Association (ACA) 60th Annual Reunion
7-10 Oct 2004
Fort Walton Beach, FL
President Bush sent us a greetings for the Air Commando 60th Anniversary and reunion. The letter, from the Executive Office of the President, Office of Presidential Messages, was dated 7 Oct 2004 and read as follows:
October 7, 2004
I send greetings to those gathered in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, the Air Commando Association reunion.
As the United States engages in a global war against terrorism, we look to our veterans as examples of courage, dedication, and sacrifice. The Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who have fought for America have helped to secure our Nation, liberate people around the world from the threats of tyranny and terror, and advance the cause of freedom worldwide. Throughout history, these brave men and women have answered the call of duty and risked their lives to protect their fellow citizens. These patriots continue to inspire new generations.
I join all Americans in expressing our gratitude for your abiding patriotism and selfless in defense of our nation. Laura joins me in sending our best wishes for a reunion filled with renewed friendships and shared memories.
I asked for the letter from my Congressman, Garry Miller of California, with instructions to send it to the ACA HQ with all the data they needed. When the letter didn't arrive in FWB I thought they didn't have sufficient time to get one signed. When I got back to my office on 12 Oct 2004 I found that they had sent it there. It is a little late but better late than never.
Thursday 7 Oct 2004
The Quality Inn Hospitality Room in Fort Walton Beach Florida opened in the afternoon for registration for the ACA Reunion. Pete Bowman was all organized to take our money which he eagerly did. Dick Goren was behind the bar to soothe the dry throats of all who made it across Florida’s “Ivan” the Terrible Hurricane destruction and damage which lined the roads from Pensacola to our beloved FWB. Dick’s wisdom and real estate lessons intrigued all the customers. Members trickled in for the rest of the day and eventually found the hospitality suite. Joyce Harrington had the country store open and offered a variety of ACA memorabilia. An addition to the store this year was military book sales which were donated by the AU library which sent their surplus and old AF history books which were a real bargain. Heinie Aderholt and Fred Platt were missing from the bar room scene. Don Maxwell didn’t show up even though several beautiful women asked about his presence. Fred had no excuse but Heinie was busy taking care of his property, which was severely damaged by Ivan the Terrible, and had repairman and insurance running around like only Heinie can do. Chili Wells showed up to stir up conversation, with both politically debates and old war stories. The Spooky troops established their territory in a good shooting range of the bar. They were still fighting the war when the last footstep was heard leaving the bar. Nick Emigholz of Intelligence fame and wild travels in Latin America showed up from a long journey in a van leaving Seattle Washington 30 days before. This was his first reunion and he is trying to find his old friend Sam Osuna from Panama days. I wanted the report of his trip with Jim Wright they made in the badlands of Peru and Bolivia where they were caught in a gun battle at a train station between the Communists and the locals. He also had a great time in staying in 39 cents a night hotels in the backwoods of Peru. Since he left Boeing he is looking for something to contribute to society so if anyone in the Seattle area has something contact Nick. The bar closed about 2400 hours with Jim Roper (author of “Quoth the Raven” and “Aardvarks & Rangers--”www.PublishAmerica.com, email JRoper3531@aol, com), Spookys, Bill Brown, Dick Goren and myself returning to our newly refurbished hotel rooms. The Quality Inn offered some real nice facilities for the price and in stumbling distance of the bar.
Friday 8 October 2004
Only 11 players showed up for the annual ACA Golf tournament. Jim Boney was really disappointed but understood Ivan’s discouragement of members from attending the reunion. The poor weather didn’t help either. Due to the poor showing it was decided to cancel the golf tournament. He will make the 2005 tournament a sure thing. Most visitors to Heinie’s store and office were disappointed of not seeing him but as Rose said he was all over the area solving his property problems by damage done by Ivan. The day was slow with the rain; overcast and major activity of multiple crews cleaning up FWB from Ivan’s furry. The streets were lined with discarded furniture and household items damaged and destroyed by Ivan. The Hospitality Suite and Joyce’s country store were kept busy by free spending members. Hap Lutz and his crew outdid themselves with the fish fry. The food was absolutely delicious. The fish fry was held under the awning over the entrance of the Quality Inn (entrance to old Hospitality Suite as well as the current one). The old HOJO motel is now divided into two hotels-Roadway Inn and Quality Inn. Roadway has the half which had the registration desk in the past and the Quality Inn has the other half which includes the old and current hospitality suite. The Roadway Inn kept the balconies on the rooms and the Quality Inn removed all the balconies during their remodeling.
