Thursday, April 2, 2015
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

1970s: End of Vietnam doesn’t end base’s mission

An aerial view of Travis Air Force Base in 1972.  (USAF photo)

An aerial view of Travis Air Force Base in 1972. (USAF courtesy photo)

By
From page TRA48 | January 31, 2014 |

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — Vietnam was just beginning to wind down as President Richard Nixon announced his Vietnamization strategy to bring American military forces home and slowly turn the war over to the Vietnamese.

Operations at Travis were beginning to wind down, too.

By 1975, the number of personnel and cargo moving through Travis was dropping back under a million a year to 338,529 personnel and 82,870 tons of cargo.

Travis not only moved troops to and from Vietnam, it also flew missions carrying Army and Marines to major American cities to be ready to protect government installations from protests against the war in case they got out of hand. This also included transport missions to Chicago, Oakland and Washington in April 1968 after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated; to Chicago in August 1968 during the Democratic National Convention; to Washington in May 1971 during antiwar protests; and to Miami in July 1972 during the Republican National Convention.

By January 1970, the 60th Military Airlift Wing was sharing the base with a new tenant, the Air Force Reserve’s 349th MAW. It was transferred to Travis from its old home at Hamilton Air Force Base in Marin County on July 25, 1969, to become an associate wing, sharing many of the same resources with Travis, from its aircraft to its facilities.

Travis’ first C-5 Galaxy arrived on Oct. 24, 1970, going to the just reactivated 75th Military Airlift Squadron. It was designed to carry anything in the Army’s inventory and, operating with the C-141, gave Military Airlift Command the capability to deliver men and equipment anywhere in the world.

In early 1971, the C-5s started arriving at about one a month until the base ended up with 33 of the large transports. It also spelled the end of Travis’ C-133 Cargomasters, the last of which left the base for Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona in August 1971.

The arrival of the C-5s also meant a construction boom for the base. Between 1969 and 1980, approximately $11 million was spent building hangar and maintenance space to support the large airlifter.

Racial problems rose to the surface of the base in May 1971 when a fistfight between two airmen over a noisy party escalated into a night-long riot in the dormitory area that saw cars smashed, 30 injuries, including a lieutenant colonel beaten when he tried to restore order, and the partial burning of the visiting officer quarters building. At one point, police in riot gear fought an estimated 200 airmen. This ended in 135 arrests and 80 detentions. A curfew was imposed and police from the surrounding communities were brought in to reinforce base security police.

The riot shocked the Air Force into restructuring its programs dealing with equal opportunity, creating a new Social Actions Directorate and ordering mandatory education in race relations to help officers and enlistees improve communications across racial and ethnic barriers.

Travis’ involvement with the nation’s space program continued through this period, flying C-141s and C-130s in support of the Apollo 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 14 and 15 missions. In the case of the Apollo 12 mission, it flew a mobile quarantine facility, with the three astronauts inside, to Texas. In 1975, it was support of the Apollo-Soyuz mission, and later missions supporting the launch of the shuttles Columbia and Challenger.

In October and November 1973, another military crisis, this time the Yon Kippur War when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel, sent Travis aircraft to Lod International Airport as part of Operation Nickel Grass, carrying armor, artillery, munitions, medical supplies and other assistance to the Israeli military.

Most of the missions to Southeast Asia between 1970 and 1973, when the Paris Peace Accords were signed, involved bringing back all those service members from Vietnam.

Part of that was Operation Homecoming, the return of the POWs from North Vietnam, which was planned by the 22nd Air Force as a massive aeromedical evacuation from Hanoi to Clark Air Base. The first three C-141s landed at Gia Lam Airport on Feb. 12, 1973, to pick up the first 116 POWs, who were taken to Clark for medical care and then back to the U.S.

Lt. Col. Richard Brenneman was one of those POWs, describing the C-141 with a large red cross painted on its tail parked at the Gia Lam Airport as “the most beautiful aircraft I had ever seen.”

After the quiet, subdued walk to the aircraft and the cheering after it took off, Brenneman promised himself, “When I get to be an older pilot, I will be flying one of those.”

A 7th Military Airlift Squadron C-141 brought the first 20 POWs to Travis, landing at 4:30 p.m. on Valentine’s Day. The first POW down the stairs was Navy Capt. Jeremiah Denton, who was greeted by cheers and applause from a crowd of more than 400 family, friends and off-duty Travis service members. He was the first of 280 former POWs who came through Travis from then to March 31.

“As we neared Travis, we asked the aircraft commander for a good look at the Golden Gate Bridge. So many guys had dreamed of the bridge while they were gone,” said former POW Col. James Sehorn in a 2002 interview. “The aircraft commander got special permission and did a loop around the bridge. The guys crowded into the cockpit and around every window to get a glimpse. The Golden Gate Bridge was a symbol of being home.”

Two years later, in March 1977, Travis aircrews brought back the first remains of those who were missing in action. Those missions have continued.

As South Vietnam fell apart under a North Vietnamese offensive in 1975, Travis aircraft returned to the country in spring 1975 to evacuate the remaining American personnel and, under President Gerald Ford’s order, Vietnamese orphans in what was soon called Operation Babylift.

Disaster struck the operation on April 4, 1975, when a Travis C-5 carrying 228 orphans and 86 passengers had a rear cargo door break loose shortly after it left Tan Son Nhut, decompressing the aircraft and sending it into a rice paddy two miles southeast of the airfield. It killed 78 orphans and 60 other passengers. The survivors were put on another aircraft and flown to San Francisco.

