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Berlin Airlift - The Story Of A Great Achievement 1949

The "Cold War"

Berlin Airlift

Although, the “Cold War” lasted for decades, the first major test of the Free World's will to resist Soviet aggression came in June 1948 when Soviet authorities, claiming "Technical difficulties," halted all traffic by land and by water into or out of the western-controlled section of Berlin.  The only remaining access routes into the city were three 20 mile-wide air corridors across the Russian zone of Germany. Faced with the choice of abandoning the city or attempting to supply its inhabitants with the necessities of life by air, the Western Powers chose the latter course and for the next 11 months sustained the city's 2½ million residents in one of the greatest feats in aviation history.

- Berlin Airlift

“Operation Vittles,” as the airlift was unofficially named, began on June 26 when USAF C-47s carried 80 tons of food into Berlin, far less than the estimated 4,500 tons of food, coal, and other material needed daily to maintain a minimum level of existence.  But this force was soon augmented by U.S. Navy and Royal Air Force cargo aircraft. On Oct. 15, 1948 to promote increased safety and cooperation between the separate U.S. and British airlift efforts, the Allies created a unified command, the Combined Airlift Task Force under Maj. Gen. William H. Tunner, USAF.

To underscore Allied determination to resist Soviet pressure, three SAC bomb groups were sent to Europe, placing Soviet targets well within B-29 range.

Lt. Halvorsen dropping candy during the “Berlin Airlift.”

Lt. Halvorsen dropping candy during the “Berlin Airlift.”

Berlin Airlift - The Story Of A Great Achievement 1940

Airlift aircraft used three airfields within Berlin: Tempelhof in the U.S. sector, Gatow in the British sector, and Tegel which was built in the French sector in only 60 days using volunteer German men and women laborers.

The Story of Great Achievement 1949

C-47s unloading at Tempelhof, formed the nucleus of the airlift until September when the larger and faster four-engine C-54s capable of hauling ten tons had been put into service.

Airlift pilots flew under an extremely rigid system of traffic control, which required each pilot to fly an exact route at predetermined speed and altitude.  If an arriving plane was unable to make a landing at Berlin on its first attempt, it had to return to its base in West Germany.  Adding to the routine dangers facing airlift pilots was Soviet harassment in the form of jamming radio channels, directing searchlights at aircraft taking off at night, the "buzzing" of cargo planes by Russian fighters, and barrage balloons allowed to drift into the air corridors.

Cross-sectional view of flight into Berlin as of September 1948.  This arrangement allowed for landing at the rate of one plane every 3 minutes.  Later, two levels were used with spacing that allowed for landing at the same rate.

C-47s unloading at Tempelhof

C-47s unloading at Tempelhof

Cross-sectional view of flight into Berlin

Cross-sectional view of flight into Berlin (from AU ECI course 50 pg.103)

At midnight on May 12, 1949, the Soviets reopened land and water routes into Berlin. However, the airlift continued until September 30 to build a backlog of supplies.  The Allied airlift had saved Berlin from Soviet takeover and had taught valuable lessons in air traffic control, aircraft maintenance, standardized loading and unloading procedures, and other aspects of sustained mass movement of cargo by air.  Cost of the effort in human lives totaled more than 65 U.S., British, and German personnel, including 31 Americans.

The “Candy Bomber”

During the “Berlin Airlift” American C-54 pilot Lt. Gail Halvorsen flew food and supplies into Berlin during the airlift of 1948-1949. He loved children and wanted to do something special for them.  He thought up an operation that he called "Little Vittles."  He bought candy at local stores and dropped it with tiny parachutes that he made by hand.  His Air Force buddies donated their rations of candy and gum and their handkerchiefs to make the parachutes.

Lt. Gail Halvorsen, the “Candy Bomber”

Lt. Gail Halvorsen, the “Candy Bomber”

For those readers old enough to remember the American wartime "K" or  "C" rations, they came with a small candy bar and a tiny green box containing two pieces of Chiclets chewing gum.  Today, the American meals ready to eat (MRE) ration comes with a commercial candy bar.


