the missile passed over the MiG’s left wing. Because of low fuel reserves, both F-4s then left the battle area. The 6-minute aerial battle was Gilmore’s first encounter with an enemy plane ‘after twelve years in the tactical fighter business.’ “

Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II at Pages 27–29.

According to Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force records, a fighter was lost 26 April 1966, though it is described as a MiG-17. The pilot, First Lieutenant Tràn Vặn Triém, ejected after being hit by friendly fire.

The Phantom II flown by Gilmore and Smith on that date was written off 6 August 1967.

F-4C 64-0752. Ngày 06/08/67 chiếc F-4C này bị PK bắn rơi ở Quảng Bình.
F-4C 64-0752. Ngày 06/08/67 chiếc F-4C này bị PK bắn rơi ở Quảng Bình. (vnmilitaryhistory.net) [A Vietnamese historical website describes the aircraft in this photograph as Major Gilmore’s F-4C.]
© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 April 1967

Lieutenant Colonel Leo Keith Thorsness, United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

LIEUTENANT COLONEL LEO K. THORSNESS
UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel (then Major), U.S. Air Force, 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Place and date: Over North Vietnam, 19 April 1967.

Entered service at: Walnut Grove, Minn.

Born: 14 February 1932, Walnut Grove, Minn.

Medal of HonorCitation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. As pilot of an F- 105 aircraft, Lt. Col. Thorsness was on a surface-to-air missile suppression mission over North Vietnam. Lt. Col. Thorsness and his wingman attacked and silenced a surface-to-air missile site with air-to-ground missiles, and then destroyed a second surface-to-air missile site with bombs. In the attack on the second missile site, Lt. Col. Thorsness’ wingman was shot down by intensive antiaircraft fire, and the 2 crewmembers abandoned their aircraft. Lt. Col. Thorsness circled the descending parachutes to keep the crewmembers in sight and relay their position to the Search and Rescue Center. During this maneuver, a MIG-17 was sighted in the area. Lt. Col. Thorsness immediately initiated an attack and destroyed the MIG. Because his aircraft was low on fuel, he was forced to depart the area in search of a tanker. Upon being advised that 2 helicopters were orbiting over the downed crew’s position and that there were hostile MiGs in the area posing a serious threat to the helicopters, Lt. Col. Thorsness, despite his low fuel condition, decided to return alone through a hostile environment of surface-to-air missile and antiaircraft defenses to the downed crew’s position. As he approached the area, he spotted 4 MIG-17 aircraft and immediately initiated an attack on the MlGs, damaging 1 and driving the others away from the rescue scene. When it became apparent that an aircraft in the area was critically low on fuel and the crew would have to abandon the aircraft unless they could reach a tanker, Lt. Col. Thorsness, although critically short on fuel himself, helped to avert further possible loss of life and a friendly aircraft by recovering at a forward operating base, thus allowing the aircraft in emergency fuel condition to refuel safely. Lt. Col. Thorsness’ extraordinary heroism, self-sacrifice, and personal bravery involving conspicuous risk of life were in the highest traditions of the military service, and have reflected great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.

Major Leo K. Thorsness and Captain Harold E. Johnson with their Republic F-105F Thunderchief, Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, 1967. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Leo K. Thorsness and Captain Harold E. Johnson with their Republic F-105F Thunderchief, Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, 1967. (U.S. Air Force)

AIR FORCE CROSS

CAPTAIN HAROLD EUGENE JOHNSON

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 Harold Eugene Johnson (AFSN: 0-3116556/42372A), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism as Electronics Warfare Officer of an F-105 aircraft of the 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Tuy Hoa Air Base, Vietnam, engaged in a pre-strike, missile suppression mission over North Vietnam on 19 April 1967. On that date, Captain Johnson guided his pilot in attacking and destroying a surface-to-air missile installation with an air-to-ground missile. Through his technical skill, he immediately detected a second missile complex and guided the pilot into visual contact. Diving into a deadly barrage of anti-aircraft fire, his aircraft bombed and successfully destroyed this site. In the attack on this second missile site, a wingman was shot down by the intense anti-aircraft fire, and the crew members were forced to abandon their aircraft. Flying through hostile missile threats, Captain Johnson’s aircraft engaged and destroyed a MiG-17 while attacking a superior MiG force. He aided in the rescue efforts for the downed crew, engaged additional MiGs, and damaged one in the encounter. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness, Captain Johnson has reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

General Orders: Department of the Air Force, Special Order GB-363 (April 19, 1967)

Action Date: 19-Apr-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Captain

Company: 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Regiment: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Tuy Hoa Air Base, Vietnam

Major Thorsness and Captain Johnson flew this Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief, 63-8301, on 19 April 1967. It was one of 61 F-105Fs that were upgraded to the F-105G Wild Weasel III configuration beginning in late 1967. It survived the Vietnam War, but was destroyed 20 December 1974 when, assigned to the 35th TFW at George AFB, California, it crashed at the Cuddeback Lake Gunnery Range after an engine failure. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Thorsness and Captain Johnson flew this Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief, 63-8301, on 19 April 1967. It was one of 61 F-105Fs that were upgraded to the F-105G Wild Weasel III configuration beginning in late 1967. It survived the Vietnam War, but was destroyed 20 December 1974 when, assigned to the 35th TFW at George AFB, California, it crashed at the Cuddeback Lake Gunnery Range after an engine failure. (U.S. Air Force)

