C-130
6 min read

I watched the torrential rains falling, making little splashes on the lake behind my house. It reminded me of the monsoons in Southeast Asia. It was over 50 years ago and perhaps some of my memory may be a little cloudy about the facts, but I don’t think so and I will do my best to be as accurate as I can.

I commanded a C-130B along with my dear friend, former roommate, and fellow pilot. We met in pilot training and our career paths pretty much paralleled for most of our life. Our mission frag for that day was to leave Tan Son Nhut and fly to Tay Ninh, where we would pick up ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) special forces and take them to Chu Lai, where they would replace the ROK (Republic of Korea) troops. Three round trips, then back home—a long day ahead, scheduled for about twelve hours—not unusual.

Tay Ninh

Landing at Tay Ninh usually meant a quick turn—nothing good came from staying overnight.

Tay Ninh had a roughly 3000-foot laterite runway (packed stone), not any special challenge for the Hercules but it did take a little finesse. We landed and moments later our passengers arrived. I briefed the troops and we were off to Chu Lai, a little south of Da Nang, not to far from Marble Mountain. Chu Lai also had a plant that made filled milk, a great substitute for real milk, which wasn’t readily available. You don’t know how good that tastes until you can’t get it. We used to wander over to the Pan Am clippers to say hello to the flight attendants to scrounge for real milk. That’s another story and we didn’t have any milk that day either.

We completed the first round trip and headed off for the second set of sorties. At Tay Ninh there were also C-130A models moving cargo and the airport was busy. The weather was clear and the operation seemed to be going smoothly. Off we went for our second round trip. On the ground we searched for a possible supply of C rations—something to eat would be nice. There may have been colonels around but no Colonel Sanders. The lack of food seemed to always keep you scrounging because you hardly ever got off the flight line. Hurry up and wait: the motto of the military.

While waiting for our troops for the third and final sortie before heading home, we heard about the morning casualty. A GI at Tay Ninh was sitting on a bunker on the end of the runway, probably just minding his own business (or maybe he was on guard duty—who knows?). One of the A models on takeoff hit him with its landing gear as it limped off the runway.

How could that happen? The A model has a lighter takeoff maximum weight and is still powerful with those longer, three-bladed props. It turns out the Army misled them a little. They loaded a Deuce and a Half with a water trailer. They gave the loadmaster the weights of each vehicle and off they went. The fact that the truck had about five thousand pounds of cargo and the water trailer was full was a sad and costly oversight.

Extra vigilance was always required, like the time the loadmaster found a hand grenade under some of the seats (the actuator had unscrewed from the grenade so it was inert). The next time might be different. It was a good trick to put tape around the release mechanism of a grenade, pull the pin, and then put the grenade in a can of fuel. The tape dissolved and boom—the guilty party was long gone and death was all around.

Dusk was falling as we unloaded the last of our troops. We refueled and were finally ready to head home. For some reason fatigue seems to sets in more quickly after dark on a long day with warm, humid temperatures. Finally we were ready to go. Checklist complete, loadmaster on the intercom, fire extinguisher near by, clear two (number two engine), starter button pushed in. Next I should hear “rotation,” and sure enough the load master responded, “rotation.” I relaxed as I saw RPM and oil pressure, but then the starter button popped out. That was not right or good.

We went through the procedure again: start button in, no rotation, button popped. It seemed clear we had sheared a starter shaft and I had a feeling we were going to overnight at another strange country club. I wrote “starter shaft sheared” in the maintenance log, then set out to find a mechanic.

He said, “I think I have a shaft in my toolbox,” and lo and behold he did. He eventually found a stand and opened about 75 dzus fasteners to get to the starter. We were all getting tired so we wandered around to amuse ourselves until we finally heard the words we’d been waiting for: “Let’s give it a try; if it’s OK we will shut it down and I’ll open that mass of fasteners to check the starter and you can head home.”

C-130

A C-130 with a broken starter isn’t much use.

This is where the story really begins. I said, “If it starts, we will take it to Tan Son Nhut and they will check it there.” The military trains you to perform in a regimented manner—follow the rules—so it got very quiet in the cockpit, with not much response from the crew. I think I was the only one that was happy.