Newspapers printed stories about this "chocolate bomber" and he began receiving packages of candy bars and handkerchiefs in the mail for "Operation Little Vittles."  The American Confectioners Association joined the humanitarian operation and sent tons of candy and gum to Westover AFB where it could be forwarded for dropping to the children of Berlin at Rhine Main AFB.

Soon, all the pilots were dropping candy over the city of Berlin.  By January of 1949 Lt. Halvorsen had air dropped more than 250,000 parachutes loaded with candy on for the nearly 100,000 children of Berlin during the Russian blockade.  Due to continuing bad publicity and their inability to starve the people of Berlin, the Soviets ended their blockade in May 1949.

Candy Bomber honored at Travis AFB 2004 Tattoo

The Berlin Airlift is valued by today’s military.  It is saluted as a benchmark for humanitarian airlift. During the Tattoo held at the Travis Air Museum and the Travis Air Force Base’s flight line, Col. Lyn Sherlock, 60th Air Mobility Wing commander, joined Retired Col. Gail S. Halvorsen, also known as the "Candy Bomber," in saluting the American Flag.  The flag was present to Col. Halvorsen on behalf of the Base in recognition of his achievements.

Candy Bomber honored at Travis AFB 2004 Tattoo

Candy Bomber honored at Travis AFB 2004 Tattoo
Retired Col. Gail S. Halvorsen and Col. Lyn Sherlock
(U.S. Air Force photo/Ed Drohan)


The Korean Conflict

The Korean Conflict began on June 25, 1950 with the invasion of South Korea by North Korea. A cease-fire took effect on July 27, 1953 ending the hostilities (the conflict has not officially ended). The conflict began with the invasion of South Korea by North Korea. North and South Korea had existed as provisional governments competing for control over the Korean peninsula, due to the division of Korea.  The Cold War-era conflict was between the United States and its allies and the Communist powers of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Soviet Union. The principal combatants were North Korea, supported by People's Volunteer Army (PVA) of the People's Republic of China, and later Soviet combat advisers, aircraft pilots, and weapons; and South Korea, supported principally by the United States (U.S.), the United Kingdom (UK), Canada and the Philippines, although many other nations sent troops under the aegis of the United Nations (UN).

In South Korea, the conflict is often called, "yugio" meaning "6•25" (the date of the start of the conflict), or, more formally, “Hanguk Jeonjaeng” simply meaning, "Korean war". In North Korea it is formally called the "Fatherland Liberation War."  In the United States, the conflict was termed a police action, as the Korean Conflict, under the aegis of the United Nations rather than a war, largely in order to remove the necessity of a Congressional declaration of war.  The war is sometimes referred to in the West as "The Forgotten War," primarily because it is a major conflict in the 20th century that is rarely referred to.

The Korean Conflict: In Field

Korea emerged from World War II a divided country, a communist North and a pro-Western South.  The North and the South both hoped for unification, but on their own terms.  By early 1949, North Korea seemed to be on a war footing.  Its leader, Kim Il Sung, gave a bellicose New Year’s speech in which he excoriated South Korea as a puppet state.  His army expanded rapidly.  Soldiers drilled in war maneuvers and bond drives began to amass the necessary funds to purchase Soviet weapons.  The thirty-eighth parallel dividing North and South Korea was fortified and border incidents began to occur.  Neither P’yongyang nor Seoul recognized the parallel as a permanent legitimate boundary.

Troops dropping over the Korean hills from C-119

Troops dropping over the Korean hills from C-119

The Korean Conflict:  On Base

It is generally well known that during the Korean War squadrons from the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) stationed at Fairfield-Suisun AFB provided airlift for UN forces. Much less known is that four combat-ready reconnaissance air crews from the 5th Recon Group at the base flew combat missions over North Korea. The outbreak of the Korean Conflict strengthened the importance of Fairfield-Suisun Air Force Base as one of SAC’s main West Coast facilities and earned it the title, The Gateway to the Pacific". 

