The Air National Guard began flights regularly in 1966 to support Military Airlift Command operations to Japan and South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
Other Air Guard elements supported aeromedical evacuation flights across the country to free up active duty Air Force resources for similar missions in Southeast Asia between 1965 and 1969.
The Air National Guard also deployed four fighter squadrons to Vietnam after the 1968 Tet Offensive.
About 350 Air Guard members of New York’s 136th Tactical Fighter Squadron from Niagara Falls deployed to Vietnam with their 20 F-100s Super Sabres to fly close air support missions. The squadron, part of the 107th Tactical Fighter Group, served in Vietnam from May 1968 to April 1969.
The squadron, joined by New Mexico Air National Guard crews of the 188th Tactical Fighter Squadron, arrived in Vietnam at Tuy Hoa Air Base to reinforce the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing.
Known as “Rocky’s Raiders” in honor of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the squadron conducted interdiction strikes, conducted visual and photo reconnaissance, rescue combat air patrols, and suppressed enemy anti-aircraft artillery.
One squadron pilot, Captain Joseph L’Hullier, was killed on a fighter support mission after ejecting from his aircraft that was damaged from ground fire during a high angle dive-bombing attack near Chu Lai, South Vietnam, July 25, 1968.
1st Lt. Harry W. Roberts, Jr. was the youngest pilot in the 136th during the unit’s deployment to Vietnam in 1968. He ejected from his battle-damaged F-100 and was rescued at sea outside of Da Nang, South Vietnam Dec. 18, 1968.
Another pilot, Lt. Julius Thurn survived when his F-100 was shot down after his attack to support a Special Forces Camp. When he parachuted from his aircraft, he could not be extracted by Air Force rescue crews due to the ongoing fight. He was ironically saved by the Army Green Berets he was supporting who fought their way to him for pick-up.
Three others from the squadron died during training accidents before the squadron deployment to Vietnam.
1st Lieutenants Raymond Reader and Robert Wolf were killed in a midair collision in March 1968 and Maj. Richard Dye was killed during air to ground combat training in April.
“Operation Christmas Star,” a mission that involved 78 Air National Guard planes from thirteen different states, delivered 406 tons of donated gifts to the troops deployed in Vietnam for the holidays in 1965.
The Air Force did not have sufficient airlift to move such vast quantities of donated holiday goods, and Air National Guard elements across the country volunteered missions to bring the donated items and baked goods to Vietnam. So great was the response that even after the airlift, an additional 270 tons had to be sent by ship.
For this mission in November and December, 1965, New York State deployed nine C-97 Stratofreighters from home stations in Brooklyn, Westchester, and Schenectady. The tasks included flights from the 106th Air Transport Wing, with elements of the 106th Military Airlift Group, 105th Airlift Wing and 109th Airlift Group flying the missions.
The crews flew 2.1 million miles supporting those missions and carried an average of 15,000 pounds of cargo on each flight.
The New York airlift crews would continue to fly a total of 222 missions into Vietnam through 1969.
Throughout the New York Air National Guard’s time in Vietnam, Airmen received many combat awards for their contributions, including 25 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 30 Bronze Stars, 156 Air Medals, 325 Commendation Medals, three Purple Hearts and five Vietnamese Gallantry Crosses.
Interested in Aviation History?
The Empire State Aerosciences Museum holds monthly Fly-In Breakfasts on the subject of the aviation history from 8:30 am – 10:30 am at 250 Rudy Chase Drive, Glenville, NY 12302 (off Route 50). Lectures typically begin at 10 am.
Event participants can enjoy an assortment of pancakes, french toast, eggs, sausage, potatoes, juice, coffee, tea, fruit and more. The breakfast is open to the public.
Fly-In if you would like. Pilots: Tower Frequency 121.3; Ground 121.9. Land at Schenectady County Airport and taxi to Richmor Aviation North. Tell them you are going to ESAM.
Photo: 1st Lt. Harry W. Roberts Jr.