The Quality Inn was remodeled, repainted and was very nice as well as having a first class TV system with 70-80 stations. The hotel remodeling was not totally finished and they were still working on rooms. Apparently Ivan did a lot of damage to the hotel.
Heinie and Fred Platt showed up to liven up the hospitality suite. Jan Sanborn was there and her house was damaged by Ivan. Harry Bishop came from North Carolina to enjoy the festivities and was wondering why his email on the B-26 cameras was found by a friend on the Internet. I told him I had put it on the ACA Home Page because of its historical value. Big Bill Brown stepped up to the bar and we all had an interesting discussion with Bill on C-119, AC-119, C-130, C-47 and Vietnam. He had more time in the C-119 than any active duty pilot. The only thing that was missing for Bill and me was Belinda Green who was invited to the reunion who is a big political figure in KY and who was involved with both of us in Australia and the B-17C Memorial which her uncle died in the crash. Jim Roper gave us his opinion why the F-111 was the greatest fighter airplane around. He spent a lot of time in the aircraft. Ed Douglas said he helped push Heinie out of perfectly good aircraft-never knew Heinie was a jumper. Ed has been busy with the TTU Vietnam/Oral History, email firstname.lastname@example.org and telephone 806-742-9010, Fax 0496, and wants to invite them next year to gather our unwritten history from our warriors. In the meantime anyone who would like to contribute his oral history can call or email them their history. John Plaster, author of SOG and a former USA SF warrior, showed up for the reunion. Lt Gen Tex Brown ( Sept 20 Aviation Week under Who’s Where States; USAF LtGen (ret) Richard E. Tex Brown has been named VP-Air Force programs for the Anteon International Corp, Fairfax, VA. He was acting assistant Air Force vice chief of staff) made his acquaintance at the bar. Jim Boney and Jim Yaley and their wives were with them at the hospitality suite. Sugie and Charlie Jones were there also even though they are still recovering from the loss of their house during the hurricane. Paul and Sue Marschalk, fresh from Tennessee, were there and as usual Paul came with his great sense of humor. Sue is related to BG Ben King. Jimmy Ifland had his camera capturing all of us in our glory at the hospitality room. Dick Secord attended and he is still working on his company which I own a few shares.
Saturday 9 October 2004
A large group attended the 0900 business meeting at the Quality Inn Hospitality room. Dick Goren brought the meeting to order and Charlie Jones led us off in prayer and just about turned us into born again Christians. Charlie has that unique southern charm to make us feel the wonders of spiritual connection to the Supreme Being. Old business was discussed and everything was accepted. During new business we found out that our founder in 1961, BG Benjamin King (resume at http://home.earthlink.net/~aircommando1/BGBenKingBio.htm) a WWII hero and fighter Ace who shot down aircraft in the European and Pacific theaters in WWII and who fought in 3 wars had died on Thursday 7 October 2004. This was a great loss for the Air Commandos during our 60th Anniversary. King was famous for the remark when asked “Will we have spot promotions?” sometime in 1961 and his answer was “I wouldn't say no!” He was a man I remembered well when he would come down and say modify aircraft without USAF regulations being meet. He was a fast mover all the time. He is remembered well by all those who have served under him.
Bob Gleason sent out his death notice on 8 Oct and his emails read as follows:
I have just received the sad news that this evening a true hero has passed away (Oct 7 2004)--Gen. Ben King.
He died in the hospital from pneumonia and other complications associated with his continuing fight with cancer.
He died as he had lived in complete control of and full awareness of his fate. The word I received from a member of the hospital staff was that he declared to those present that today he was going to die, and he did.
Besides the personal sorrow that all his friends must now endure his passing signifies an end of an era to the Air Commando movement. In broader terms we mourn the a loss of a USAF fighter ace "Nonparallel" whose contributions to his country were truly major and spanned the course of three major wars. May he rest in eternal peace in the hands of his God.
His wife Maxine is presently residing at 1155 Alder, CT. Florence, OR 97439.
To all others. Please pass to General Kings' other friends whose name I may have omitted from the above address list.