The Korean War also brought big changes to Travis’ hospital staff.  The new “hospital on the hill” opened about a year before the beginning of the Korean Conflict.  Indeed, it was still unfinished when the war started.  Located on a hill near the runway, the hospital was unprepared for the heavy flow of casualties from the conflict. Between July and December 1950, the number of patients increased from 514 per month to 5,475 per month.  This required a major expansion of the medical facilities. The airman’s barracks for the hospital and other structures were temporarily converted to wards until new wings were completed in 1952.

Barracks Converted into Wards

Patients med evacuated to Travis

David Grant Hospital; the "Hospital on the Hill"

David Grant Hospital; the "Hospital on the Hill"

During the 1950s Travis AFB became known as the “Gateway to the Pacific.”

Gateway to the Pacific

Korean War Air Evacuation Exhibit- L-4 "Grasshopper", Stinson L-5 "Sentinel"

The Travis Crash

Brigadier General Robert F. Travis ... 1904-1950

Brigadier General Robert F. Travis’ untimely death in a tragic crash of a B-29 on August 5, 1950, cut short a brilliant military career that had begun with his graduation from West Point in June 1928. An accomplished military aviation engineer and command pilot. Travis saw action in World War II as commander of the 41st Combat Wing in England. He personally led his men in 35 combat missions over Nazi-occupied Europe. The decorations that he received included the Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal with three clusters, the French Croix de Guerre with palm, the Legion d’Honneur, and the Purple Heart.

Son of a prominent military family (his father was an Army general), Travis was born in Georgian 1904. He assumed his first command at Hickam Field, Honolulu in June 1939 as commander of the 72M Bombardment Squadron. He received his brigadier general’s star in September 1944 after assuming command of the 41st Combat Wing in Europe.

Brigadier General Robert F. Travis

Brigadier General Robert F. Travis

He was then reassigned to Hickam, this time as Commanding General, Pacific Air Command. His brilliant wartime bombing record and rapid rise in rank made him an obvious choice to supervise the Strategic Air Command’s development of Fairfield-Suisun AFB in 1949. Attaining command of both SAC wings at the base granted him an additional distinction during his tenure there.

Brigadier General Travis’ popularity and the effect of his death in such a terrible accident led local civilian leaders and base officials alike to propose renaming the base in his honor. Their proposal was favorably received in Washington and on October 20, 1950, Fairfield-Suisun AFB became Travis AFB. California Governor Earl Warren presided over the formal dedication ceremonies, which many dignitaries and members of the Travis family attended, on April 20, 1951.

August 5, 1950

On August 5th, 1950, Communist troops came across the Naktong River to southwest and northwest of Taegu on the Korean peninsula.  They begun filtering troops to the rear of American lines, forming a tense political situation.  The perimeter around Pusan was forming.  The increasing hostilities, and the North Koreans numeric superiority left few options for the United Nations and American ground forces.  But, on that day, a Mark IV nuclear bomb was dispatched to the eastern Pacific.  It would travel in two parts.  One part, the dense uranium core, and the other, the high explosive outer casing, would each be carried to the area via separate aircraft, routes, and times.  A B-29 bomber left Fairfield-Suisun Air Force Base on August 5th, 1950, carrying the high-explosive portion of the Mark IV.  ... About twenty minutes after the crash occurred, the high explosives in the bomb casing ignited.  The blast, felt and heard over 30 miles away, caused severe damage to the nearby trailer park on base.

The Travis Crash

Late in the evening of 5 August 1950 the lead plane of a fifteen-plane flight of B-29s lost control of an engine during take off from the Fairfield-Suisun Air Force Base.  The heavily loaded airplane lost a second engine while attempting to return to the runway.  An electrical power failure added to the airplane’s difficulties but the pilot, Captain Eugene Steffes, was able to set the aircraft down in a controlled sliding crash that saved the lives of several crew-members.

