Combat Talons in Vietnam: Recovering a Covert Special Ops Crew

Combat Talons in Vietnam: Recovering a Covert Special Ops Crew

Combat Talons in Vietnam: Recovering a Covert Special Ops Crew

Combat Talons in Vietnam: Recovering a Covert Special Ops Crew


Combat Talons in Vietnam is a personal account of the first use of C-130s in the Vietnam War. It provides an insider's view of crew training and classified missions for this technologically advanced aircraft. Many covert missions over North Vietnam were successful, but one night, John Gargus, a mission planner, oversaw an operation in which the aircraft--carrying eleven crewmembers--failed to return from a nighttime mission. For thirty years, a search for the missing aircraft remained in progress.

In the late 1990s, the Combat Talon veteran community at Hurlburt Field in Florida, still uncertain of the full story, decided to dedicate a memorial to the lost crew. When wartime mission records were declassified, Gargus embarked on a long journey of inquiry, research, and puzzle-solving to reconstruct the events of that mission and the fate of its crew. He discovered that the wreckage of the plane had been found in 1992 and that the remains of the crew were being held in Hawaii. Through numerous Freedom of Information Act requests, interviews, and site visits, Gargus sought to answer the question of why it took so long to find the wreckage and, more importantly, why the special operations command units were left uninformed. By 2000, the remains were relocated to a common grave at Arlington National Cemetery at last providing a measure of closure to family, friends, and comrades.


This book tells the story of the first Combat Talon C-130 aircraft and the airmen who flew them in Vietnam. Their hazardous missions flown over North Vietnam were so highly classified that only the highest echelons of service commands knew of their existence. Airmen who flew them and their supporting ground crews were sworn to secrecy. They could not talk about their work with other soldiers and could not keep their families informed about their flights. Consequently, their contributions to the war did not become known until many years later when their accomplishments were officially declassified.

This book began as a story I wrote in 1998 for the families of eleven Combat Talon crew members lost on a clandestine mission over North Vietnam. It had happened thirty-one years before in 1967, but because of the secrecy of the operations, the families were told only that their loved ones failed to return from a nighttime mission. Over the years practically all secret operations of the Vietnam War became declassified, and the story of the eleven men and their fate could finally be told. Because I participated in the planning for the mission of this lost aircraft, the Air Commando Association community of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, asked me to write a story that could be presented to the families at the dedication of a memorial pedestal for the fallen crew at the Hurlburt Field’s Memorial Air Park. Two years later, the remains of the crew were interred in a common grave at Arlington National Cemetery.

At the funeral, many of my attending colleagues, who knew that I had pursued the trail of the lost crew by visiting the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii and the Air Force Mortuary Services in San Antonio, Texas, asked me to write a follow-up story about how the aircraft crash site was located and how the crew’s remains were identified and processed for interment. First, I consulted with the families about doing it. Most of . . .

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