The Department of Defense announced the activation of over 24,000 reservists and national guard troops on Thursday, April 11, 1968. The 434th Tactical Airlift Wing was initially mentioned but was narrowed down to the 7st Tactical Airlift Squadron of the 930th Tactical Airlift Group at Bakalar AFB, Columbus, IN. The activation caught most reservists of the 71st TAS off-guard. As we approach the 40th anniversary of the call-up, here are reservist's recollections of that event. If you were an activated 71st reservist and would like to add your recollection of that day, please send it to the webmaster.
I was working in the Engineering Department at Citizens Gas & Coke Utility (Indianapolis). Someone in the department heard an announcement on the radio that the 434th Tactical Airlift Wing at Columbus, IN had been called to active duty. I was stunned. I had joined the reserve unit to avoid being drafted and possibly going to Vietnam. Concern and fear set in immediately. Later reports indicated only the 930th Tactical Airlift Group had been activated, and ultimately the 71st Tactical Airlift Squadron. I asked myself how in the world was ‘our’ unit selected out of all of the other C-119 squadrons around the country. I’m still not sure I understand, but it does not make any difference now. I had joined the 434th in December, 1964 and thought I would be safe. Without question, I wanted to be in the Air Force rather than any other military branch – I just thought I would be less likely of possibly going to Vietnam during that vulnerable period.
When I joined the reserve unit, I had the opportunity to choose between two AFSCs – reciprocating engine aircraft mechanic, and I don’t recall the other. I immediately chose aircraft mechanic. At the time of the call-up, I was a three-striper (Airman First Class), and was assigned as crew chief of C-119G #51-7996. TSgt. Don Jerrels was the line supervisor.
I was single, had completed a two-year degree at Purdue Extension at Indianapolis and was working full-time. Earlier in 1968 I had purchased a new Chevrolet Camaro Z-28. Following the call-up, I had to sell the Z-28 and use a Corvair for my transportation - that was my big disappointment of the call-up – it interrupted my ‘muscle-car’ days. Being single and 25, it was not as big of lifestyle disruption as I thought. In retrospect, the whole active duty experience was rewarding. I did not like it at the time, but I would not trade it for anything.
My story has to begin a few days before the call-up announced on 11 APR 68. The riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King were at a peak the weekend of April 6-7 1968. The 71st UTA was interrupted on Saturday 6 Apr when 9 aircrews were assembled early in the evening and directed to depart for Fort Benning, GA ASAP. The departures were scheduled for about 2200 hours at 10 minute intervals. My crew was assigned to good old AC 51-8028, one that I had trouble with on numerous occasions. However all went well until the engine run-up check when the left engine had a severe mag drop with intermittent backfiring. We pulled out of the line-up and attempted to clear the problem but nothing worked. The maintenance delay and a take-off after midnight and a 0230 landing at Fort Benning put us at the end of a line of more than 45 C-119s.
During a mission briefing on Sunday we were told that troops and equipment were being assembled for transport to Washington, DC to control riots in the city. Aircraft would be loaded and take-offs would be scheduled when flights could be sequenced into Andrews AFB traffic. My aircraft was loaded with three jeeps and six personnel during the early evening hours and we were finally airborne at 2115 hours.
On the flight to Andrews AFB I ate a sandwich from a sack lunch provided by the Army. This and one other element became a factor during the mission. There was no fuel available for refueling at Fort Benning so we departed knowing that a refueling stop would be needed somewhere between Andrews AFB and Bakalar. After landing at Andrews we were informed to “get unloaded and depart ASAP” as ramp space was limited and refueling would not be approved. A decision was made to stop at Pope AFB NC for fuel and then try to make it to Bakalar even though violation of crew rest was evident. At 0130 and 45 minutes after departing Andrews AFB I became violently ill with severe abdominal pain. I exited the flight deck leaving Lt Col Hatton at the controls and sought refuge in the latrine on the cargo deck. The pain I was experiencing was so severe I could not stand up straight. In what seemed like only a few minutes the flight engineer informed me that Lt Col Hatton had become ill and was having difficulty flying the AC and that I had to come back up front. I managed to get back into the left seat and immediately declared an emergency and requested priority clearance into Pope AFB, NC. We were about 25 minutes from landing and requested that emergency medical equipment meet the AC on landing. I vaguely remember landing the AC straight ahead on runway 23, stopping the AC on the runway, shutting down the engines and observing the ambulances pulling up beside the left side. I remember the medical personnel getting me out of the cockpit and into the ambulance. I regained consciousness in the hospital at noon on Monday. The attending physician told me that I was severely dehydrated and would remain in the hospital another 24 hours. When I described the food I had consumed on the flight the physician surmised that food poisoning was the problem. Since it appeared that no one had informed my family of the incident, I called my wife Helen and advised her of my problem still not knowing for sure what had caused my illness. Bakalar personnel were notified of our situation and they made arrangements for our return to Bakalar on Tuesday 9 Apr. The attending physician, after being unable to schedule a me-evac flight, reluctantly released me for the flight home in a C-119 from Bakalar.
