Reunion at Little Rock AFB

The reunion at the Little Rock AFB was held on April 23rd, 2005. It was a great experience for the veterans and everyone else who attended. The following links show a newspaper article from the Arkansas Bugle and photographs taken during the reunion.

Vets at Vietnam C-130 Crash Reunite – Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Van Jensen

Vets at Vietnam C-130 Crash Reunite
33 years later, servicemen recall helicopter rescue the night plane was shot down

by Van Jensen
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

They met for the first time amid the flaming debris of a crashed plane.

That night, just more than 33 years ago, seven men went down in a Hercules C-130 transport plane, riddled with damage from North Vietnamese fire, into a rice paddy. By all accounts, they shouldn’t have made it out alive. But on Saturday afternoon at Little Rock Air Force Base, three of those crew members were reunited with seven of the men who descended into that Vietnam swamp and pulled them to safety.

Air Force officials, families of the rescuers and rescued and others gathered to celebrate and honor what speakers called a legendary and heroic rescue. The Eaker Chapter of the Distinguished Flying Cross Society presented awards to both the crew of the C-130 and members of the F Troop, 9th Air Cavalry at the 34th Combat Aircrew Building. The men traded gifts and hugs.

“It’s not everyday you get to stand among legends and heroes,” said Brig. Gen. Select Joseph Reheiser, the base commander. “It’s an incredible legacy. It’s been a privilege to be here with you.” Reheiser told current Air Force members who attended the ceremony, “Remember the bravery of the folks who went before you.”

Jack Shields, a former member of the airborne cavalry and a current member of the Flying Cross Society, and Rick Ivars, a Vietnam veteran, initiated the effort to honor the men and began the event by recounting the rescue and showing slides from the mission. They described the state of the Vietnam War in 1972, when U.S. ground forces had started to withdraw from the country. At An Loc, a small town along a supply route in South Vietnam, an outpost of U.S. soldiers was surrounded by the North Vietnamese Army, which launched a fierce assault with heavy artillery. The U.S. almost gave up on the post because supply drops became extremely risky, but eventually air crews began running night missions to drop ammunition, food and other supplies onto the town’s only open spot — a soccer field.

Retired Maj. Robert Kirkpatrick, who served as the navigator on the C-130, recalled the night of April 18, 1972. About one mile from the drop zone he looked out the plane’s front window, looking for the target. Instead he saw the bright orange flash of a 37-millimeter shell and yelled to his crewmates that they were taking fire. The blast hit the inside engine on the plane’s right side and tore a basketball-sized hole through the wing and a fuel cell. Gas and oil began leaking and caught fire, turning into a tail of fire reaching back past the rear of the plane.

Kirkpatrick also heard smallarms fire. “It reminded me at the time of being in a shooting gallery at the carnival,” he said. Then the engine died, and so the crew had to drop the load early because the incoming