Air Commando/Special Operations General Officers and Airmen of Note

Air Commando/Special Operations General Officers
BG Harry Aderholt

Current Commanders
MG James L. Hobson Jr., AFSOC Commander

ACA Airmen of Note
Col Joe Kittinger

Air Commando Aces
BG Ben King
Col Bud Mahurin
Flt Leader Robert T. Smith

Air Commando Medal of Honor Winners Col Bernard Francis Fisher Capt James P. Fleming Col William A. Jones III Leviton

Mckay Trophy Winners Capt Warren Tomsett C-47 Crew MG James L. Hobson Jr.,

Air Commandos who Became General Officers


Air Commandos/Special Operations Personalities of Note


Joe Kittinger, a native of Orlando, Florida, has been flying aircraft since 1949, gas balloons since 1955 and hot air balloons since 1964. After serving 28 years in the United States Air Force, he spent 14 years as Vice President of Flight Operations for Rosie O'Grady's Flying Circus, which included Banner Towing, Skywriting, the Rosie O'Grady helium balloon and hot air balloon operations. He is currently an Aviation and Aerospace Consultant and a Barnstormer in a 1929 New Standard Open Cockpit Bi-Plane.


1. Highest Parachute Jump - 102,800 ft. 16 Aug 1960.

2. Longest Parachute Freefall-4 min. 36 sec. 16 Aug 1960.

3. First man to exceed the Speed of Sound without an aircraft or space vehicle. (714 mph during freefall) 16 Aug 1960.

4. Most High Altitude Balloon Flights (5) Man High I, 96,000 ft.; Excelsior I, 76,000 ft.; Excelsior II, 75,000 ft.; Excelsior III, 102,800 ft.; and Stargazer, 86,000 ft.

5. Longest distance flown in a 1,000 cubic meter helium balloon. 2001 miles in 72 hours. (AA6 & AA7) 15-18 Nov 1983. Solo flight.

6. Longest distance flown in a 3,000 cubic meter helium balloon. 3543 miles in 86 hours. (AA10, 11, 12, 13) 14-18 Sept 1984.

7. First person to fly Solo Across the Atlantic Ocean in a helium balloon. Maine to Italy. 14-18 Sept 1984.

8. NAA Speed Record-Piper Cheyenne 400 LS - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Orlando, Florida. 9 Feb 1986.


Gordon Bennett Balloon Race (California) - Won First Place in the Rosie O'Grady's Flying Circus helium balloon in 1982, 1984 and 1985. The third consecutive win entitled Kittinger to retire the coveted Gordon Bennett Trophy. (Placed second in 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1987, First Place in 1988, second in 1989). Gordon Bennett Balloon Race (Europe) - Placed third in 1990, launching from Lech, Austria with co-pilot Bob Snow.

World's Record (FAI) for the longest distance flown in a 1000 cubic meter helium balloon on 15-18 Nov 1983 from Las Vegas, Nevada to Franklinville, New York. (2001 miles in 72 hours)

World's Record (FAI) for the longest distance flown in a 3000 cubic meter helium balloon and for First Solo Transatlantic Balloon Flight from Caribou, Maine to Montenotte, Italy on 14-18 Sept 1984. (3543 miles in 86 hours)

U.S. National Gas Balloon Champion for the year 1988.

Participant in the following International Balloon Events

France - Chateau Balleroy - 1984 and 1985. Germany - Christening Ceremony of Rosie's Gas Balloon - 1987. Australia - Bicentennial Celebration - 1988. Germany - Opa Rally Gas Balloon Race - 1989. Russia - Hot Air Balloon Rally - 1989. Austria - Gordon Bennett Balloon Race - 1990, 1994. Wadi Rum, Jordan - King Hussein's Birthday Party - 1992. Morocco- 1996


Air Force Command Pilot and FAA Airline Transport Pilot with 15,000 hours of flight time in 70 different types of aircraft which includes 5,300 hours in jet fighter aircraft. 1,000 hours of combat flying in Southeast Asia with 483 missions. Destroyed an MIG 21 in aerial combat on 1 Mar 1972. Master Parachutist with 101 parachute jumps including two emergency ejections. Five High Altitude Research Balloon Flights. Extensive flight experience in low altitude helium and hot air balloons. Owned and operated a hot air balloon passenger business in Orlando, Florida for 6 years.