I drove myself home on Wednesday because there was no other way to get home. Following medical advice I made an appointment at the Muncie Clinic for Thursday morning 11 APR. My doctor informed me that I was still very ill and gave me a prescription for pain medication with instructions not to return to work for two weeks. When I arrived home about 1115 hours my wife was in tears. I asked her if a call from the doctor had been bad news. The answer was no and she told me that a television program had just been interrupted to announce the recall of the 930th Tactical Airlift Group and all its squadrons for two years with a reporting date of 13 May 1968. WOW!! What a week. This also was the day I learned that the massive explosion in downtown Richmond, Indiana on 5 Feb had destroyed the State office assigned to my area. Fortunately, the staff was not on duty and not injured. Now what? The four children were all school age, six, ten, thirteen and fourteen. The events of the previous week had them really wondering what might happen next. Added to all this was the fact that I had been “temporarily removed from flying status” and would be medically evaluated later.
I returned to work on Monday 15 APR still suffering from the effects of the food poisoning with the awesome task of dealing with the destroyed office in Richmond and preparing for a military leave of absence from my job with the State of Indiana. All went well except the food poisoning illness impaired my ability to digest food and in the next few weeks I lost over thirty pounds. The family matter-of-factly accepted the reality of the recall and did not seem disturbed by the lack of information about where and how the 930th would be serving. However there were rumors that the Unit might be involved in an effort to retrieve the Pueblo from North Korea. For my part the recall would not be financially troubling because my military pay would be substantially more than my civilian pay. By report time on 13 May we had done all we could to prepare for my tour of active duty.
My tour of duty with the 71st Troop Carrier Squadron began at Bakalar AFB, IN in1958. The unit had retired their C-46’s and had been equipped with C-119G’s. I had flown C-119’s on AD at Sewart AFB, TN and Pope AFB, NC for three years prior to my release from AD in 1956. I had attained the rating of a Troop Carrier Pilot and Aircraft Commander in 1954 and had extensive experience in paratroop and heavy equipment operations. As a 1st Lt I was one of a group of “younger” pilots assigned to the 71st under the command of Lt Col James MacMaster. With over 1000 hours of time in C-119G’s I quickly re-qualified as an aircraft commander. During Summer Camp 1959 I upgraded to IP and SEFE. At time of the call-up in 1968 I had attained the rank of Major and was in a Flight Commander position in the Squadron. TOP
My motto in life should be "why do today what you can put off till tomorrow". With that in mind, I waited till the till the draft was nipping at my heals to get in the military. When they told me at Bakaler they could make me a loadmaster, I was excited. I always wanted to fly and this would be my opportunity
I enjoyed the training weekends, and the occasional trips we took as aircrew. In fact, I didn’t mind a bit that as part of the riot control, I would be allowed to go to Ft. Benning pick up some troops, and take them to Washington. I was fortunate that I never ate any of the tainted sandwiches. (See Herman Heuss’s story above) As near as I can tell, my weekend trip ended on Monday, which would have left me with a short paycheck. I lived from hand to mouth in those days.
During the trip, my NCOIC (CMSGT Robert Xanders) said that likely they would want us to return to Washington and take the troops back home. I was back to work on the 11th when I got that phone call from him saying I was needed. I explained to him that since I had already missing work Monday, I would prefer not to go. I did say that if he could not find anybody, call me back and I would go.
About an hour later, I was summoned to the phone again. Going to the phone, I knew that that would be that call and I would be off to Washington again. I was happy to find out that it was my then girlfriend. She also worked at Bakaler, and shock of shocks, she informed me that it was on the radio that we were activated effective 13 May.
This could not have happened at a worse time, as I was building a house and starting to get established in life (also called growing up). But the experience left me far richer than I would have been without it. I feel we saved a few lives, killed a few banana trees and saw things that I would never have seen. TOP
Where were you when you learned of the activation? (At work, school, or what) I was at home.
Paul A. Werner
On April 11, 1968, I was flying Airborne troops from Ft. Benning, GA to Andrews AFB. When one of the crew heard over the radio that part of the 434th was activated. As my wife and daughter (age 13) and son (age 9) were experienced with call-ups (Cuba '62, Willow Freeze '63), there was no major problem at home. I had no idea of activation, things were normal. The children were in school and the wife was working as secretary at school. We lived in Dillsboro, Indiana. Job was no problem. The personnel director was a friend and ex-P47 pilot. At activation, I was a newly promoted Lt. Col. and Flight Commander. TOP
Where were you when you learned of the activation? In the car going home from work at Allison/GM
Here are my recollections from April, 11 1968. We were on an AFTP that weekend, and found ourselves in transient quarters at Whiteman AFB, after a short flight from Chicago's airfield, after loading a gen set for Whiteman. We were listening to the radio, and getting ready for a good night's rest. Bernie W. said "Hey, listen to this". We all shut up, and listened to the newsman tell the audience about the plan to activate our unit for deployment to Vietnam. You could have heard a pin drop in that room, then a cheer went up, "YES" some of us said, and some were quiet. We were going to war, in a "High handled wheel barrow", what else, they had picked the best squadron in the Air Force to take this plane into battle. Then reality set in and then each of us got on the phone to home to break the news to family, and friends. My wife fell silent as I told her, and she then said not to worry, I would be OK and come home safe. We had much to talk about when I got home, but that is another story. The next 30 days were hectic, and we busied ourselves with all of the deatils before deployment.
S/Sgt Philip Bender