As the aircraft slid forward it spun to the side and broke apart just forward of the bomb bay so the cockpit area became separated from the rest of the airplane.  This allowed rescuers a chance to remove crew members from the forward part of the airplane.  Brig. General Travis was one of several crew members rescued alive from the cockpit area but he died from crash related injuries enroute to the hospital.  Captain Steffes, the pilot, crawled out the pilot’s window and fell to the ground.  He was rescued by members of the 9th Food Service Group who were working near the crash site.

The rest of the aircraft was loaded with fuel and caught fire before rescuers could save any of the ten people from the rear of the airplane.  As the fire burned, the 5000 pounds of high explosive inside the Mark IV atomic weapon became overheated and exploded. 

The explosion was heard many miles away

The explosion was heard many miles away

This explosion was very powerful and was heard many miles away. Several people were killed by the blast and others suffered from loss of hearing and other injuries.  The explosion also scattered wreckage over a wide area.

At the time of the crash the people of the United States were in turmoil about “atomic spies” stealing U.S. Government secrets and giving them to the Russians. Fear of the Communist successes in Europe and Asia was pervasive and there was a nationwide consensus to hide military information from “Communist spies.”  In this social climate people were willing to close ranks behind official stories claiming that the mission was “a routine training flight” even though the local press and most of the community knew there was much more to the story.  Civic leaders stood squarely behind the tragic training mission story as they openly campaigned for the base to be renamed for General Travis.  Many notables including the California Governor Earl Warren attended the dedication ceremony.  Interest in the incident gradually faded away and newcomers to the community seldom heard of the crash.  The rapid growth of Solono County insured that what had been a well-known incident within the community became a forgotten footnote of the cold war.

1942 Seagrave Fire Truck

The fire truck on display in the museum is a 1942 Seagrave pumper fire truck. On August 5th, 1950 it was one of the first vehicles to respond to the B-29 Super Fortress aircraft crash near the main gate. The fire truck battled the fire until exploding ordinance halted firefighting efforts. The Seagraves sustained substantial damage in the explosion, which left 124 people injured, 49 hospitalized and 19 fatalities. Among those who lost their lives in the accident were five firefighters and General Robert Travis (Travis AFB was later renamed in his honor). The firetruck was repaired and returned to duty.

Seagrave was founded by Fredric Seagrave in Detroit, Michigan in 1881 and is the oldest manufacturer of fire apparatus in the United States.  Our Seagraves Pumper Fire Truck (#B4224) has a factory date of August 26, 1942 and was initially assigned to Fairfield - Suisun Army Air Field in 1942. The truck served the base and its firefighters until March of 1956 when the vehicle was sold through DRMO to the Suisun Fire Department. It performed superbly on many blazes through the years and was retired in 1979. On 28 July 1985, it was bought back from Suisun by the Travis AFB Firefighters for the sum of $1.00 under the condition they fully restore the vehicle. The Travis firefighters donated their own time and money to the preservation of this historical piece of equipment. .

1942 Seagrave pumper truck

Operation Starlift

When the movie star Ruth Roman visited Travis Air Force Base in September 1950, she was, although no one realized it at the time, the forerunner of the project which has come to be known as Operation Starlift.  The Special Service Officers and Hollywood Coordinating Committee made arrangements for other screen celebrities to visit the base to entertain Korean War wounded which were pouring into base hospitals. The flights flew the entertainers from Burbank every Saturday and returned them the following day. The visiting stars also performed in the large Passenger Terminal Building for troops en route to the battle zone in Korea.

Now Showing "Starlift"
- Starlift

Helmeted, rifle-carrying soldiers and marines, sailors and airmen relaxed for a few moments and forgot momentarily that they would soon be on their way to combat.  Sometimes the loud speaker would boom out, notifying the men that their plane was ready to load.  They would file out slowly, looking back over their shoulders at the performers, calling out:  “Goodbye, thanks, thanks a lot.”  And the performer would reply:  “Goodbye boys, take care of yourselves.  God bless you.” 