We started the engines and taxied out. We flew the plane before so no run-up was required. At 2359, we were cleared for takeoff. Racing down the runway, I heard the required call-outs: airspeed, 80 knots, V1, Vr, positive rate, gear up, after takeoff checklist. The cockpit otherwise was stone cold quiet. Twenty minutes passed, and conversation began. All seemed normal again. About an hour and 20 minutes later we landed at home base and went to operations to get our frag for the next day. We caught the bus to the villa and I looked forward to having a not-so-cold Ba Muoi Ba (33), the French beer made under license with an extra bit of formaldehyde to enhance the flavor.

The next day I departed on the 2:00 bus for a real meal at the O club. It was crowded but served food around the clock. I had a good meal, then faced either a trek to the flight line or trying to scrounge a ride to go to work. Operations was bustling, with crews moving in and out and lots of whodunnit and war stories. One story, however, stood out. By now I am sure you are asking, why would I go on about another normal day in the life of a trash hauler?

As Paul Harvey would say, “And now for the rest of the story.” Did you hear what happened at Chu Lai last night? My ears perked up and I pictured the metal revetments that separated the airplanes. I remembered a GI late one evening telling me to get that mortar magnet off his base, referring to my airplane. Chu Lai was hit last night. One C-130 had two hundred holes in it, one maintenance man was killed, and another wounded.

I was aghast and then asked, “when did it happen?”

“0007 this morning.”

Eight minutes after we left. That was when I asked myself, “why did I do that?” Was that fate, good luck, or just the scheme of things in life?

Hank Kamerman
Latest posts by Hank Kamerman (see all)
30 replies
  1. Stephen T Pollina
    Stephen T Pollina says:

    I was a loadmaster with the 774 TAS flying B models. 1967 & 68. We sheared off # 2 starter shaft at a Army artillery base after shutting down to unload ammo. They wanted us out of there pronto as a mortar landed near the end of the PSP runway. Another C-130 landed and we taxied right behind it, they held brakes and went to full throttle. The prop wash spun up our dead #2 engine and it started. Kind of like push starting an old manual shift car with a bad starter. We both got the hell out of there real quick.

    Reply
      • Richard Piacentine
        Richard Piacentine says:

        I’ve gone nose too nose a time or two to bump start another Herky cuz their starter was on the fritzz. Yeah the Army don’t want the old Mortar magnet hanging around too long more so at dark thirty!!!
        C130E Crew Chief 64 0508.

        Reply
  2. Mike
    Mike says:

    Great tale Hank but is there a typo? If you were cleared for take off at 2359, then 0107 (the time of the mortar strike) is one hour eight minutes after you left, not eight minutes.

    Reply
  3. Alex
    Alex says:

    Mate, it’s just life. We see it in military situations more often and more brilliantly. But it’s just life. Why was the father and son water bowser team killed in an IDF attack in Baghdad and not me? There were attacks all the time, but I was a fine. There is no rational answer. Therein lies the rub.

    Reply
  4. Guy Davis
    Guy Davis says:

    I was a Loadmaster with the 37th TAS at Rhine Main AB Ger. back in 1977. and our #4 starter broke, and another C-130 was diverted to give us a buddy start. At Dyess AFB I remember practicing windmill starts.

    Reply
  5. CMS Jim Moll
    CMS Jim Moll says:

    Hi Hank, Jim Moll here former A Model CC out of Naha, FE at Willow Grove and later Maint Superintendent. Do you remember a week of planned airdrops at Bad Tolz out of Furstenfulbrook in the early Seventies. Enjoyed flying with you. Great trip.

    Reply
    • Hank
      Hank says:

      Hi Jim, I remember that well. It was a great exercise. Mons was fun, I was on the crew flying over so we had several days off rented a car and drove through Holland. Lots of good times glad to hear from you.
      H.

      Reply
  6. june Z
    june Z says:

    kudos to all fellow Herks crews !! really a challenging aircraft . But adorable when you mastered it,, former Philippine Air Force and Transafrik International Herk Flight Engineer here !

