The Operational History of C-141 Aircraft Number 65-9408

An Up-Close and Personal Account

By John Vadas

Introduction

An airplane, just about any airplane, is an inanimate object generally constructed of sheet aluminum, rivets, hydraulic fluid and engine oil. No heart and no soul, so they say. On any production run any one aircraft looks just like the one that preceded it off the assembly line, and the one that came after it, the only difference being the serial number. But occasionally a single aircraft, a single serial number, will come to have a significant personal meaning in our lives. For instance, the serial number of the aircraft you flew when you first soloed. The serial number of the aircraft on which you first painted your name which signified you as the primary crew chief. The serial number of the aircraft in which you pushed the envelope one day and it was only by the grace of God and a forgiving airplane that you survived. This then is the human interest story of one such aircraft, Lockheed C-141 65-9408.

Acceptance

C-141A 65-9408 was accepted by the Air Force in early April 1967 and was assigned to the 437th Military Airlift Wing (MAW) at Charleston AFB, S.C. At a time when the six operational airlift wings and the one training wing of the Military Airlift Command were coming up to strength with Lockheed’s new Starlifter, it was not uncommon for new aircraft to be reassigned between Wings for short periods of time. 65-9408 was an exception, however. Almost all of its operational career from 1967 to 1994 was spent with the 437th MAW at Charleston.[1]

An early photo during an engine running offload at Edwards AFB Photo by: Paul Minert

Prelude

On July 26, 1968, the war in Vietnam was at its peak, Operation Rolling Thunder had been in force for two-and-a-half years, and I was an F-4 Phantom crew chief with the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB). On that particular day, I was working the graveyard shift from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM; and it started out no different than any other shift. At about 8:00 PM, I was in the process of completing a preflight inspection for an early morning sortie when the flight chief stopped by the revetment. He informed me that one of our aircraft required an engine run on the trim pad at the north end of the base and asked if I would assist two other crew chiefs to tow the aircraft to the pad and get it set up. As we turned out of the squadron parking area towing the aircraft, I was seated in the cockpit ready to apply the brakes in case of any emergency. When we turned onto the taxiway I noticed a C-141 parked on a concrete pad between the runway and taxiway also at the north end of the field, approximately 50 yards from the trim pad. At this point in time the C-141 was relatively new to the inventory and this was the first one I had actually seen. The spot lights from the AGE equipment lit up the darkness and reflected off the aircraft fuselage, and I remember wondering, why was it parked way out there in the middle of nowhere? As we got closer, I could make out the shapes of the security guards and flight crew around the aircraft. Had I realized at the time what my future held in store I would probably have paid more attention to the serial number, 59408, on the vertical stabilizer and to the Wing identification number, 437th MAW, on the nose of the aircraft; but, at that moment, I had no way of knowing why they would be significant and how our paths would later cross. I was more interested in getting the F-4 to the trim pad and getting back to my preflight inspection.

What I also did not know at the time was that both the C-141 and its flight crew were taking part in Operation Sentinel Echo. They were staging out of Udorn Air Base (AB) awaiting the release of three American POWs whom they would then medevac either to Clark AB in the Philippines or to Kadena AB on Okinawa. The three Air Force pilots scheduled for release by North Vietnam were Major Fred N. Thompson, Major James F. Low, a Korean War Ace and Capt. Joe V. Carpenter.

We positioned the Phantom on the trim pad, left the crew chief to assist the engine specialists’ test run the engine, and headed back to the squadron area. As we left the trim pad I could see the crew chief climb up on the wing of the F-4 and stretch out next to the fuselage to take a short nap. Who could blame him? We had been working twelve hour shifts, seven days a week, for over a month due to the shortage of mechanics.

The Attack: A Personal Reflection

Without warning, about an hour later, I heard what sounded like small arms fire in the distance and almost simultaneously saw the glow of flashing red lights on the other side of the revetment wall headed in the direction of the trim pad. My first thought was that something had gone wrong with the engine run and the fire trucks were responding. At about that same time my flight chief rolled by the revetment on his bicycle and yelled “The base is under attack, stay where you are.” “Not a problem” I thought. Being young and bulletproof, however, and in order to get a better look at what was going on, I climbed up the rear corner of the revetment wall and looked in the direction of the trim pad. Because of the distance and the darkness, I could not really see much; but there were a lot of flashing red lights at the north end of the field. Since there was nothing I could do, I climbed down and went back to work.