Frances Faye entertains Korean War wounded
Joe Louis pays a visit
Doris Day Entertains

Frances Faye entertains Korean War wounded
as part of Operation Starlift

Joe Louis

Doris Day

In the hospital wards, men who had fallen in battle only a few days before looked up in surprise as a familiar face and figure walked up to their bedsides and said:  “Hiya boy, how are you doing?”  Jane Russell, Shirley Temple, Shelley Winters, Alan Ladd, Jack Benny, Danny Kaye, Pat O’Brien, Claudette Colbert, Keenan Wynn, Donald O’Connor, Janet Leigh, Vic Damone, Debbie Reynolds, Yvonne De Carlo, Bob Hope, and many others visited Travis to give their time and talent to entertain the personnel here.

The project remained without a name until one day in late September 1950 when Brigadier General Joe W. Kelly, then base commander, walked into the Public Information Office and asked:  “Who is coming here from Hollywood this week on our “Operation Starlift?”  The phrase, which so aptly described the project, immediately caught on and became the quasi-official name for the regularly scheduled flights which flew these entertainers to the air base from Burbank every Saturday and returned them the following day.

Appearing voluntarily, these stars worked harder while at the base than when they were emoting before the cameras.  It was a rule, not the exception, for these highly-salaried celebrities to stage two or three hour-long shows at the Passenger Terminal Building for servicemen awaiting air transportation overseas, and then giving a performance at the hospital auditorium for the ambulatory patients.

“There is no better medicine for these men,” one doctor was heard to remark, “than a visit from these people whom they have seen so often on the screen but never thought to meet in person.  All of them have been to the movies and to them it means the United States when they see the stars that they enjoyed seeing in motion pictures.  It means they are home again.”

The motion picture “Starlift” was made at the base by Warner Brothers studios and was based on Travis’ Operation Starlift.

Starlift Stars

Starlift Stars

The movie Starlift  is a 1951 musical film released by Warner Bros. starring Doris DayGordon MacRaeVirginia MayoDick Wesson, and Ruth Roman. It was directed by Roy Del Ruth and written by John D. Klorer and Karl Kamb, from a story by Klorer. The film was made during the beginning of the Korean War and centers on a U.S. Air Force flyer's wish to meet a film star, and her fellow stars' efforts to perform for injured men at the air force base. Travis TAFB Aviation Museum volunteers recently upgraded our exhibit of the movie.

Stop by and check out our Movie Exhibit


Southeast Asian War: Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia

A product of the Cold War, the Southeast Asia War (1961-1973) began with communist attempts to overthrow non-communist governments in the region. United States participation in the Southeast Asia War resulted from the policy of "containment," which aimed to prevent communism from expanding beyond its early Cold War borders. The containment strategy seldom led to major combat, but as with the Korean War (1950-1953), the US committed large military forces to protect an allied, non-communist government.

-SEA War

The main U.S. goal in the Southeast Asia War was to protect South Vietnam -- initially from a local communist insurgency and later from conquest by communist North Vietnam. The U.S. also hoped to prevent the spread of communism to other nearby countries. Although popularly known as the Vietnam War, U.S. efforts included military action not only in South and North Vietnam, but also in neighboring Southeast Asian countries. For many years in the early 20th century, the people of Southeast Asia struggled for independence from France. The U.S. gave France military assistance in fighting insurgents.  After the French defeat in 1954, Indochina was divided into North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. A demilitarized zone formed the border between North and South Vietnam. North Vietnam, under Ho Chi Minh, became a communist nation. Concurrently, the U.S. sponsored the creation of the eight-nation Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) to protect Cambodia, Laos and South Vietnam from the spread of

Museum SEA exhibit

 Communism.  North Vietnam soon declared its Intention to reunite with South Vietnam -- by military means if necessary. In 1959 it began supplying a terrorist campaign in South Vietnam carried out by southern Vietnamese communist Viet Cong guerillas. Later, North Vietnam also began supporting communist guerillas in Laos. What started as a small U.S. program to train the South Vietnamese army in 1961 grew into a massive military effort. U.S. combat operations began in South Vietnam, and eventually spread to North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The increasing U.S. commitment aimed to combat local communist insurgents, North Vietnamese troops, and the flow of supplies supporting them.