    Reply
  7. James Thomas Brosius
    James Thomas Brosius says:

    I was with the 29th TCS/TAS,1967-68, flying out of Clark AB to Tan Son Nhut and wherever. My Aircraft Commander was Major Dan Freeman. As a loadmaster, I totally understand how cargo weights were guessed at, and used my own numbers on the 365F. The B-Model was a monster.

    Reply
    • Hank
      Hank says:

      Hi Jim, I remember that well. It was a great exercise. Mons was fun, I was on the crew flying over so we had several days off rented a car and drove through Holland. Lots of good times glad to hear from you.
      H.

      Reply
      • Hank
        Hank says:

        Sorry the above comment was for someone else. I don’t recognize your name but knew Dan as I was there at the same time. I had the opportunity to fly that mission with my dearest long time friend Dick Barbieri. Sad to say he just traveled west and will be sorely missed

        Reply
  8. Alex Walker
    Alex Walker says:

    Did any of you know a guy called Ken Kovach? He told me C-130 stories, possibly a loadmaster. He ended up teaching in the UK linked to Lakenheath.

    Alex.

    Reply
  9. Bob Haney
    Bob Haney says:

    I spent most of 65 and 66 as pilot, AC in the wonderful B, member of the 772 TCS. For a trip down memory lane go to the entry of the NCANG in Charlotte where a beautiful B stands guard.

    Reply
    • Hank
      Hank says:

      Hi Bob, I had that picture on my computer screen for a long time. Great photo. I flew Bs for a long time and all through my Clark days.

      Reply
    • Hank
      Hank says:

      Hi John, My entrance into the reserves got me a couple of rides in the C-119, Then transitioned into the old A. Why do I say old A, it’s because we had two of the first aircraft off the assembly line, they were Roman Nosed birds. We later were the unit that converted 023 first three prop engine to a four bladed propeller. That surely changed the sound of the airplane.
      H.

      Reply
  10. Todd Sudick
    Todd Sudick says:

    Flew KC-130Fs for the Marine Corps 1972-76 then the L-100-30 for Transamerica Airlines. 6,000hrs in that beast worldwide with lots of “for the grace of God there go I” stories. Flew lots of different airliners retiring from US Airways, but the Herc will always be my fave.

    Reply
  11. Gary Kopp
    Gary Kopp says:

    I flew “B” model out of Mactan and Clark AB from March 68 through January 70. Great story Hank. Endured many of the same stories.

    Reply
    • Hank
      Hank says:

      Cebu City what an R&R. I left Clark My 67. Your name rings a bell though. Could be Willow Grove, O’Hare or the FAA I don’t quite recall. Help me if yo cn.
      H.

      Reply
  12. hugh mcgarity
    hugh mcgarity says:

    On my first rotation out of CCK into CRB I was paired with an AC/IP who had flown in the Korean War and was a heavy drinker. Also, the FE was a grizzled old SSgt that had no patience for low information young pilots like me. Those two factors came into play on our first frag– the AC was a bit wobbly and seeing double so he said I had the left seat all day which I found out meant I was the only functioning pilot. Our first stop was to be the Marine base near the DMZ Quang Tri (I think). I had never been there, but the FE said it was not so bad– 3000′ X 60′. He had picked on me all the way from CCK and this day started out the same. When the nav checked in with the ALCE at QT they said the weather was fine if you like sideways blowing rain and gale forced winds direct cross. I woke up the AC who managed to get one eye open and asked him if he would go along with us turning around. He muttered something like “lemme me know how it turns out” and was back to sleep. The FE decided it was time he became my best buddy and cheerleader but I could tell he wasn’t sincere– guess he was trying to suppress his anxiety. We made it down and off without the AC even waking up and sure enough, right after the gear was up the FE started right back in on me. I learned a lot during my tour at CCK– even learned to appreciate the cranky FEs and LMs.

    Reply
    • Horace
      Horace says:

      Hugh your account scares me a helluva lot more than almost being mortared.
      Good thing you didn’t plow that bird into the deck with low ceilings and wind shear.

      Reply
  13. Michael Brown
    Michael Brown says:

    Great story Hank! One of my college classmates was a loadmaster on the Herc in Enduring Freedom and his stories were even better than some of the fighter guys. Thank you for your service.

    Reply

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