'Tacoma Starlifter' historic POW service remembered

By Tech. Sgt. Bryan Hull on August 11, 2016

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD - Nearly 50 years to the day, members of the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings celebrated the anniversary of the arrival of the first C-141 Starlifter, Aug. 6 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 Sandra Hill, 1966 Miss Washington, who christened the airplane when it first arrived Aug. 9, 1966.

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.

"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, with more than 46,000 flight hours, according to McChord Air Museum.  

"A lot of things came to mind thinking about what the C-141 was asked to do," said retired Lt. Gen. Vernon Kondra, 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 flight line at Scott Air Force Base and watched those planes return," said Kondra. "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 war.

During Desert Shield and Desert Storm a C-141 aircraft was landing every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day, for seven months in Saudi Arabia, said Kondra. 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. But without people, it's just that; an airplane," said Kondra. "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 fifty 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."