Travis also took part in Operations New Life and New Arrivals, which flew more than 150,000 people from Southeast Asia to the United States between April and September 1975. Most of the flights went to Hickham Air Force Base, but several landed at Travis after the resettlement centers in Hawaii were filled. The base commander even set up 300 beds in the base gym to handle the newcomers.

Travis went under the budget-cutting knife along with the rest of the federal government in 1976, when President Jimmy Carter started cutting the government employee workforce. Travis lost about 19 percent of its civilian workforce between then and 1980.

In April 1979, Travis again became the destination of contract civilian flights from refugee camps in Asia organized by the State Department. That brought more than 68,300 refugees through the base until those flights were moved to Oakland in April 1980.

Interspersed between all these military operations were a host of humanitarian missions, such as earthquake relief for Lima, Peru, in May 1970, and for Managua, Nicaragua, in December 1972, as well as for victims of Cyclone Tracy that tore through Darwin, Australia, in December 1974. In the case of Typhoon Pamela that hammered Guam in May 1976, Travis aircraft flew 31 C-5 and C-141 missions to that island to help it rebuild.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.

Ian Thompson

Ian Thompson

Ian Thompson has worked for the Daily Republic longer than he cares to remember. A native of Oregon and a graduate of the University of Oregon, he pines for the motherland still. He covers Vacaville and Travis Air Force Base for the Daily Republic. He is an avid military history buff, wargamer and loves the great outdoors.
LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Recent Articles

  • Enter your email address to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • .

    Solano News

     
    Special police unit undergoes mutual aid training in Vacaville

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    College faculty shows solidarity as contract talks continue

    By Susan Winlow | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Pursuit of happiness may need makeover

    By Mayrene Bates | From Page: A2

     
     
    Pickleball decision stalls in Vacaville

    By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    Energy saver workshop to take place in Suisun

    By Ian Thompson | From Page: A3

     
    Chabad of Solano County to host Passover Seders

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4

     
    Authorities cite speed in rollover crash

    By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A4

    Il Fiorello schedules April cooking classes

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

     
    Lynch Canyon site of 7th annual Kite Festival

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

     
    Fairfield police log: March 31, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A10

    Fairfield police log: March 30, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A10

     
    Suisun City police log: March 31, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A10

    Suisun City police Log: March 30, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A10

     
    .

    US / World

    Snowpack dismal as governor orders cuts

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

     
    Wrongful death trial slated in teen suicide case

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

    Trespassing woman believed to have jumped fence

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

     
    National park admission fees set for an increase

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

    Man’s death linked to too much iced tea

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

     
    Arkansas governor backs away from bill called ‘anti-gay’

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

    Districts seeking waiver from NCLB mandates

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

     
    Double overtime: Faltering Iran nuclear talks extended again

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

    Alps crash: Bodies recovered, but families must wait months

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A6 | Gallery

     
    Iraq hails victory over Islamic State extremists in Tikrit

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

    .

    Opinion

     
    Aquino wants to make Philippines into Detroit

    By William Pesek | From Page: A7

    What’s driving you to distraction?

    By Kelvin Wade | From Page: A7

     
    Maybe need more for airplane security

    By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A7

    Thank you for your help

    By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A7

     
    Clinton: Our 1st woman president

    By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A7

    Editorial Cartoon: April 2, 2015

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

     
    .

    Living

    Today in History: April 2, 2015

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Community Calendar: April 2, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

    Horoscopes: April 2, 2015

    By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A9

     
    2nd-place wife needs to decide if she’s better off without husband

    By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: A9

    .

    Entertainment

    Dish’s Internet TV, Sling, gets HBO service for $15 a month

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

     
    Mark Wahlberg to produce Boston Marathon bombing movie

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

    Cynthia Lennon, first wife of John Lennon, dies of cancer

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B4 | Gallery

     
    TVGrid

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

    .

    Sports

    Miami, Stanford meet in NIT final matchup of banged-up teams

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

     
    Bumgarner outpitches Kluber as Giants beat Indians 5-2

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

    Chavez allows 3 hits in 6 innings as A’s beat Angels 4-1

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

     
    Harden’s career-high 51 lead Rockets over Kings 115-111

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

     
    IndyCar’s new aero kits leave debris trail in season opener

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Will Indiana law force 2016 women’s Final Four to relocate?

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    AP Source: Kings to sign 1st NBA player of Indian descent

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Mullin: Trying to turn around St John’s an ‘obligation’

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    California development for sports stadiums moves forward

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    St. Louis County pulls taxpayers from NFL stadium financing

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Letters from old Yankee Stadium fail to sell at NYC auction

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    Serena Williams earns 700th win to reach Miami Open semis

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    US Senators want FIFA to move 2018 World Cup out of Russia

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    NIT, MSG agree to 3-year contract extension through 2018

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reid ready for Houston Open

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    .

    Business

    .

    Obituaries

    Charles Bell

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

     
    William Dean

    By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

    Acencion “Ghenido” Zepeda

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

     
    Manuel D. Ramos Sr.

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

    .

    Comics

    Dilbert

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Sally Forth

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    Blondie

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Baby Blues

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    B.C.

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Get Fuzzy

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    Wizard of Id

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Zits

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    Frank and Ernest

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Baldo

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    Rose is Rose

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Pickles

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    Peanuts

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Beetle Bailey

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    Bridge

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

     
    Sudoku

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

    Cryptoquote

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

     
    Crossword

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

    Word Sleuth

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9