T-6, T-33, T-34, T-38, T-39, U3A, U-10, L-4, L-17, L-19, L-20,B-25, B-26, B-57, A-26, C-45, C-47, C-126, F-47, F-51, F-80 (B,C), F-84 (E, G), F-86 (A, E, F, H), F-89 B, F-94 (B, C), F-100 (A, C, D, F), F-4 (C, D, E).


Cessna 150, 172, 180, 182RG, 195, 310, Commanche 180, 240, Bonanza, Erocoupe, T-34, Cherokee, Stearman, Staggerwing D-17S, Cherokee Lance, Ag-Cat, Fokker Triplane DH-1, Piper 150, 180, Falcon (Ultralight), Air Tractor, Seneca, Pitts Special, DC-3, Piper J-3 Cub, Great Lakes Trainer, D-25 New Standard(1929), PT-22 Ryan (1941) Waco UPF7, Chipmonk, Fleetwings SeaBird(1936), WACO CUC (1935).

During Kittinger's military career in the USAF (1949-1978) he held a variety of assignments from Fighter Pilot to Experimental Test Pilot, to staff assignments to Squadron Commander of an F-4 squadron to Vice Commander of an F-4 Fighter Wing. On 1 May 1972, during his third combat tour, he was shot down in an F-4 in aerial combat near Hanoi and was a POW there until released in March 1973.


46 years of flying experience--35 years flying aircraft throughout the USA, Canada, Mexico, Central America and the Bahamas; 9 years flying throughout Europe and Africa; 2.5 years flying over South Vietnam, North Vietnam (no landings), Philippines and Taiwan; one flight across the Pacific Ocean in an A-26 from California to Thailand; five flights across the Atlantic Ocean--one in a Cessna 180 from Orlando, Florida to Salisbury, Rhodesia; 3 in jet fighter aircraft; one in a helium balloon.


Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster Distinguished Flying Cross - Project ManHigh Distinguished Flying Cross - Project Excelsior (Parachute jump from 102,800 feet) Distinguished Flying Cross - 4 Oak Leaf Clusters - Vietnam Bronze Star Medal with "V" device and two Oak Leaf Clusters Meritorious Service Medal Air Medal with twenty three Oak Leaf Clusters Purple Heart with one Oak Leaf Cluster Presidential Unit Citation Air Force Outstanding Unit Award Army of Occupation Medal National Defense Service Medal Vietnam Service Medal with seven Service Stars Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal POW Medal


Harmon International Trophy (Aeronaut)- 1959-President Eisenhower. Aeronaut Leo Stevens Parachute Medal - 1959. The John Jeffries Award - The Institute of Aerospace Sciences (now the AIAA) for outstanding contributions to medical research - 1960. Aerospace Primus - Air Research & Development Command - 1960. Hall of Fame - USAF Special Operations - April 1969. FAI Montgolfier Diplome - 1983 & 1984. Paul Harris Fellow - Rotary International - 1985. Order of Daedalians - Distinguished Achievement Award - 1993. Society of Experimental Test Pilots - Fellow - 1995. National Aeronautics Association - Elder Statesman of Aviation Award for lifetime contributions to aviation - 1995. Barnstormer of the Year - International Society of Aviation Barnstorming Historians - 1996.


Legion of Merit - Italy - Highest Civilian Award Santos Dumont Medal - French Aeroclub Le Grande Medaille - City of Paris Montgolfier Diploma for Gas Ballooning Revoredo Trophy - International Flight Research Corp. Heroic Achievement Award - City of Orlando Joseph W. Kittinger Medal of Achievement - Orange County John Young Award - Orlando Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Achievement Award - American Ex-POWs Montgolfier Diplome - Chesapeake Balloon Association Achievement Award - Wingfoot Lighter Than Air Society W. Randolph Lovelace Award - Society of NASA Flight Surgeons Godfrey L. Cabot Award - Aero Club of New England Prix De L'Aventure Sportive - French Sporting Adventure Trophy Chateau De Balleroy - Malcolm Forbes


"THE LONG, LONELY LEAP", 1961 E.P. Dutton & Company; National Geographic and numerous other aviation articles.


The Society of Experimental Test Pilots - Fellow The Order of Daedalians The Air Force Association National Aviation Club AOPA - Aircraft Owner and Pilot Association The Explorers Club Experimental Aircraft Association International Society of Aviation Barnstorming Historians

Honorary Board of Directors, Bob Hope Village Air Force Enlisted Widows' Home Foundation, Inc.


