The Liberty Gazette
August 27, 2013Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: I first learned about the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter that was in the corner of the ramp in Reno, Nevada from Jan, the girl behind the desk at Mercury Air Center. "It’s some sort of flying museum. They used to fly troops to Vietnam in it," she said.
I recollect Dad’s office in San Bernardino, California near Norton Air Force Base, where several C-141’s parked between trips to South East Asia, but they recollect something else.
Big is the word, and it was the workhorse of the U.S. Air Force’s heavy lift fleet. When I began flying cancelled checks in a Piper Lance out of Blythe, California I’d watch for the lumbering transports to cross in front of me along a ridge, maybe 500 feet above it, training.
But here was a particular Starlifter, registration number 66-0177, the Hanoi Taxi; one of fifteen C-141’s that carried our P.O.W.s from Hanoi back to U.S. soil. This particular day in Reno I only had a few minutes to check it out as people filtered through its front doors, eventually exiting down the ramp at the airplane’s rear.
This past February 12th marked the 40th anniversary of the start of Operation Homecoming. On that first day the Hanoi Taxi and two other C-141’s flew 116 P.O.W.s to Davis Air Force Base in the Philippines, then to Norton A.F.B. for emotionally wrenching reunions with loved ones.
54 flights brought home 591 of our boys between February 12 and April 4, 1973. Among them was U.S.A.F. Col. George Everett "Bud" Day, after he spent more than five years and seven months in the hellhole prison called the Hanoi Hilton. He was one of the last Vietnam War soldiers to receive the Medal of Honor. Other American prisoners may not have been as well-known as Col. Day or Senator John McCain, but their stories are just as important. Each suffered defending our freedoms along with the 58,152 soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice, including 2,255 missing or killed in action, body not recovered. About 80 percent of the missing are airmen shot down over Vietnam and Laos.
When the Hanoi Taxi was not on display as a museum, it continued to serve as a transport aircraft. It even flew relief and evacuation missions during Hurricane Katrina. In 2006, 40 years after it took to the air, 66-0177 was retired to The Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio where it can be appreciated today.
The following day I was back in Reno, the C-141 had moved on, but Jan was there to fill me in about the airplane, and about Dan, Mercury Air Center’s general manager. Enthusiastic about the plane, she had urged her boss not to miss seeing the piece of history on their ramp.
"Then he said, ‘I’ve seen it.’ It kind of shook me. I went out to the airplane later and found his name on the plaque of P.O.W.s flown home."
Later, when nobody else was around, Jan noticed Dan walk out and spend some time alone with the airplane.
Strong but never boastful, it was apparent from the way he lead the staff at Mercury that Dan was retired military. But more than that; he was one of the 591.Thank you, Dan. We welcome you home.