I talked to Gen. King's daughter a short while ago. The General will be cremated and his ashes will be dispersed over the Pacific Ocean by his wife from his own plane flown by a friend. She relates that they are inundated by flowers but those caring to do so may make a contribution in General King's name to:
The McCoskrie Threshold Foundation (at the Air Commando Association)
P.O. Box 67
Mary Esther, FL. 32569-0067
About a week ago General King was in good health and walking down town when he fell. The results were a broken vertebra in his back. He was taken to the hospital and placed on oxygen. However due to the cancer operations previously performed on his throat he could not swallow normally and fluids continue to collect in his lungs. This of course developed into pneumonia and it was this that was the immediate cause of his death on 7 October.
Col Bob Gleason, who was BG King's DO and a close friend, will write a final salute to BG King for the ACA Newsletter. He needs good photos of Ben King to include in his final salute. If you have any send them to Bob and when finished they will be sent to the ACA HQ for use in the museum.
Four (4) F-15s from Kingsley Field, Oregon Air National Guard, Klamath Falls, OR of the 114th Fighter Squadron, 173d Fighter Wing made a
missing man formation over Florence, Or for his final burial on 19 October. BG King's ashes were then spread in the ocean from the ocean shorelines due to winds where Rennie Kirk couldn't fly his aircraft to drop over the ocean. The flyover was arranged by the Florence airport manager, a good friend of BG King, Rennie Kirk (2001 Airport Way, Florence, OR 97439, Tel 541-997-8069, and Email email@example.com) called the Oregon ANG to arrange this flyover which they did in record time. He was responsible for getting the flyover and it would be nice if some Commandos emailed him a letter of thanks.
The pilots who flew the F-15s were:
Lt Col Rich "Pee Wee" Kelly
Lt Col Wayne "Wang" Adkisson
Lt Col Brian "Gash" Tonnell
Lt Col Robert "Cricket" Renner
MAJ Erickson Megan, the Wing Community Manager (243 Vandenberg Dr, Ste 22, Klamath Falls, Or 97603-1935, Tel 541-885-6198, Email firstname.lastname@example.org ), setup the flyover and if anyone is interested in thanking the ANG for their flyover they can emailed, both the unit and the pilots who made the flyover, at the address above. According to Rennie Kirk said it was spectacular--the F-15 came low over the airport (below 2000 ft) and one peeled off over the site in afterburner and disappeared in the clouds at 4000 ft.
Candidates for offices were announced and all were asked to make statements and all did. Since there wasn’t a person for the Treasurer Bobby Downs was nominated to be put on the ballot.
Elections were held and the following people were elected to the following offices:
President Felix “Sam” Bogna
Treasurer Bobby Downs
Board John Connors
The business meeting and elections were held and finished in record time just over an hour so that those who wanted to attend the 6th SOS briefing at Hurlburt could attend. Thanks to Dick Goren we were of the meeting so that we could hear an exciting briefing.
The USAF sent, what appeared as, new buses from Hurlburt to pick us up at 10:30 sharp. The buses were AF blue and white and were quite a change from our old blue school buses in the past.
We arrived at the 6th SOS squadron facilities and went right into their briefing room which was a first class auditorium nothing of which we had 40 years ago at Hulburt. What a difference time and a little money do for our special warriors. The theatre seats and stage was a delight to see after what the Jungle Jim was given to brief the troops and guests. Lt Col Juan Alvarez, the squadron Operations Officer and soon to become commander, was the briefer. LtC Alvarez has a unique background for this assignment. He first flew for the Navy but after an accident lost part of his leg. He left the Navy and was able to get into the AF with a mechanical leg which was rumored to be one of Ross Perot project-the same guy that used Bull Simmon in Iran to try and rescue his men. LtC Alvarez gave us an excellent briefing on the 6th SOS mission and their unique equipment. They lease Russian AN-2, AN-26, AN-32 cargo aircraft, MI-6 and MI-16 helicopters and a C-47 which has turbo props and modified for the 21 century. Their mission is to provide assistance and training to countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East who fly these aircraft. They have used a concept from the USA Special Forces using an A & B team. They do this with a 109 person squadron. Their concept appeared similar to our old MTT training teams with different aircraft, modified team concept and a little more sophistication for the modern world. We were told that Jerry Klingman (old Air Commando from the sixties) help setup the squadron. All of the Russian aircraft are maintained and supported by a leasing company. Fred Platt at the bar laid claim to getting the turbo prop C-47 from the DEA who had captured it from drug runners and they were looking for a home for it. Fred recommended it be given to AFSOC.