A Synopsis of the Official Report of the Attack

At approximately 10:25 PM the base was attacked by an estimated force of 10-25 local insurgents using AK-47’s, grenades and explosive charges. Their obvious target was the C-141. What made this attack on Udorn AB significant was that it was the first time during the war that an American base in Thailand was attacked by insurgents. Thai and U.S. security forces quickly responded to the attack and during the ensuing fire fight the C-141 was hit numerous times by small arms fire. This resulted in a fuel leak and fire in both #1 and #2 engines which was eventually extinguished by the base HH-43 Pedro rescue helicopter and the local fire department. During the attack, one of the defending Thai security forces was shot and killed. Capt Robert F. Schultz, Aircraft Commander and Flight Engineer (FE) TSgt. Paul Yonkie received wounds from an exploding satchel charge. Captain Schultz was wounded in both hands and TSgt Yonkie received wounds to his chest and abdomen. Both airmen were flown to Clark AB in the Philippines for medical treatment the following morning but TSgt Yonkie died of his wounds on September 1, 1968. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on September 10, 1968.[2]

TSgt Paul E. Yonkie

In 1968 the primary flight crew of a C-141 consisted of two pilots, a navigator, two flight engineers and a loadmaster. The flight crew members on this flight were:

Capt Robert F. Schultz Aircraft Commander

1st Lt John W. McClenny First Pilot

1st Lt Clarence H. George Navigator

TSgt Paul E. Yonkie Flight Engineer

SSgt Charles “Tom” Large Flight Engineer

TSgt Franklin D. Hunter Loadmaster

The crew of 65-9408 was assigned to the 76th Military Airlift Squadron (MAS) at Charleston AFB.


Because this was a medical evacuation flight the primary crew was augmented by the following medical personnel who were also at the aircraft at the time of the attack:

Maj Monna L. Mumper Flight Nurse

Maj Louise Stroup Flight Nurse

SSgt John T. Walsh Medical Technician

SSgt Jesus R. Lopez Medical Technician

SSgt James P. Floyd Medical Technician

The fire damage on #1 engine is clearly visible
Shrapnel damage in the lower left side of the fuselage

The Rest of the Story

The attack lasted approximately 20 minutes and was quickly repulsed. Within an hour, a C-130 from Korat RTAFB was making low level passes down the runway dropping parachute flares which lit up the entire base as if it were daylight. This continued for the remainder of the night. One of the flares inadvertently landed on the roof of the officers’ club and almost caused a building fire.

As the insurgents came through the perimeter fence they passed by the F-4 on the trim pad on the way to their intended target, the C-141. One of them threw a satchel charge into the engine exhaust. The charge hit the afterburner flame holder and bounced back out. The charge was once again thrown into the engine; and it exploded, causing minor shrapnel damage to the engine and the aircraft. During this time the crew chief was still lying on the wing of the aircraft in the shadows next to the fuselage. Fortunately, he was never seen and was not injured

We all thought that another attack might be imminent but it never came. Within a week, life at Udorn had returned to the normal business of supporting the war effort; and we were once again flying bombing missions around the clock. Coming to work about a week after the attack, I subconsciously noticed that the C-141 was gone. Evidently it had been repaired and subsequently flown out by a replacement crew. I never gave it another thought - until 42 years later.

Path’s Cross

In March of 1969, my one year tour of duty in South East Asia was over and I was reassigned to the 3214th Organizational Maintenance Squadron (OMS) at Eglin AFB, FL. The 3214th OMS was a weapons test squadron and once again I was an F-4 crew chief. At the time, we were testing the first generation of smart bombs and it was interesting work. In March of 1970, I applied for and was accepted into the C-141 Flight Enginee program. Upon completion of the basic Flight Engineer course at Sheppard AFB, TX I was assigned to the 41st MAS at Charleston AFB and began my upgrade training. From 1970 to 1978, I flew as a Flight Engineer with the 41st and 20th Military Airlift Squadrons, logging almost 5,000 hours of flight time on the C-141A. In preparation for this article I checked my military flight records and discovered that during those eight years, I had flown as a primary flight crew member on C-141A 65-9408 a total of eight times. Flying both local training sorties and line missions, never realizing at the time that our paths had briefly crossed once before in Thailand ten years earlier.

