Governor Whitcomb, members of the Columbus Board of Aviation, distinguished guests, 71st SOS troops and their families, ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of the 71st Special Operations Squadron members, I want to thank the citizens of Columbus and the members of the Columbus Board of Aviation for this memorial plaque being dedicated today. The City of Columbus has always been a friend to the Air Force Reserve members who trained here at Bakalar, and to all the military in the area to this day. All of us greatly appreciate that friendship. Also thanks to General Hoff, Al Heuss, and Jim Alvis for their part in this dedication.
As stated on the marker, the 71st SOS was the only Air Force Reserve unit activated to fly combat missions in Vietnam. When recalled, the 71st was a C-119 Tactical Airlift Squadron. We were moved to Lockbourne AFB Ohio to train in the AC-119 gunship and to take survival training. Plans called for the completion of training and departure for Vietnam in August 1968. Due to many problems with the gunship program, mainly the overweight of the aircraft and the personnel ceiling in Vietnam, we were delayed in departing until early December, 1968.
Two AC-119 aircraft departed Lockbourne AFB on 5 December, two on 6 December, and two on 10 December, and the remainder as the aircraft became available from the weight reduction program at Fairchild-Hiller at St. Augustine, FL. The last aircraft departed St. Augustine on 29 January 1969. All other personnel and equipment was airlifted via three MAC C-141 aircraft to Vietnam.
Two AC-119 aircraft arrived at Nha Trang, Vietnam on 27 December 1968 and a total of four arrived by 31 December. All flying personnel had to attend survival school at Clark AFB in the Philippines. As aircraft arrived at Nha Trang, maintenance personnel set to work removing the special ferrying fuel tank, installed and readjusted the miniguns, and in general got the aircraft operationally ready.
The first combat mission was flown out of Nha Trang on 5 January 1969. By the first of March, all eighteen aircraft had arrived at Nha Trang. We were assigned to the 14th Special Operations Wing, 7th Air force, and operated as three flights at Nha Trang, Phan Rang, and Saigon. The 71st SOS gained combat ready status C-1 on 11 March 1969. Due to the late arrival of several aircraft and crews, this was considered attained in especially short time.
When the squadron arrived in Vietnam, there was skepticism and opposition, but it did not take long for the air crew experience level and professionalism, along with superb maintenance capability of the Reserves to change everyone's opinion. The officers, especially the Wing Commander Col. William Bush, the Wing director of Operations, Col. William Ginn, and the men of the 14th Special Operations Wing were extremely pleased with the dedication and capability of the members of the 71st SOS.
Seventh Air Force Commander Major General Royal N. Baker observed "they came in from civilian life, worked into a new weapons system, brought it into the country, and have done a tremendous job since they have been here". Due to the decision of the Air Force to release the Reserves early, we departed Vietnam on 5 June 1969 via three C-141 MAC aircraft, and arrived at Bakalar the morning of 6 June to a rousing welcome home.
The eighteen AC-119G aircraft were then assigned to the 17th SOS. In the five months of combat operations, the 71st flew 6,251 combat hours, 1209 fragged missions, and 1,516 sorties. The 71st SOS never lost an outpost it was defending, and helped save many patrols needing help. the greatest achievement was not a single fatality and not one aircraft lost. It is only natural when talking about the squadron's performance, we think first of the crew members and their missions. However there is a lot of work required getting those missions ready, and the everyday administrative duties. So a special thanks from all aircrew members to the operations, administrative, and maintenance personnel.
When Colonel Joe Pound asked me to be the Commander of the 71st SOS, I was reluctant to accept the job. He finally convinced me to accept the job, and I must say, I am proud to have been the Commander of such an outstanding group. Thank you.