The Augsburg Balloon Club The Italian Balloon Club The Royal Canadian Air Force 424th Tiger Squadron


The Aerospace Medical Association The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (Associate Fellow) The American Rocket Society (Senior Member) President, Dayton, Ohio Chapter, 1961

Air Commando Aces


Benjamin Hardin King was born in Ada Lee, Oklahoma on 9 December 1919. Following a year at the University of Oklahoma, he enlisted in the Army Air Forces On 28 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 of the 13th Air Force, flying the P-39 initially and then the P-38. On 17 July 1943, flying a P-38 named Matilda" after his mother, he downed two Zekes in a morning mission over Kahili and on 1 November, he destroyed another Zeke over Empress Augusta Bay. Following a rest tour in the States, he transferred to the 359th Fighter Group in the European, Theater of Operations flying F-51s as a captain and squadron commander of the 368th Fighter Squadron, 359th Fighter Group. On 11 September 1944 near Blankenheim on an escort mission to Merseburg, the 359th encountered some 200 Luftwaffe fighters. A running dogfight ranging from Gissen to Eisleben, King shot down two FW-190s and then a Me-109 to become an ace. The following day, on an escort to Berlin, King scored his last victory, a Me-109 near Gransee.

Promoted to major on 28 October, King rotated back home again in December and finished the war as deputy director of operations 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 P-F-80. He retired as a brigadier general on 1 February 1971-

Tally Record: 7 confirmed

Decorations. Silver Star. Distinguished Flying Cross with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters and the Air Medal with 24 OLCS


Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan on 5 December 19~8, Walker Melville (Bud) Mahurin joined the Army Air Forces as an aviation cadet on 29 September 1941. Graduating from pilot training on 29 April 1942, he was subsequently assigned to the 63rd Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group.

Operating out of Boxted, England, on 17 August the 56th escorted Eighth Air Force bombers to Sohweinfurt and Regensburg, Germany. When they encountered 50-60 German fighters, Mahurin accounted for two FW-I9Os.

Mahurin downed another FW-190 ten miles south of Beauvais on 9 September and became an ace on 4 October with the destruction of three Me-1 lOs east of Duren. His score mounting steadily, he was a double ace by the end of November. Promoted to major on 21 March 1944, he shared a Do-217 six days later. Minutes later his P-47 caught fire and he was forced to bail out. Evading with the help of the French underground, he made his way back to England. Transferred to the Philippines to command the 3rd Air Commando Squadron, flying a P-51D he added a Dinah to his score on 14 January 1945. Returning to the States, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel on 25 May.

Following the war, Mahurin served two tours in the Pentagon and later obtained a degree in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University. During the Korean War, serving with the 25th Fighter-interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter-Interceptor Group, he was credited with destroying 3 1/2 MiG-15s. He transferred to the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Group and served as its commander from 18 March until 13 May 1952 when he was shot down by ground fire. After 16 months as a POW, he returned to the United States. Leaving active duty in 1956, he entered the aerospace industry and joined the Air Force Reserves, subsequently retiring as a colonel.

Tally record: 24 1/4 (20 3/4 in WWII and 3 1/2 in Korea), 3 probables and One damaged

Decorations: Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross with 6 Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart and the Air Medal with 6 OLCs


Robert Tharp (R.T.) Smith, born in York, Nebraska on 23 February 1918, attended the University of Nebraska for three years before entering the Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet in 1939. Graduating with Class 40-C at Randolph Field on 21 June 1940, he remained there as a flight instructor until July 1941 when he was allowed to resign his commission to join the American Volunteer Group(AVG), then forming in Burma.

Assigned as a wing man in the AVG's Third Pursuit Squadron, Smith was credited with one-and-one-half Sally bombers destroyed, another probably destroyed and four damaged in the first air raid on Rangoon, Burma on 23 December. Two days later, on Christmas Day, he downed two more bombers and an Oscar in a repeat raid on the Burmese capital. Moving to Thoiwing, China, he became an ace on 8 April 1942 with the destruction of two Oscars over the AVG base. He downed another Oscar two days later, shared two reconnaissance planes on the 25th and completed his scoring with the AVG on 28 April with a final Oscar south of Hsipaw.