C-141A, 437th MAW at Alconbury AB, UK Photo by: Paul Minert
Completion of ‘B’ model modification Photo By: Dave Mosedale

SSgt “Tom” Large, the second and surviving flight engineer on the crew that night in Thailand continued flying C-141’s at Charleston AFB as a Flight Engineer with the 76th Military Airlift Squadron until 1971. Although we were assigned to sister squadrons for approximately two years and shared a common operations building, our paths never crossed. In 1976, while assigned to the 443rd Military Training Wing (MTW) at Altus AFB, OK, TSgt Large was accepted into a new program that would have its roots at Andrews AFB in Washington D.C., but would eventually become part of the Strategic Air Command at Offutt AFB, NE. The 1st Airborne Command and Control Squadron would be flying a highly modified Boeing 747, designated E-4, as the National Emergency Airborne Command Post. In time of war, this aircraft would take on board the President, Vice-President and Joint Chiefs of Staff to conduct war-time operations from the air. It was one of those highly visible assignments that would become the top of the food chain for any professional pilot or flight engineer. When I heard about the program in early 1978, I knew that I had to be a part of it. There were very specific requirements and qualifications to be met, an application through normal channels was not a slam dunk. After a thorough screening, I was accepted into the program; and, upon completing B-747 school at TWA in New York, I reported to the 1st A.C.C.S. at Offutt AFB, NE, in August of 1978. MSgt Tom Large was there to welcome me to the squadron. He was the Wing Standardization Flight Engineer for the E-4 program and would later give me my initial upgrade check ride.

MSgt Large would leave the E-4 program in 1980 to fly KC-10’s at Barksdale AFB, LA. His job as the E-4 Wing Standardization Flight Engineer would pass to MSgt. Jim Aaron. Within a year, MSgt Aaron would follow Sgt. Large to Barksdale AFB and the KC-10 program. When the squadron commander asked if I would take the job, there was no way I could turn down one of the most prestigious jobs in the Air Force. Sgt. Large retired from the Air Force in October, 1982, and secured employment with American Airlines as a Ground / Simulator instructor.

65-9408 Operational History Highlights Continued

Long after Tom Large and I left the C-141 program 65-9408 continued to soldier on. It would remain a valuable asset of the Military Airlift Command for another twenty-three years, and would become engaged in some highly visible airlift assignments.

On October 6, 1973 the military forces of Egypt and Syria attacked the State of Israel on two fronts setting off what would become known as the Yom Kippur War. Suffering heavy initial losses Prime Minister Golda Meir appealed to the United States for assistance, and President Nixon ordered the resupply of Israel with tanks, ammunition, aircraft and armored vehicles. This resupply mission became known as Operation Nickel Grass and was conducted by the Military Airlift Command from October 14, 1973 to November 14, 1973. C-141A 65-9408 flew the 181st C-141 resupply sortie of this operation into LOD International Airport, Tel Aviv on October 27, 1973. It landed at 04:40 local time, off-loading 60,027 lbs. of war materials on ten pallets and departing at 06:04 local.[i]

On or about January 8, 1981, through April 1981, 65-9408 was sent TDY to Lockheed for input into the C-141 “B” model stretch program. This program required the fuselage to be cut in two places, one cut in front of the wing and one behind the wing. Matching “plugs” were then inserted into the cuts which lengthened the fuselage and allowed the aircraft’s capacity to increase from ten to thirteen pallets. Also installed during this modification was an in-flight air refueling system. Upon completion of the ‘B’ model modification and test flight, the aircraft was returned to the 437th MAW at Charleston AFB.

On August 15, 1984, 65-9408 took part in Operation Spearpoint which was a phase of Reforger ’84 and involved the return of troops to Ft. Hood, TX from deployment bases in Europe.[4]

Ft. Hood, Texas, August 15, 1984 Photo provided by: National Archives

On January 23, 1985, 65-9408 took part in Operation Kindle Liberty ’85 which “involved the deployment of military forces from the U.S. to the Panama Canal Zone to test the capabilities of the Panamanian and U.S. forces to defend the canal in the event of hostilities.”[5]

437th MAW at Howard AFB during Operation Kindle Liberty ‘85 USAF Photo
437th MAW before application of the Wing tail stripe, Feb.1992 Photo by: Unknown
437th MAW after application of the Wing tail stripe, April 1993 Photo by: P. Minert

In 1993, the U.S. Army Special Forces, Navy Seals and U.S. Marines had been involved in Operation Restore Hope in Somalia for over a year as part of the United Nations’ relief efforts in that country. Part of their job was to protect the humanitarian relief convoys from being attacked by warlord Mohamed Aidid. On October 3rd of that year, these forces, along with helicopters from the 160th Special Operations Squadron, were participating in Operation Task Force Ranger in the capital city of Mogadishu. During the operation, two Blackhawk helicopters were shot down, and the operation became the basis for the hit movie Blackhawk Down. One of the helicopter pilots, CW3 Michael Durant, survived the crash with severe injuries and became a prisoner of the Somali forces for eleven days. He was released on October 14, 1993. On October 15th he was flown from Mogadishu, Somalia to Ramstein AB, Germany, for emergency medical treatment on a C-141B medevac flight, serial number 65-9408.[6]

Reassignment

After twenty-seven continuous years of being assigned to the 437th MAW at Charleston AFB, 65-9408 was reassigned to the 305th Air Mobility Wing at McGuire AFB, NJ during November 1994.