Above information from the National Museum of the US Air Force

Band of Brothers

Carl Bodin, a Travis volunteer described it like this:

I know it sounds like a cliche now, but the truth is when you fight a war, when you’re involved in battle, you can’t help but become a band of brothers.  The enemy feels it too in their ranks. When you put your life in another person’s hands again and again, it forms a bond of trust. This bond is life long. It’s the reason that after so many years, people still come to the Wall searching for those they served with.  Then when they find a name, it still releases strong emotions. Even if I met the enemy today, we could still relate. We could relate to this feeling.

The exhibit displays the faces of war through the years.  The uniforms have changed, but the faces appear the same.  They are those of young men, determined to defend their country and forever changed by the experience.  The same can be said for the women who served. Honored in the exhibit are Babylift participants, military women, civilian volunteers and the Vietnam nurses who shared amazing stories.

It’s unbelievable how these young nurses faced tragedy day in and day out and through it all had to remain strong to offer compassion to the injured and dying.  To be spat on and called names upon their return was not the welcome they deserved,” stated Vietnam veteran Bill Lancaster.

From the air support efforts, to the medical evacuations, to the strategic bombing and air war, the Air Force men and women who served in Vietnam never received proper recognition for their often-valiant efforts. This exhibit seeks to render that recognition.

"The Nurses"

By “Big Dot” Dorothy G. Fullick (Maj ret)
USAF Hospital under 12th TAC Fighter Wing Cam Rahn Bay, South Vietnam


One night 27 years ago, I was working the 1900-0700 shift on 6/7 August 1969.  On this particular night, things were busy.  Now, I don’t remember any patients’ names from the entire time except the few that are mentioned in this story.  And that’s because if you remember you get emotional and lose your objectivity.  There was Papasan George, an old Vietnamese gent we’d bring in from Medcap to ease his aches and pains; he was Catholic and had serious joint disease, meaning he really was a cripple.  And there was Jimmy, an Army troop who ironically had the physique of Jimmy Brown, the pro football player.  Jimmy had meliodosis, an extremely serious disease to have and which must be treated with heavy IV antibiotics. 

The trouble is that the antibiotics take a toll on the veins and you start running out.  About midnight thirty or so, I had just finished restarting Jimmy’s IV, a difficult chore in this case but then again, I have been known to be able to bleed a turnip.  All of a sudden, this cacophony starts and it’s getting closer and closer with no let up.  My adrenaline goes off the page, getting all the patients underneath the bed.  As I made a quick sweep between the two wards, I spot Papasan George still in the bed with hands clasped and praying. 

Vietnam Nurses War Memorial

Vietnam Nurses War Memorial


I literally picked up Papasan and threw him under the bed, and threatened poor Jimmy that if he blows that IV, I’ll have him before the Cong (enemy).  A side note here:  we weren’t allowed to have weapons on the wards.  They were locked up in a freaking connex!  I’ll do my diatribe on the Geneva Conventions as it applies to medics some other time.  So knowing we had no weapons, my thoughts are racing and thinking.  Hell, the only thing I’ve got here to defend ourselves with is a scalpel and an IV pole.  Can ya just see the headlines:  Nam Nurse plays Spearchucker!

All the commotion in the world is going on when oddly, the telephone rings.  It’s a pilot checking to see if I’m ok.  He was on the alert pad and the door to the shack was blown off.  Our fearless fighter pilots were out on the line with their flashlights checking for shrapnel on the runway — to protect tires during take-off.  And they say, by the way, can I get tomato juice for Bloody Marys in the AM?

In a matter of minutes, here comes the choppers, skids sparking, the crew frantically yelling “Get the patients off!  We have a lot more.”  Meanwhile, the enemy is still lobbing in mortars and 107 rockets to keep life interesting during this time.  The Army’s 6th CC Hospital was about a mile or so from us and sappers ran through the wards with satchel charges and fired AK-47s at the patients as they were trying to crawl out of there!  The toll went something like 98 wounded, 2 killed from the Army and on the Air Force side, 2 wounded and 10 aircraft with battle damage.  So, this is life.  Now, as to them Bloody Marys, yup, the next morning we all gathered in the Goat Bar and were motor-mouthing about the night when in walks an intelligence officer who had gotten smashed the night before and slept through the whole thing!  Well, as far as rockets, the year never got much better.  Let’s just say it refurbished my understanding of the principles of kinetic energy with a vengeance!