When the "Flying Tigers" were disbanded on 4 July 1942, Smith returned to the States and reentered the U.S. Army Air Forces. He later returned to the CBI Theater where he flew P-51As in the First Air Commado Group and commanded a B-25 squadron, bringing his wartime total to 55 combat missions. At war's end he was a lieutenant colonel flying P-38s and P-47s in the U.S.

Leaving the Air Force following the war, Smith flew for Trans-World Airlines and worked as a Lockheed sales representative before joining the Flying Tiger Line. He became vice-president for Far. East operations prior to retirement in 1970. He later published his AVG diary, entitled "Tale of a Tiger". Following a long bout with cancer, he died in Los Angeles, California on 20 August 1995.

Tally Record.- 9 confirmed, 3 probables and 10 damaged

Decorations: Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal and the Chinese Order of the Cloud Banner

Air Commando Medal of Honor Winners

Air Commando Medal Of Honor Winners


Rank and organization: Major, U.S. Air Force, 1st Air Commandos.

Place and date: Bien Hoa and Pleiku, Vietnam, 10 March 1966.

Entered service at: Kuna, Idaho.

Born: 11 January 1927, San Bernardino, Calif.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. On that date, the special forces camp at A Shau was under attack by 2,000 North Vietnamese Army regulars. Hostile troops had positioned themselves between the airstrip and the camp. Other hostile troops had surrounded the camp and were continuously raking it with automatic weapons fire from the surrounding hills. The tops of the 1,500-foot hills were obscured by an 800 foot ceiling, limiting aircraft

maneuverability and forcing pilots to operate within range of hostile gun positions, which often were able to fire down on the attacking aircraft. During the battle, Maj. Fisher observed a fellow airman crash land on the battle-torn airstrip. In the belief that the downed pilot was seriously injured and in imminent danger of capture, Maj. Fisher announced his intention to land on the airstrip to effect a rescue. Although aware of the extreme danger and likely failure of such an attempt, he elected to continue. Directing his own air cover, he landed his aircraft and taxied almost the full length of the runway, which was littered with battle debris and parts of an exploded aircraft. While effecting a successful rescue of the downed pilot, heavy ground fire was observed, with 19 bullets striking his aircraft. In the face of the withering ground fire, he applied power and gained enough speed to lift-off at the overrun of the airstrip. Maj. Fisher's profound concern for his fellow airman, and at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.


Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Air Force, 20th Special Operations Squadron. Place and date: Near Duc Co, Republic of Vietnam, 26 November 1968.

Entered service at: Pullman, Wash.

Born: 12 March 1943, Sedalia, Mo.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Capt. Fleming (then 1st Lt.) distinguished himself as the Aircraft Commander of a UH_1F transport Helicopter. Capt. Fleming went to the aid of a 6_man special forces long range reconnaissance patrol that was in danger of being overrun by a large, heavily armed hostile force. Despite the knowledge that 1 helicopter had been downed by intense hostile fire, Capt. Fleming descended, and balanced his helicopter on a river bank with the tail boom hanging over open water. The patrol could not penetrate to the landing site and he was forced to withdraw. Dangerously low on fuel, Capt. Fleming repeated his original landing maneuver. Disregarding his own safety, he remained in this exposed position. Hostile fire crashed through his windscreen as the patrol boarded his helicopter. Capt. Fleming made a successful takeoff through a barrage of hostile fire and recovered safely at a forward base. Capt. Fleming's profound concern for his fellow men, and at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.


Rank and organization: Colonel, U.S. Air Force, 602d Special Operations Squadron, Nakon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand.

Place and date: Near Dong Hoi, North Vietnam, 1 September 1968.

Entered service at: Charlottesville, Va.

Born: 31 May 1922, Norfolk, Va.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Col. Jones distinguished himself as the pilot of an A-1H Skyraider aircraft near Dong Hoi, North Vietnam. On that day, as the on scene commander in the attempted rescue of a downed U.S. pilot, Col. Jones' aircraft was

