Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Coming Back from the Dead

I remember the moment quite vividly,  I was a student at Lead-In Fighter Training and in an Intel Class.  The moment was that blinding flash of enlightenment and realization that flying a fighter, something I'd wanted to do all my life, just might not be all guns and glory.

The instructor, a rather cute Lt, was briefing us on the armament carried by various Soviet aircraft.  She'd rattle on about the Mig-21 Fishbeds carrying Atolls and having a 23mm cannon whereas the Su-11 Fishpot only carried missiles.  My mind (I was unmarried at the time) was, lets just say, more interested in the Lt than in what she had to say.

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah...Why do I care if they've got missiles AND guns or just missiles?  

That's when the moment happened.

Hey, Dummy!  Wouldn't it be nice to know what the bad guys are trying to kill you with?  or even worse shooting you down?

You see, while I didn't want to die, the thought of becoming a POW terrified terrifies me.  Coming of age at Webb, I knew several guys in Dad's flight who went over to SEA and did not come back, and several that did come back, just not on their initial DEROS.  Listening to their stories and reading their books led me to think the former was the lesser of two bads.


So, while visiting the Air Force Museum, I did not look forward to walking through the Vietnam POW exhibit at the exit of the Vietnam Era wing.  I found many of the displays to be quite dusty (if you get my meaning).
Capt Lance P. Sijan







However, as we exited that museum building and entered the next, there was a much more uplifting display.

What does it look like when you come back from the dead?

Much like this.


And where were they when that shot was taken?

On board this particular aircraft.


C-141B 66-0177



Dubbed the "Hanoi Taxi" for its role in repatriating the first group of POWs from Vietnam.

The roster
Turns out there's a tad more to the story of C-141B 66-0177, one of its last sorties before being turned over to the museum was to fly to Hanoi and return the bodies of two American's killed during the war.  Its pilot was MajGen Edward Mechenbier. 
"Life on a $5 Bet"

General Mechenbier was shot down in June of 1967 in his F-4, and was repatriated on this aircraft.  General Mechenbier's flight in the 141 was his last in the Air Force prior to retirement.  At his retirement, he was the last Vietnam POW in the Air Force.
Right after I took this shot, I was going to pull a Murph and climb into the cockpit.  Unfortunately, there's a juvat sized mark on the plexiglass at face level.

There were a lot of unique, cool, nostalgia causing aircraft in the museum and I'm glad they're being preserved.  However this one, I think, was the most deserving.  Never Give Up! Never Surrender!  Indeed.





20 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Yep. Something I didn't realize until just now. Not only was Gen Mechenbeier's last flight in this aircraft, this aircraft's delivery to the museum was the last flight of C-141s in the Air Force.

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  2. Replies
    1. Just finished Gen Mechenbier's book. Best passage:
      "We broke ground from Gia Lam Airport in Hanoi, North Vietnam, at 1603 hours, but it wasn't until we were out of Vietnamese air space and over water and I heard the pilot say "Feet wet. Welcome home." that I knew I was truly free."

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  3. When this jet would go to airshows the guys who were on that flight would sometimes show up. They were asked to sign one of the wall panels, I thought it was that Hanoi Taxi one. The crew chiefs did a nice job, it was sort of a flying museum.

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    1. Well, the good news is it's in great shape now! There's a wall of plexiglass about a foot in front of the cockpit ladder. I, no kidding, bounced my nose off it as I headed forward to stick my head in the cockpit. The wife laughed her butt off at that.

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  4. Thank you. As a former C-141B crew chief, those aircraft have a special place in my heart. That particular one is quite special.

    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. My pleasure. I agree about that one.

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  5. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I would be visiting family in Milwaukee and firmly intended to visit Capt. Sijan's resting place. I'm glad to be able to say that I did indeed do so. Juvat, I know you mentioned taking some photos but for some reason I felt it would detract from my one-on-one visit with Capt. Sijan. Despite having many relatives in Milwaukee, I went alone to Arlington Park Cemetery and had the place all to myself, finding the grave not far from the memorial erected in his honor. His family must have been truly crushed by his loss and while he could have been laid to rest at Arlington or the Air Force Academy, they brought him home to Milwaukee to be near them. Now with the passing of his parents over the past few years, he is once again beside them.

    I went through survival school at Fairchild not long after the POW's came home, and in fact we had a few attached to the school. We all had to endure the simulated interrogations but hearing about getting captured from those who had been there was quite sobering. The old saw that 'all gave some, some gave all' surely applies that POW experience.

    God bless, Captain Lance Sijan.

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    1. RJ, I'm good with that. We flew in and out of Milwaukee on this trip (wife has relatives in Beloit), and I didn't put two and two together, or I would have stopped by myself. I went through Fairchild in '78 (the winter) and had similar experiences and thoughts.

      Amen!

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  6. What Lance Sijan did was amazing. As cargo planes the C-141 didn't have that long a life did it? They are still flying C5-As not to mention the Herc.

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    1. I think they'll be flying the 130 for another 100 years (B-52 also). The 141 flew for 43 years, '63 to '06. That's a long time in (crew) dog years. The C-5 first flew in '68 so it's at 48 and counting. Not that much older and, to be frank, probably didn't do as much hard flying as the 141 (or the Herc). But then again, according to the source of all knowledge, they're talking about flying it until 2040.

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    2. As I understand it, when the fuselage was stretched, the main wing spars were not modified to take the strain. This resulted in cracks developing in the spars, which, it was determined, to not be cost effective to repair or replace.

      Paul

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    3. Yeah, I think I'd heard that also.

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  7. Read something the other day about "low time" Starlifters having "only" 50,000 hours or so.

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    1. Yeah, and "My" Eagle is a '78 model. Almost 40, the old girl is. Sniff, snuffle!

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    2. That sounds about right on the hours and I can attest to the cracking. Uncle Sugar definately got his moneys worth out of these planes.

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  8. Well done Juvat.

    When I think of the Hell our POWs went through while our so-called "leaders" dithered, it pisses me off anew each time. Were it my call, those men would never pay another dime in taxes and they would retire with full pay and benefits at the next higher rank.

    But it ain't my call and the ee-jits in Washington just don't care. I don't think they ever did...

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    1. Thanks,
      I think you're right. Washington might have. The rest...Not so much. One of the candidates currently running is the black hole of not caring for anyone but their self.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)