The 6th SOS has a Question Mark in the middle of a circle which was used by the Air Commandos of WWII. The question arose as what it signified and the AFSOC history gave this account:
The 1944 Air commando Transport section adopted the white circle with the question mark because of the secrecy of the mission (could not tell anyone what the mission was, where they were going, etc--reminded me of EBF and SBF in Jungle Jim). There was also a story when the troops traveled to the theater some of the C-47's had the glider snatch hook and curious people wanted to know what it was and of course the crews could not tell them.
Lt Col Alvarez then gave us a tour of the two aircraft which was still on base-a turbo prop C-47 and a Huey. The Huey had a wire cutter mounted above and below the cockpit to cut any wires which they may encounter in their missions. Probably would have been a great thing if we had it back in the sixties when one of our Huey hit some power lines. The turboprop C-47 was a grand improvement over our Jungle Jim SC-47. The inside of the aircraft was insulated, had an air conditioner, the paratrooper seats had padded backs and seats, the pilot seats were changed to give more room than before-even Earthquake Magoon (James McGovern) would have been proud of, turbo prop engines and they had mirrors on their wings so that the pilot could check his landing wheels and the engines. When we left the flight line they even had electrical operated gates-none of this pushing some old rusty gate that weighed a ton. What luxury! After returning to the hospitality room at the Quality Inn it was filled with members. There was cheer all around and tipping of the last glass since 1600 hours was approaching for the march to the rooms for dressing for the banquet at the Soundside Club (old Hurlburt Officer Club) at 1800 hours.
Dick Goren opened the banquet at 1900 hours after the cocktail hours. Charlie Jones led us in prayer followed by a pledge of allegiance. After a delicious meal we then proceeded with the night festivities. All the dignitaries were introduced (Lt Gen Woolsey, Lt Gen “Tex” Brown, Maj Gen Secord, BG Aderholt). Felix "Sam" Bogna was introduced as our new president and our MC was introduced Bill Campbell. Howie Pierson made some comments and told us his father “Pop” lived to 103 + years-shows you what young women and good drinks will do to your life. Dick Secord introduced three new members who were inducted into the ACA Hall of Fame. They were:
1. CMSgt Wayne G. Norad
2. Col Roland K. McCoskrie
3. John Plaster-first Army Special Forces to be inducted into the HOF. He was a Covey FAC rider.
CMSGT Christian was introduced who was the only WWII Air Commando attending the reunion. US Air Force Academy Cadet Christine Lukasik, daughter of Capt Bernard Francis Lukasik who was KIA in Phuong Dinh Province, (inland from the Mekong Delta) Vietnam on 19 February 1964 in a T-28D 53-8855 (the 10th so far) when supporting ARVN ground troops in the Province. She is in 4th year at the Academy and will be commissioned in June 2005. The man who her father saved from being captured LtC Ken Lengfield, the day before on 18 February 1964, by hacked off VCs he attacked that day, who was flying T-28 53-8369 which got shot down, was introduced. He told the story how Capt Lukasik saved him from capture by the VC which he was attacking with his T-28 before being shot down. Capt Lukasik attacked the VC with his guns and after he ran out of ammunition he then took his T-28 down on the deck using his propellers to drive off the VC. A helicopter finally arrives and picked him and his Vietnamese AF back sweater for another day of fighting. The next day on 19 February 1964 Capt Bernard Francis Lukasik was shot down and killed. Cadet Catherine Lukasik was given a life long membership in the ACA. Heinie Aderholt arranged for all this to happen including getting Cadet Lukasik out of class at the Academy to attend our reunion. Twenty of our members, who were involved with humanitarian work and the McCoskrie/Threshold Foundation (MTF), were introduced to receive a humanitarian award. They were BG Aderholt, John Grove, Doris Eaton, Jody Duncan, James "Doc" Fitzpatrick, James Boney, Lester T. Hansen, Jo Bailey, Rose Dykes, Gaylord L. Hall, Eulice Shelly, Kenneth H. Poole, Richard P. Goren, Robert H. White, Roland "Hap" Lutz Jr, Roland K. McCoskrie, Charles E. "Mac" McDaniels, Roger L. Klair, David W. Freeman, Asa M. Stackhouse and Clyde Howard. BG Heinie Aderholt was recognized as the driving force for this effort. Col McCoskrie’s widow was introduced which the McCoskrie Threshold Fund is named after.
