Nearly 50 years to the day on Saturday, members of the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings celebrated the anniversary of the arrival of the first C-141 Starlifter at McChord Field.
The McChord Starlifter 50 event featured the rechristening of McChord’s first C-141 Starlifter,” Tacoma Starlifter,” by Kelsey Schmidt, 2016 Miss Washington. Presiding over the ceremony was Sandy Hill, 1966 Miss Washington, who christened the airplane when it first arrived Aug. 9, 1966. Hill became one of the nation’s first female TV news anchors before landing the co-anchor duties of “Good Morning America” in 1977.
On hand for the historic event were active and Reserve Airmen, museum volunteers, retirees and community members, who took time to honor the legacy of the C-141 Starlifter. The event took place next to the C-141 that is on display on Heritage Hill on McChord Field.
“It’s great to come out here and reminisce,” said retired Senior Master Sgt. Guy Shinkaruk, a former C-141 flight engineer with the 446th AW. “I flew on this very plane. The contributions we made flying C-141s bring back a lot of memories.”
For 36 years, the C-141 Starlifter served at McChord Field until the last one was retired April 4, 2002.
“A lot of things came to mind thinking about what the C-141 was asked to do,” said retired Lt. Gen. Vernon Kondra, a Kelso, Wash., native and former 21st Air Force commander and former 62nd AW commander. “Vietnam was obviously one. Flying supplies in and medevacs out, it also brought home those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Operation Homecoming ran from Feb. 12 to April 4, 1973. Fifty-four C-141 missions to Hanoi, Vietnam, brought home 591 prisoners of war.
“I didn’t get to fly the airplane at that time, but I did go down to the flightline at Scott Air Force Base and watched those planes return,” Kondra said. “I can remember how proud I was seeing those men come off of the C-141. I can guarantee that not one of them complained about the noise or the air conditioning system.”
The Starlifter continued to serve in peacetime and in war.
During Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, a C-141 aircraft was landing every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day, for seven months in Saudi Arabia, Kondra said. The cargo and people moved during this time amounted to all of Oklahoma City being moved from one place to another.
“The C-141 was truly a great airplane,” Kondra said. “But without people, it’s just that — an airplane. It takes everybody — the active duty and the Reserve. The 62nd AW and the 446th AW have a true partnership. In 2049, McChord will celebrate 50 years of the C-17. If I were a betting man, I would be willing to bet that the 62nd AW and 446th AW will still be second to none.”