Decorated Vietnam ‘vet’ back at war

Staff Sgt. Ryan Hansen
386th Air Expeditionary Wing, Public Affairs

***image1***It may be surprising to hear that the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing has
a Vietnam-era Purple Heart recipient working in Southwest Asia.

However, it’s even more surprising to hear that the combat veteran is actually a C-130 Hercules deployed from Ramstein.

On the flight deck of aircraft 63-7865 is a plaque telling the story of
one of the hardest working aircraft in Air Force inventory.

According to the certificate, on June 1, 1972, the aircraft was
assigned to the 21st Tactical Airlift Squadron at Ching Chuan Kang Air
Base, Taiwan, when it took a mortar round through engine number three
while sitting on the flightline of Kontum Air Base, Vietnam.

After a maintenance recovery team replaced the engine, the aircraft was
once again ready to fly. But just as pilot Lt. Col. Lyn Mulkey taxied
the C-130 down the flightline for takeoff, the new engine failed,
forcing a three-engine takeoff.
Despite taking even more incoming mortar rounds that punctured the
wings and inflicted heavy damage to its other engines, the colonel got
the aircraft airborne.

The war-torn C-130 could only reach 1,000 feet due to its damage and
had to make an emergency landing at Plieku Air Base, Vietnam, where it
was determined that the combat aircraft would need two new wings and a
four- engine replacement.

To many in the air mobility community, stories like this make the C-130
known as the workhorse of tactical airlift. It has proven itself for
many years and continues to be leaned upon heavily in operations Iraqi
Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

“It’s just an awesome aircraft,” said Chief Master Sgt. Clement
McGrath, superintendent of the 386th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance
Squadron, who is deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. “It can go
anywhere at anytime and it’s been everywhere around the world.”

The aircraft’s dedicated crew chief wasn’t surprised when he saw the plaque.
“This just shows the reliability of these aircraft,” said Staff Sgt.
Tim Stahn, who is with the Green Aircraft Maintenance Unit, who is
deployed from Ramstein.

“Three quarters of the C-130s we have here are from the early ’60s and
served in Vietnam and they’re still going strong today.”

Although it’s probably not the only one in existence, no one in the
squadron can recall seeing another Purple Heart for an aircraft.

“It’s the only one I’ve ever seen,” said Chief McGrath, who has been a maintainer for 29 years. “It’s very impressive for sure.”

The aircraft’s history is not limited to Vietnam era either. It once
again proved its mettle a few years ago when it flew through an ice
storm over Europe, according to Sergeant Stahn.

“There are some dents up front, but that’s all you can really see from
it,” said the six year Air Force crew chief, who is familiar with the
aircraft from his home station. “It sure is a tough one.”

The decoration is also a tribute to the hard working maintenance crews
that continually get the aircraft ready to go on a daily basis in 120-
plus degree heat.

“Sure it’s hard to keep aircraft that are 40- plus years old flying,”
Sergeant Stahn said, “but it sure beats working on a computer.”