repeatedly hit by heavy and accurate antiaircraft fire. On one of his low passes, Col. Jones felt an explosion beneath his aircraft and his cockpit rapidly filled with smoke. With complete disregard of the possibility that his aircraft might still be burning, he unhesitatingly continued his search for the downed pilot. On this pass, he sighted the survivor and a multiple_barrel gun position firing at him from near the top of a karst formation. He could not attack the gun position on that pass for fear he would endanger the downed pilot. Leaving himself exposed to the gun position, Col. Jones attacked the position with cannon and rocket fire on 2 successive passes. On his second pass, the aircraft was hit with multiple rounds of automatic weapons fire. One round impacted the Yankee Extraction System rocket mounted directly behind the headrest, igniting the rocket. His aircraft was observed to burst into flames in the center fuselage section, with flames engulfing the cockpit area. He pulled the extraction handle, jettisoning the canopy. The influx of fresh air made the fire burn with greater intensity for a few moments, but since the rocket motor had already burned, the extraction system did not pull Col. Jones

from the aircraft. Despite searing pains from severe burns sustained on his arms, hands, neck, shoulders, and face, Col. Jones pulled his aircraft into a climb and attempted to transmit the location of the downed pilot and the enemy gun position to the

other aircraft in the area. His calls were blocked by other aircraft transmissions repeatedly directing him to bail out and within seconds his transmitters were disabled and he could receive only on 1 channel. Completely disregarding his injuries, he elected to fly his crippled aircraft back to his base and pass on essential information for the rescue rather than bail out. Col. Jones successfully landed his heavily damaged aircraft and passed the information to a debriefing officer while on the operating table. As a result of his heroic actions and complete disregard for his personal safety, the downed pilot was rescued later in the day. Col. Jones' profound concern for his fellow man at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.


Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Air Force, 3d Special Operations Squadron.

place and date: Long Binh Army post, Republic of Vietnam, 24 February 1969.

Entered service at: New Haven, Conn. Born: 1 November 1945, Hartford, Conn.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sgt. Levitow (then A1C), U.S. Air Force, distinguished himself by exceptional heroism while assigned as a loadmaster aboard an AC-47 aircraft flying a night mission in support of Long Binh Army post. Sgt. Levitow's aircraft was struck by a hostile mortar round. The resulting explosion ripped a hole 2 feet in diameter through the wing and fragments made over 3,500 holes in the fuselage. All occupants of the cargo compartment were wounded and helplessly slammed against the floor and fuselage. The explosion tore an activated flare from the grasp of a crewmember who had been launching flares to provide illumination for Army ground troops engaged in combat. Sgt. Levitow, though stunned by the concussion of the blast and suffering from over 40 fragment wounds in the back and legs, staggered to his feet and turned to assist the man nearest to him who had been knocked down and was bleeding heavily. As he was moving his wounded comrade forward and away from the opened cargo compartment door, he saw the smoking flare ahead of him in the aisle. Realizing the danger involved and completely disregarding his own wounds, Sgt. Levitow started toward the burning flare. The aircraft was partially out of control and the flare was rolling wildly from side to side. Sgt. Levitow struggled forward despite the loss of blood from his many wounds and the partial loss of feeling in his right leg. Unable to grasp the rolling flare with his hands, he threw himself bodily upon the burning flare. Hugging the deadly device to his body, he dragged himself back to the rear of the aircraft and hurled the flare through the open cargo door. At that instant the flare separated and ignited in the air, but clear of the aircraft. Sgt. Levitow, by his selfless and heroic actions, saved the aircraft and its entire crew from certain death and destruction. Sgt. Levitow's gallantry, his profound concern for his fellowmen, at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.

Air Commando-Special Operations Crews Who Won the Mackay Trophy

The Mackay Trophy is awarded annually "for the most meritorious flight of the year." This award has been made to two (2) Air Commando/Special Operations crews. The first one was made to Capt Tomsett's C-47 crew in 1963 for rescusing a Special Forces and ARVN unit and to MGen Hobson in 1983 for the Grenada rescue mission.

The Mackay trophy, purchased in 1910 by Charles H. Mackay of the Aero Club of America, is a silversmith's masterpiece. It stands three feet high and is one-and-a-half foot in diameter across the top. It is awarded for extraordinary flight of the year and was first awarded in 1912 to Lt Henry H. "Hap" Arnold for winning a reconnaissance competition. Since then it has been won by Rickenbacker, Foulois, Lt John A. Macready(three times), Lt Oakley G. Kelly(2 times), General Hap Arnold(2 times) Doolittle, Yaeger, two Commando/Sp Ops crews and others. The only five star Gerearal to win it was General Arnold.