Lt General Michael Wooley (bio at www.af.mil/bios.asp?bioID=7654), the new AFSOC Commander, was introduced as our guest speaker. General Wooley is a graduate of Northeast Louisana State University, a distinguished graduate of UPT, former VC of AFSOC; aircraft flown were airlifter and helicopters and became AFSOC commander in July 2004 when he replaced General Hester. His speech was a slide show of updating how AFSOC was organized and outside of the 6th SOS it is a two plane unit with H-53() helicopters and AC-130(). AFSOC recently became responsible for the AF Rescue forces and in addition to the PJ he has the Combat Controllers and combat weathermen. He talked about the CV-22, which he has flown in and said they are programmed to receive it in 2009. AFSOC has approximately 20,000 active-duty, Reserve, Air National Guard and civilian professional. He concluded his speech with a statement that we were all heroes regardless what we did in the war.
The Banquet was concluded with Les Brown playing until dawn for those who wanted to dance the rest of the night and who could still take it.
The Hospitality Suite was reopened which still attracted a small crowd. Dick Goren kept the bar going with great stories and Fred Platt and Jim Roper added their stories which were quite interesting. A question came up who were the AFSOC Commanders which no one could name after a few drinks. The AFSOC Commanders were as follows:
Maj Gen Thomas E. Eggers 22 May 90 to 21 June 91
MG Bruce L. Fister 21 Jun 91 to 21 Jul 94
MG James L. Hobson, Jr. 22 Jul 94 to 8 Jul 97
MG Charles R. Holland 9Jul 97 to 4 Aug 99
Lt Gen Maxwell C. Bailey 5 Aug 99 to 15 Jan 02
Lt Gen Paul V. Hester 16 Jan 02 to 1 Jul 04
Lt Gen Michael W. Wooley 1 Jul 04 to Present
10 October Sunday 2004
It was a bad weather day with threat of coast line flooding in New Orleans. This caused members to leave early and later finding that New Orleans was not being flooded. The 1200 Memorial service was held in the 6th SOS auditorium because of the weather. A BBQ was held under the Quality Inn drive through porch. The Air commando Auction was held and was a success. The reunion ended at 1600 hours and most people left for home except the diehards in the hospitality room.
About 225 people attended this year and low attendance was primarily due to weather and the hurricane which really chewed up Fort Walton Beach
Eugene D. Rossel
Email me if there are any clarification/corrections/addition needed at email@example.com
With help from:
Who Was Ben King
A final toast to our Fabled Leader and Commander
The 1964 Special Air Warfare Center put out a PR pamphlet
called Special Air
Warfare Center (SAWC) 1964 "1st Air Commando Wing" Booklet
The 1964 Special Air Warfare Center put out a PR pamphlet called "First Air Commando Wing" which had a front cover in color showing B-26 dropping ordnance. On the second to last page the magazine depicted the past commanders starting with Col Philip G. Cochran and followed by Benjamin H. King. The following is the write up for Col King:
"BENJAMIN H. KING--Colonel King, entered military service as an Aviation Cadet from Oklahoma City Feb. 28, 1942. He was commissioned Nov. 10 at Foster Field, Tex. During the period between commissioning and August 1948, Colonel King held varied assignments as fighter pilot, group commander and operations officer. The Colonel was a World War II "Ace" and also flew in Korea. Col. Ben King was the father of the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron and the 1st Air Commando Group."
This makes BG Benjamin King the modern era father of the USAF Air Commandos and Special Operations.
Brigadier General Benjamin H. King
Retired Jan 31 1971
Brigadier General Benjamin H. King was born in Addie Lee, OK in 1919. He received his high school education in Fayeteville, Ark. He entered aviation cadet training in February 1942 at Foster Field, Texas, and received his pilot wings and commission as a second lieutenant in November of the same year.
During World War II, he served in the Asiatic-Pacific and European-Middle Eastern theaters of operations as a pilot flying P-38s, P-39s and P-51s. He scored seven victories in air battle and logged 122 combat missions totaling 480 combat hours. During the Korean War, he destroyed two aircraft on the ground, flew 200 combat missions and accumulated 382 combat hours.
He graduated from the Army Command and General Staff School in February 1946 and from the Air Command and Staff School in June 1950.
From January 1957 until July 1959, General King was assigned as commander, 4750th Air Defense Group, and later as deputy commander and commander, 4750th Air Defense Wing at Vincent Air Force Base, AZ. He moved with the Wing to Macdill Air Force BASE, FL. In July 1960 he was reassigned as director, Joint BOMARC Test Staff, Detachment 1, Montgomery Air Defense Sector, Eglin Air Force Base, FL.
