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A Legacy of Limitless Devotion

  • Published
  • By Captain John Patty
  • 318th Special Operations Squadron

The original mission of the newly branded “318th Special Operations Squadron” of 1971 (formerly known as the “318th Troop Carrier Squadron”, flying C-47 Skytrain aircraft in WW2) was “to provide a global, unconventional C-130 force (COMBAT TALON) … for both limited and general war; secondary mission (is) the pickup of escapee and evade personnel from designated ‘SAFE AREAS’ within enemy territory.”*1 Much as it is today, the focus of these Combat Talon  air commandos was to be ready at a moment’s notice to exfiltrate downed aircrew, infiltrate personnel and cargo, amongst a myriad of other duties coming off the height of the Vietnam War. Their training and preparation allowed for nothing but the best because they were set to face an enemy that wouldn’t relent while saving Americans in what was possibly their darkest hours.

On 5 December 1972, one 318th SOS MC-130E Combat Talon (Tail 0558), with 12 crewmembers aboard, set off on a continuation training mission above Conway, South Carolina. The aim of their flight that day was to act as an airborne electronic countermeasure (ECM) target for an F-102A Delta Dagger of the South Carolina Air National Guard. In what would become a tragic turn of events, the F-102A collided with the Combat Talon in vicinity of its right pylon tank, sending both aircraft into irrecoverable dives and an eventual crash. *2 It was a priceless loss of life that still reverberates in our community to this day.

Just two years prior, Combat Talon Tail 0558 was best remembered flying under the callsign “CHERRY 2” in the Son Tay Raid (a POW rescue effort) of 21 November 1970. The significance of the raid fundamentally changed how the North Vietnamese gathered POWs; it stoked their paranoia, causing prisoner moves to fewer locations and thereby making communication and escape easier. Most importantly, a firsthand account reads “POW morale soared. Later, one recalled that ‘…the Son Tay rescue attempt dispelled all doubt: We were not forgotten; our country cared!’” *3

In a quote attributed to American novelist, George Eliot, it states “Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them”. Listed below are the names of these air commandos who gave the last full measure of devotion, dedicating their lives and every ounce of spirit within their training so Americans they never knew might come home. As we approach 5 December 2022, marking the 50th year anniversary of that fateful day, please join our community in remembrance of these brave few.

Captain Peterson, Douglas                                  Pilot

Lt Colonel Martin, Donald E.                             Instructor Pilot

2Lt Thierer, Douglas L.                                       Cadet Pilot

Captain Cole, John R.                                          Navigator

Major Van Note, Keith L.                                     Navigator

Captain Dickerson, Marshall                                Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO)

Captain Sert, Louis R.                                           Instructor EWO

SSgt Warr, Billy M.                                               Flight Engineer (FE)

TSgt Abbott, Claude L.                                          Flight Engineer

TSgt Doyle, Robert E.                                           Instructor FE

SSgt Mikley, Gilmore A., Jr.                                 Radio Operator

A1C Faust, Gerald K.                                             Loadmaster





*1: Historical Report, 318TH Special Operations Squadron, 26 Jan 73, SD #47

*2: Ibid

*3: “Rescue Attempt: The Son Tay Raid”, National Museum of the United States Air Force;