From October to December 1969 we were losing crews at a very steady rate.  Our frag mission was resulting in heavy casualties.  By Xmas Eve, we had no real reason to celebrate the holiday.  All of us were unhappy with 7th Air Force’s strategy of using air crews as human targets.

The 24th of December was my day-off, and I was sitting over in the Goat Hootch Bar with Crash, a fighter pilot.  We were drinking beer and discussing this sacrilege.  Then it occurred to me to say...To hell with it!  Let’s do something for us!  “Crash, get the six pack.  I’m collecting ration cards and meet me back here.”

So I got in the truck and said, “let’s go to the Class VI store.” Irish whiskey so I subbed brandy.  Loaded up and went off to the milk plant!  That awful “barium” ice cream would have to be the whipped cream!  We took a quick stop to the hospital mess to beg the use of a big coffee urn and coffee and we were set!  Back at the Goat, I started to brew the coffee and then made Big Dot’s combat Irish coffee.

Well, the word got around and soon everyone started to gather in the bar.  We wound up being smashed as we all “serenaded” the place with “Jingle Bells a la Vietnam”.


"Bringing Them Home"

In late 1965, the David Grant hospital and its adjoining transient casualty facility had been enlarged to accommodate an increase in patients from the Pacific.  In 1968, a $600,000 special construction project added 92 beds to the 2nd Casualty Staging Flight’s transient patient area.  Usually patients were held at Travis for more than 48 hours before being transferred to veterans’ hospitals near their hometowns or in Oakland or San Francisco.  Even so, by 1970, the number of transient patients had dropped to 2,647 a month.  This was still high compared to the figures before 1965, but it represented a respite from the worst of the war years.

Crowds welcome home Vietnam Prisoners of War at Travis AFB

Crowds welcome home Vietnam Prisoners of War at Travis AFB

The Vietnam War had another, more sobering effect on Travis.  This base became the main West Coast Terminus for MAC aeromedical evacuation flights from the Pacific and the principal receiving station for military fatalities that were flown to the United States for burial.

The consequences of the war in Southeast Asia were also clearly apparent at the Travis Mortuary Affairs Office.  According to its records, 10,523 military caskets from Southeast Asia passed through Travis in 1968 alone.  Army casualties made up 73% of this number.  This was because Travis was the Army’s sole receiving station for the war dead on the West Coast until 1970.  It was the policy to airlift all military fatalities to the United States as rapidly as possible for the sake of the bereaved families.

AMBUS Nestles Within the Petal Doors of the Giant C-141 (Starlifter)

AMBUS Nestles Within the Petal Doors of the Giant C-141 (Starlifter)

Operation Homecoming
Operation Homecoming was the mission to return POWs from Southeast Asia.  Between February 12th and March 29th in 1973, North Vietnam released 566 American military and 25 civilian POWs and MIAs, many of whom had spent many years in various communist prison camps.  Hanoi’s Gia Lam Airport was the main release point where Miliary Airlift Command’s C-141 Starlifters, took off on 18 “Freedom Flights” returning these heroes to their homeland via Clark Air Base in the Philippines.

Anchor 1
Anchor 2
Operation Homecoming

Operation Homecoming

After POWs were airlifted out of Vietnam, they were transported first to Clark Air Base to receive immediate medical treatment and new uniforms. Then they were flown to Travis Air Force Base where they received a warm and enthusiastic greeting from families, friends, and military personnel.

One POW remembered the North Vietnamese announcer told the prisoners...

As I call your name, step forward and go home.”

Free at last!:  That C-141 was the most beautiful bird I’d ever seen!  I have chills running all though my body—you will just never know how it feels.

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