From May 1961 until March 1962, he served as commander, 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron and 4400th CCT Group, Eglin Air Force Auxiliary Field #9, FL and in April 1962 he was assigned as commander, 1st Combat Applications Group, Eglin Air Force Base, FL.
General King was assigned in October 1963 as deputy director of the Secretary of Defense Advisory Research Project Agency Field Unit, Bangkok, Thailand. During this period he flew some 100 missions in Vietnam in T-28, C-47, L-28 and B-26 aircraft.
He returned to the United States in October 1964 and was assigned to the Aerospace Defense Command. He served as vice commander, Los Angeles Air Defense Sector, Norton Air Force Base, CA; as deputy for operations, 28th Air Division and the Fourth Air Force; and as vice commander, Fourth Air Force at Hamilton Air Force Base, CA.
In August 1967 he became command inspector general, Headquarters Aerospace Defense Command, ENT Air Force Base, CO, and in January 1969 he became director of aerospace safety, Office of the Deputy Inspector General for Inspection and Safety at Norton Air Force Base, CA.
General King was the director of aerospace safety, Office of the Deputy Inspector General for Inspection and Safety, Norton Air Force Base, CA. He retired from the USAF on January 31, 1971.
General King was an active fighter pilot and was qualified in the T-33 and the supersonic F-106 Delta Dart. He accumulated more than 6,000 hours of flying time including 1,146 combat hours logged in 400 missions. His decorations include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with 24 oak leaf clusters, Purple Heart and the French Croix de Guerre.
BG Benjamin King
WWII Army Air Corps Aerial ACE
American Fighter Ace Association
Benjamin Harold King was born in Add Lee, Oklahoma on 9 December 1919. Following a year at the University of Oklahoma, He enlisted in the Army Air Forces in late February 1942 and was appointed a flying cadet in May at Kelly Field, Texas. He completed flying training with Class 42-J at Foster Field, Texas and was commissioned a second lieutenant on 10 November.
In February 1943 Lieutenant King was assigned to the 339th Fighter Squadron, 347th Fighter Group, flying P-39s and P-38s. On 17 July, flying a P-38 named "Matilda" after his mother he downed two Zekes in a morning mission over Kahli and on 1 November destroyed another Zeke over Empress Augusta Bay. Following a rest tour in the States, he transferred to the 359th Fighter Group in European Theater of Operations flying P-51s a commander of the 368th Fighter Squadron.
On 11 September 1944 bear Blankenheim on an escort mission to Meseburg; the 359th encountered some 200 Luftwaffe fighters in a running dogfight ranging from Gissen to Eisleben. King shot down two FW-190s and a Me-109 to become an ace (the fifth for the 359th). The following day, on an escort to Berlin, King scored his last victory, a Me-109 near Gransee. Rotating back home again, he finished the war as a deputy director at Santa Maria, California.
King remained in the post-war Air Force and received his regular commission as a captain in June 1947. In September 1950 he went to Korea to command the 8th Fighter Bomber Squadron at Taegu, flying 226 missions in the P-51 and F-80. In 1961 he formed the Air Commandos at Hurlburt Field, Florida and was their commander for the next three years, flying combat missions in Vietnam in the C-47, T-28 and A-1E. Promoted to brigadier general in 1966 he served as deputy Inspector General for Safety before he retired in January 1971.
Tally Record: 7 Confirmed
Decorations: Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross with one Oak Leaf Cluster, and Air Medal with 11 Oak Leaf Clusters.
From the American Fighter Aces Museum Foundation, Inc, PO Box 2020, San Antonio, TX Tel 210-354-2322, Fax 0575 San Antonio, TX
From his final Home town Newspaper
www.registerguard.com | © The Register-Guard,
October 20, 2004
Aerial farewell to a fighter: Jets fly over Florence to salute pilot who flew in three wars
By Winston Ross
FLORENCE - All Maxine King needed was a break in the clouds.
Then, she could hope to catch a glimpse of the fighter jets screaming through the sky.
If the fog was too low, the clouds too thick, the planes would keep right on flying. It had rained all weekend. And droplets already were beading up on her hat, rolling down toward her weathered face. Perhaps her husband would not get the ceremony he deserved.
Brig. Gen. Benjamin H. King retired in 1971, but his legacy as a fighter pilot continued long afterward. During his time in the U.S. Air Force, King accumulated more than 6,000 hours of flying time and 400 combat missions. He was decorated with the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart, among many medals.