Lieutenant Colonel James L. Hobson, Jr., distinguished himself by his conspicuous act of courage during aerial flight on 25 October 1983. On that date, Colonel Hobson, as aircraft commander of an MC-130E, was thrust into the lead airdrop position for the Grenada rescue mission. With little time for planning and minimal intelligence support, he flew to Point Salines Airport, Grenada, against an unknown fighting force. One minute from the airport, the element of surprise was lost as a spotlight found their blacked-out aircraft. With antiaircraft artillery and small arms fire all around them, he staunchly proceeded to drop the United States Army Rangers at the previously untested altitude of 500 feet. Despite the intense attack upon the aircraft, Colonel Hobson completed the drop and immediately escaped the area with a rapid breakaway to 100 feet. His quick thinking, gritty determination, and courage placed our first troops on the runway and secured the foothold for the success of the Grenada rescue mission. The distinctive accomplishments of Colonel Hobson reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Capt Tomsett C-47 Crew who won the Mackay Trophy in 1963 for Rescusing Special Forces & ARVN Units

On the night of July 20, 1963, Capt. Warren P. Tomsett, 33-year-old senior pilot, lifted his faithful Gooney Bird into the black sky above Bien Hoa, Viet-Nam, a half hour before midnight. He and his crew, scrambled on a flare-drop mission, headed south-west over the lush delta area to their assigned patrol sector. The air operations center radar vectored their C-47, code-named Extol Pink, to the target area to release flares over a Vietnamese hamlet under attack by the Viet Cong. Night was turned into day as large magnesium flared drifted slowly downward and exposed the communist guerrillas to the defending fire of the Vietnamese villagers and the suppressing rockets of the Viet-Nam fighter bombers. The long-range version of the Gooney -- the SC-47 -- could cruise all night long waiting for the call that would send the six-man crew into more action.

Tomsetts crew consisted of Capt. John Ordemann, copilot; Capt. Donald Mack, navigator; TSgt. Edsol Inlow, crew chief; and SSgts. Jack Morgan and Frank Barrett, loadmasters. Each man was in his position, headsets in place, waiting for whatever the long night would bring.

Two hours after takeoff, Tomsett was contacted by the center. "Extol Pink, this is Paris Control," a voice announced with that practiced calmness born of long experience. "Will you accept a rescue mission, repeat, rescue mission? Over."

Tomsett stiffened in his seat and grabbed the mike. "Roger, control, understand you want me for rescue mission. What's the urgency? Over."

"Six critically wounded Vietnamese troops need immediate evacuation from Loc Ninh. Will you accept the mission? Over."

Tomsett had never heard of Loc Ninh. He queried control and was told that Loc Ninh was a 3,600-foot strip located 75 miles northwest of Saigon only 8 miles from the Cambodian border. It had been hacked out of the virgin jungle and was nestled in a valley among 500-foot mountains. Trees 200 feet high formed an impenetrable wall at both ends of the runway. Daylight landings were hard enough, but night operations were never attempted because of the mountainous terrain and lack of landing lights and navigational aids. Just to locate it in the pitch blackness would take extraordinary navigational skill. To make a successful landing and takeoff under these conditions with a heavy Gooney would require all the skill and guts -- ever mustered by a pilot.

Six brave Vietnamese lay dying beside that strip. (It was likely they would never see daylight if Tomsett refused to try.) Yet no one would ever blame him if he refused to risk his own life and the lives of his five crewmen to save the lives of men he didnt know and whose language he could not speak.

"Well give it a go," Tomsett told control. "Are you sending up another flare ship? Over." Roger. Remain in your area until relieved.""

Tomsett turned the controls over to Ordemann and left his seat to talk to the navigator, Don Mack. A former weatherman, the 32-year-old Mack had completed navigation school in 1958 and had joined the 1st Air Commando Wing in 1961. "Don, look up Loc Ninh and give me a course and an ETA over the strip," Tomsett asked.

While Mack figured, Tomsett instructed Sergeant Inlow to verify the fuel consumption both engines to make doubly sure they could make the trip. He discussed with loadmasters Morgan and Barrett what they should do to help load the wounded aboard after they landed.

By the time he had briefed Morgan and Barrett, Mack had finished his computations. He gave his pilot a thorough briefing on heading, terrain feature, location of other air strips, known Viet Cong concentrations, the magnetic heading to follow and the ETA over Loc Ninh.