A description of the air battle follows:

The first MiG kill of the day was recorded by Maj. Leo K. Thorsness, pilot, and Capt. Harold E. Johnson, Electronic Warfare officer (EWO), flying an F-105F. Thorsness’ flight consisted of four F-105F Wild Weasel aircraft, each plane being manned by a pilot and EWO and being specially equipped to locate and attack SAM sites. The flight was ahead of the main strike force and was committed to suppress SAM activity in the target area. About 8 to 10 MiG-17s attacked as the flight prepared to strike a SAM radar site with Shrike air-to-ground missiles. The Thorsness flight split up into three parts: the third and fourth aircraft entered into separate MiG engagements while Thorsness and his wingman continued the attack against the radar. The time was then about 4:55 p.m. Johnson provides an account of the encounter:

“We found and delivered our ordnance on an occupied SAM site. As we pulled off the site heading west, Kingfish 02¹ called that he had an overheat light. He also headed west, and the crew, Majors Thomas M. Madison, pilot, and Thomas J. Sterling, EWO, had to eject from their aircraft. We headed toward them by following the UHF-DF steer we received from their electronic beepers and saw them in the chutes. . .

“As we circled the descending crew, we were on a southerly heading when I spotted a MiG-17 heading east, low at out 9 o’clock position. I called him to the attention of Major Thorsness. . . .”

Thorsness continued the story:

“The MiG was heading east and was approximately 2,500 feet mean sea level. We were heading southeast and at 8,000 feet MSL. I began “S” turning to get behind the MiG. After one and a half “S” turns the MiG had progressed from the foothills over the delta southwest of Hanoi. The MiG turned to a northerly heading, maintaining approximately the same altitude and airspeed. Captain Johnson continued to give me SAM bearings, SAM-PRF [pulse recurrence frequency] status and launch indications as I continued to maneuver to attain a 6 o’clock position on the MiG.

“The first burst of approximately 300 rounds of 20 mm was fired from an estimated 2,000–1,500 feet in a right hand shallow pursuit curve, firing with a cased sight reticle. No impacts were observed on the MiG. Within a few seconds we were in the 6 o’clock position with approximately 75 to 100 knots overtake speed. I fired another burst of approximately 300 rounds of 20 mm. I pulled up to avoid both the debris and the MiG. While pulling up I rolled slightly to the right, then left. The MiG was approximately 100 feet low and to our left, rolling to the right. The two red stars were clearly discernible, one on top of each wing, and several rips were noted on the battered left wing. We continued to turn to the left and after turning approximately 130° again sighted the MiG, still in a right descending spiral. Just prior to the MiG’s impacting the ground, Captain Johnson sighted a MiG-17 at our 6:30 position approximately 2,000 feet back. I pulled into a tighter left turn, selected afterburner, and lowered the nose. I again looked at the crippled MiG, saw it impact the ground in what appeared to be a rice field. After confirming the MiG had in fact impacted the ground I made a hard reversal and descended very near the ground, heading generally westerly into the foothills.”

Thorsness then left the battle area, but returned after refueling to provide rescue combat air patrol during the search for his wingman’s aircrew. Thorsness and Johnson attacked another MiG and scored some damaging hits before they were themselves attacked by other MiG-17s. Although it is highly probable that Thorsness and Johnson destroyed a second MiG, this kill was not confirmed.

— Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II at Pages 46 and 47.

Eleven days later, 30 April 1967, Major Thorsness and Captain Johnson were shot down by an AA-2A Atoll heat-seeking missile fired by a MiG-21 fighter piloted by Vũ Ngọc Đỉnh, 921st Fighter Regiment, Vietnam People’s Air Force. They ejected but were captured. Both men were held as Prisoners of War until 4 March 1973.

¹ Radio call sign for aircraft 2.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 April 1970

Captain Travis H. Scott, Jr., United States Air Force

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 Major Travis Wofford (AFSN: 0-61477), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as Co-Pilot of an HH-53 Rescue Helicopter Pilot of the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, 3d Air Rescue and Recovery Group, DaNang Air Base, Vietnam, in action near Dak Nay Puey, Republic of Vietnam, on 15 April 1970. On that date, Major Wofford was engaged in the rescue of a crew of a United States Army helicopter which was shot down by enemy ground fire. Although Major Wofford was wounded by enemy ground fire during two earlier rescue attempts, he chose to continue with the rescue operations. On the third attempt, the helicopter was severely damaged by an intense burst of heavy automatic weapons fire. When the helicopter lost power and crashed, Major Wofford, with complete disregard for his personal safety and despite his painful injuries, freed himself from the wreckage and then attempted to free the pilot, who was instantly killed on impact. He then observed the other members of the crew engulfed in flames and, with sheer determination and a deep concern for his fellow men, he rushed to their aid, extinguished the flames and then dragged the aircrew members to a place of safety from which they were rescued. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Major Wofford reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Captain Travis Henry Scott, Jr., was also posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Air Medal (his fifth award) for this action. He had previously been awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters (three awards).