But it was Tuesday's "Missing Man" ceremony that brought the Florence resident's service into sharp focus. To commemorate his death last week, four F-15 fighter jets buzzed the tiny Florence airport and a crowd of onlookers. By the time it was over, the rain had stopped. But the faces in the crowd were wet with tears.
"Wasn't that beautiful," said Maxine King, Ben's wife of 59 years.
It was. First, the planes were mere dots in the southern sky, their engines inaudible. Then they roared overhead and veered east, out of sight.
F-15s from Klamath Falls make a Florence fly-by.
Maxine King and daughter Alicia King watch F-15s fly by the Florence Airport on Tuesday in honor of Brig. Gen. Benjamin King, a Florence resident who died last week. He flew 400 combat missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
Photos: Kevin Clark / The Register-Guard
"The townspeople may think
they are terrorists," Maxine chuckled.
Seconds later, the jets returned, in perfect formation, barreling toward the runway until just the right moment, when one jet split from the pack and shot straight into the sky, spinning slowly over and then back down, disappearing into a wisp of clouds.
"He would have loved that," Maxine said quietly.
Born in Addielee, Okla., in 1919, King enlisted in the Army Air Force in late 1942 as a flying cadet in Texas. A few months later, he was in his first fighter squadron, the 339th. By July, he already had taken out his first two Japanese "Zekes" (nickname of the Mitsubishi Zero, the country's primary fighting plane) in a P-38 plane he named "Matilda" - after his mother - in a morning mission in the Philippines. It was the beginning of a successful career.
In September 1944, King's squadron encountered 200 German fighters in a dogfight. King shot down three planes to earn his status as an ace pilot. By the end of the war, he had served in both the Pacific-Asiatic and European-Middle Eastern theaters in 122 missions and 480 hours of combat.
In the book "Air Commando Chronicles" by a fellow retired Air Force officer, Col. Robert Gleason, an entire chapter is devoted to King's exploits.
"Various Air Force publications from time to time contain a list of famous fighter pilots along with their victories in World War II, Korea and Vietnam," Gleason wrote.
Brig. Gen. Benjamin H. King
"Someday someone will get around to publishing a list of fighter aces that flew
the most combat missions, involving the greatest number of wars, over the
longest time period. When they do Ben King will be at the top of that list."
The most harrowing days of King's time in World War II came when he was shot down 400 miles into enemy territory in the Philippines toward the end of his tour. After ditching the plane, King spent a week in a one-man dinghy, paddling toward an island 40 miles away, Gleason writes. King survived by eating seagulls, his son Carl said.
Eventually, King made it to the island, occupied by about 100 Japanese soldiers. They searched day and night for King and other Americans, who, with the help of a Christian native, had found one another and sought refuge in a cave where they built a raft to escape. After three months, the raft was complete and the soldiers paddled 70 miles toward U.S. territory, until they were picked up in the night by a Navy boat.
"He said he ate little grub worms," Maxine said. "All kinds of things to live on."
After the war, King transferred to Alaska and played a key role in constructing Eielson Air Force Base, supervising 4,000 civilians building one of the longest runways in the world.
In Korea, King returned to combat, flying 226 missions in P-51 and F-80 planes. In 1961 he formed the Air Commandos, a group of elite fighters, at Hurlburt Field, Fla. During the Cuban missile crisis, King's Commandos were ordered to stage in southern Florida, their targets assigned. But before they could strike, the stalemate ended, averting a nuclear attack against the Soviets.
At the start of the Vietnam War, King commanded one of the first groups of American soldiers who were sent over. They trained South Vietnamese pilots, King's son said.
During the next few years, King flew in 100 combat missions in Vietnam before retiring in 1971 as director of aerospace safety in the Office of the Deputy Inspector General for Inspection and Safety in California.
He had lived in Florence for only a few years, but King quickly endeared himself to the community. Still an "airport bum" even at age 84, King got to know several of local pilots and regaled them with stories of war. When they learned of his death, airport manager Rennie Kirk contacted an Air Force colonel who notified a commander at the base in Klamath Falls.
"What a marvelous tribute to a marvelous man," said Andi Belk, a friend who watched the ceremony. "He was absolutely the sweetest guy in the whole world."
Winston Ross can be reached at (541) 902-9030 or rgcoast@ oregonfast.net.