(Author’s Note) Official aircraft assignment records after 1996 are not available at the Air Force Historical Research Center at Maxwell AFB, AL. That information is considered to “new” to be considered history and, one would suppose, of historical value. It may become available at a later date. However, there is photographic evidence in the author’s files to indicate 65-9408 remained with the 305th AMW at McGuire AFB until the late 1990’s. By March of 2000 it was once again wearing the markings of the 437th MAW and had been reassigned back to Charleston AFB. Sometime between 2000 and 2001 the aircraft was transferred back to McGuire AFB, and by June 2001 65-9408 had been input into the Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Center in Tucson, AZ.

437th MAW at Ramstein AB, Germany
305th AW in camouflage paint and Wing identification stripe Photo by: Unknown
305th AW, October 9, 1997 Photo by: Manfred Faber
437th AW at Rhein Main AB, March 21, 2000 Photo by: Marc Lehmann

Thirty-Four Years of Service Comes to an End

65-9408 arrived at AMARC on June 29, 2001, from the 305th Airlift Wing at McGuire AFB, and was given the inventory storage number AACR0132. [7] On December 2, 2005, the airframe was sold to HVF West, Tucson, Arizona. [8] It was subsequently scrapped at AMARC with 43, 082 flight hours on the airframe.[9]

C-141B, 305th AW at AMARC, 2002 Photo via: Paul Minert
C-141B, 305th AW at AMARC in the final stages of salvage Photo by: Phil Kovaric

Epilog: T/Sgt. Paul E. Yonkie Remembered

The loss of Flight Engineer TSgt Paul Yonkie on July 26, 1968 in Thailand was not forgotten at Charleston AFB. On September 13, 1969 the squadron operations building (Bldg. 54) was dedicated in his honor and will forever be known as “The Yonkie Building” by base personnel. A C-141B was also named in his honor. While it was based at Charleston, serial number 64-0630 flew with TSgt Yonkie’s rank and name painted on either side of the forward fuselage. “C” Street at Scott AFB, MAC Headquarters, was also renamed Yonkie Drive in his honor.

64-0630, 437th AW hoto by: George Miller

Building 54 Dedication Ceremony, September 13, 1969 Photo provided by: Mr. Stanley Gohl, GS-11, 437th AW, Historian

Post Script:

When C-141 65-9408 was disabled as a result of the attack on Udorn RTAFB on July 26, 1968, Major Thompson, Major Low and Captain Carpenter elected to return to the U.S. via a commercial flight out of Vientiane, Laos. They arrived back in the States on August 4, 1968. Upon returning to the United States the Air Force involuntarily separated Major Low from the service for cooperating with the enemy by seeking and accepting an early release from captivity.[10] Captain Carpenter passed away on October 5, 1982.

The July 26, 1968 attack on Udorn RTAFB was the first time the base was attacked by local insurgents but it would not be the last. The second attack occurred on October 3, 1972 when sappers breeched the perimeter fence and attempted to attack the F-4 Phantoms of the 555 TFS in their revetments. The attacked was successfully repulsed by the base security forces and no aircraft were damaged. [11]

[1] USAF Historical Records, Warner-Robins AFB History Office, Aircraft 65-9408, Pg. 1, Unclassified

[2] Project CHECO, 7th AF, Attack on Udorn, 27 Dec. 1968, prepared by Capt. E. Vallentiny, K717.0413-43, Unclassified

[3] Flight to Israel by Kenneth L. Patchin, Office of MAC History, 30 April 1974, declassified 31 December 2004

[4] National Archives, C-141B Starlifter, ARC Identifier 6386336, Unrestricted

[5] National Archives, C-141B Starlifter, ARC Identifier 6390140, Unrestricted

[6] References:

A) Battle of Mogadishu (1993), Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

B) Battle of Mogadishu (1993), www.militaryfactory.com by Dan Allen

C) Task Force Ranger 20th Anniversary: Battle of Mogadishu, October 3, 1993, www.defensemedianetwork.com by Mike Markowitz

D) In the Company of Heroes by Michael J. Durant with Steven Hartov, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2003

[7] MASDC & AMARC Online Database

[8] MASDC III by Bonny, Swann & Fryer, Published by British Aviation Research Group 2006

[9] C-141Heaven website

[10] Tempered Steel published by Potomac Books, Inc., Dulles, VA, 2005, Page 37.

[11] Combat Operation After Action Report, 7/13 Air Force dated 3 Nov 1972, Declassified 31 Dec 1973