*************************

Lieutenant Colonel Travis Wofford, United States Air Force.
Lieutenant Colonel Travis Wofford, United States Air Force.

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 Major Travis Wofford (AFSN: 0-61477), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as Co-Pilot of an HH-53 Rescue Helicopter Pilot of the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, 3d Air Rescue and Recovery Group, DaNang Air Base, Vietnam, in action near Dak Nay Puey, Republic of Vietnam, on 15 April 1970. On that date, Major Wofford was engaged in the rescue of a crew of a United States Army helicopter which was shot down by enemy ground fire. Although Major Wofford was wounded by enemy ground fire during two earlier rescue attempts, he chose to continue with the rescue operations. On the third attempt, the helicopter was severely damaged by an intense burst of heavy automatic weapons fire. When the helicopter lost power and crashed, Major Wofford, with complete disregard for his personal safety and despite his painful injuries, freed himself from the wreckage and then attempted to free the pilot, who was instantly killed on impact. He then observed the other members of the crew engulfed in flames and, with sheer determination and a deep concern for his fellow men, he rushed to their aid, extinguished the flames and then dragged the aircrew members to a place of safety from which they were rescued. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Major Wofford reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Major Wofford was also awarded the Purple Heart. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a rescue carried out the previous day. He also received the Cheney Award for 1970. His other medals include the Silver Star, Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters (three awards), the Air Medal with one silver and one bronze oak leaf clusters (six awards), the Air Force Commendation Medal, Presidential Unit Citation with oak leaf cluster (two awards), and the Gallant Unit Citation with two oak leaf clusters (three awards).

[The above citations incorrectly reference Captain Scott and Major Wofford’s aircraft as an HH-53. It was a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, call sign “Jolly Green 27.” This helicopter, 66-13280, was one of two HH-3Es to fly non-stop from New York to Paris, 31 May 1967.]

Air Force Cross
Air Force Cross
Cheney Award (U.S. Air Force)
Cheney Award (U.S. Air Force)

 

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11 April 1966

Airman 1st Class William Hart Pitsenbarger, United States Air Force

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863 has awarded in the name of the Congress the Medal of Honor posthumously to:

A1C WILLIAM H. PITSENBARGER
UNITED STATES AIR FORCE
for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty Near Cam My, 11 April 1966:

Rank and organization: Airman First Class, U.S. Air Force, Detachment 6, 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, Bien Hoa Air Base, Republic of Vietnam.

Place and date: Near Cam My, 11 April 1966

Entered service at: Piqua, Ohio

Born: 8 July 1944, Piqua, Ohio

Citation: Airman First Class Pitsenbarger distinguished himself by extreme valor on 11 April 1966 near Cam My, Republic of Vietnam, while assigned as a Pararescue Crew Member, Detachment 6, 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. On that date, Airman Pitsenbarger was aboard a rescue helicopter responding to a call for evacuation of casualties incurred in an on-going firefight between elements of the United States Army’s 1st Infantry Division and a sizable enemy force approximately 35 miles east of Saigon. With complete disregard for personal safety, Airman Pitsenbarger volunteered to ride a hoist more than one hundred feet through the jungle, to the ground. On the ground, he organized and coordinated rescue efforts, cared for the wounded, prepared casualties for evacuation, and insured that the recovery operation continued in a smooth and orderly fashion. Through his personal efforts, the evacuation of the wounded was greatly expedited. As each of the nine casualties evacuated that day were recovered, Pitsenbarger refused evacuation in order to get one more wounded soldier to safety. After several pick-ups, one of the two rescue helicopters involved in the evacuation was struck by heavy enemy ground fire and was forced to leave the scene for an emergency landing. Airman Pitsenbarger stayed behind, on the ground, to perform medical duties. Shortly thereafter, the area came under sniper and mortar fire. During a subsequent attempt to evacuate the site, American forces came under heavy assault by a large Viet Cong force. When the enemy launched the assault, the evacuation was called off and Airman Pitsenbarger took up arms with the besieged infantrymen. He courageously resisted the enemy, braving intense gunfire to gather and distribute vital ammunition to American defenders. As the battle raged on, he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to care for the wounded, pull them out of the line of fire, and return fire whenever he could, during which time, he was wounded three times. Despite his wounds, he valiantly fought on, simultaneously treating as many wounded as possible. In the vicious fighting which followed, the American forces suffered 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached, and airman Pitsenbarger was finally fatally wounded. Airman Pitsenbarger exposed himself to almost certain death by staying on the ground, and perished while saving the lives of wounded infantrymen. His bravery and determination exemplify the highest professional standards and traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Air Force.

Airman 1st Class William Hart Pitsenbarger, United States Air Force, with his Colt M-16 rifle and Kaman HH-43 Huskie rescue helicopter. (U.S. Air force)
Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

© 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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