We rarely have our courage tested. In 1971 these men did.
During Lam Son 719
, eleven C-130B's were temporarily stationed at Danang
. Their mission was to fly loads into Khe Sanh
nicknamed Rocket City because
it was subject to such frequent rocket attacks. An attack on February
24, 1971 destroyed a
and damaged others nearby. The
salvageable part of 642 was its tail
, which was reused on an
The quick action of the men of the 15th Aerial
kept this attack from becoming a disaster.
Luckily, 642 was the only
on the ramp that was not loaded with class A explosives bound for Khe Sanh
next morning and it had no flight or
ground personnel inside. James Theis (Captain, USAF, Retired)
recalled that night...
In 1971 I was a young enlisted air freighter at the 15th
Aerial Port working 7 nights a week. I
was one of a few guys on break in the line shack about 150 ft
from that unfortunate bird. We heard the rocket's whish a split
second before it hit the plane on the top part of the left wing.
Needless to say we hit the floor first then hit the road briefly before
running back at full tilt.
Despite the inferno, I personally can attest to the sheer and
unrecognized bravery of many Air Freighters that night. One guy
grabbed the fuel line next to the plane to make sure the fire didn't
spread to the fuel system, one moved the fuel pumper away, one grabbed the large
extinguisher and started trying to control the fire, and one went
around back to check for personnel. Others grabbed forklifts and
yanked the ammo from the adjacent planes as we did not know if the
burning plane was loaded or not and, as far as we knew, it could blow
at any moment.
I can tell you the fire was awfully hot but it didn't blow up as can be
seen in the pictures. None of us were trained to do
any of those things yet it all seemed a perfectly choreographed play,
well rehearsed and acted.
Yes, it was a tough night. The rocket on
the C-130 was only one of several that landed near the 15th APS that
nght. We were lucky that no one was injured and that the damage
wasn't worse. Most men cannot remember or they do not have
an event that changes them from being a boy to a man. I do.