At 0230, Extol Pink was relieved by a Vietnamese flare plane and headed on the course Mack had plotted. Scattered clouds started to form 500 feet above the roughening terrain and Tomsett knew he had to get below them. The visibility decreased as the clouds thickened. There were no lights or visible landmarks below. Radio contact with the operations center was lost as the planes slowly lowering altitude took it out of radio and radar range. There was no radio communication between Extol Pink and Loc Ninh. All Tomsett could do was fly the course Mack had set, wait until the ETA was up, and hope that the rising terrain and lowering clouds wouldnt meet before he found Loc Ninh.

"Two minutes to go for ETA," Captain Mack suddenly announced.

The other five crew members stared through the blackness looking for some sign of an air strip. They saw nothing.

"You should see it dead ahead -- now!" Mack announced as he watched the second hand on his watch.

Sergeant Inlow, standing between pilot and copilot, was the first to see several small fires outlining a runway directly under the nose of the aircraft. "There it is!" he shouted, pointing below."

Tomsett wheeled the C-47 into a left turn and studied the ill-defined runway on which he expected to land. The field was so small and so poorly marked and the weather had deteriorated so badly that had Captain Macks navigation been off by one-eighth of a mile, the crew would never have seen it. The proximity of Loc Ninh to the Cambodian border and the inaccurate maps had presented further demands on his skill. Over-flight of the border could have caused a serious international incident.

Tomsett planned his approach carefully. He made the pass but was too high and too fast. He tried again. On the second attempt he dropped full flaps and made a near-stall glide to ensure missing the trees on one end of the strip and stopping before he reached the other. As he turned on the final approach he could see tiny flashes of light winking through the jungle. The Viet Cong, completely surrounding the strip, were peppering away at the defenseless Gooney with small arms fire!

The official report of the mission states simply that the landing was made under blackout conditions. This meant that the only reference to the ground was the light made by the flickering fires (actually rolls of toilet paper jammed on sticks and soaked in gasoline) which were placed erratically along both sides of the strip As soon as the tail wheel touched down, Tomsett rode the brakes and bumped to a stop at the far end of the runway. He shut down both engines while the wounded, all in critical condition, were carefully lifted aboard by their Vietnamese comrades. Stretchers were improvised from parachutes and bamboo poles. An American Army medic crawled aboard. Tomsett fired up both engines and did a 180-degree turn on the runway. He wasnt going to risk taxiing back to the approach end and expose the Gooney to any more ground fire than necessary. He revved up the engines with brakes locked. Just as he released the brakes, the cockpit suddenly went dim. All the center lights on the instrument panel had failed at that critical moment. "Flashlight!" Tomsett yelled and in a fraction of an instant, Sergeant Inlow, an old hand at forestalling cockpit emergencies, had whipped out his pocket light and focused it on the engine instruments. Tomsett jammed both throttles to the stops and headed the lumbering Gooney down the narrow strip. Once again the flashes of small arms fire winked at them from the surrounding jungle, but the blacked out Gooney was not easy to see. Putting the creaking plane into a maximum performance climb, Tomsett and his human cargo escaped both the bullets and the murderous trees at the end of the runway. Miraculously, not a single shot found its mark.

En route to Saigon, the medic, Captain Mack and the three sergeants cared for the wounded. By the time they arrived, their flying suits were covered with blood. Col. Gerald J. Dix, commander of the 1st Air Commando Wing, reported, "after the wounded were delivered to the waiting ambulance, the crew of Extol Pink returned to Bien Hoa at 0455, almost seven hours after their original scramble. Each member of the crew had contributed unselfishly to the success of both missions. Their professional performance, adaptability and courage reflect great credit upon their country and the United States Air Force. Their efforts and gallantry helped to save the lives of comrades in arms in the fight against the common enemy and added immeasurably to the morale and effectiveness of the army of South Viet-Nam."

"I consider this the most meritorious flight of the year. The entire crew exposed themselves to hostile action throughout the flight. The professional skill, daring the extraordinary heroism displayed by the entire crew was instrumental in the success of the mission."

General LeMay agreed with Colonel Dix and signed a citation which noted, "This single and voluntary act reflects great credit upon themselves and is in the highest tradition of the United States Air Force." But neither Warren Tomsett nor any of his crew members believe they should get all the credit for the success of their mission. "Its the airplane that really earned the trophy, they say. We just made it do what it has always been capable of doing for many years. There isnt a plane in the world that could match it!"

The article was written by Lt Col C. Glines for the Airman Magazine in 1964.