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'Tacoma Starlifter' historic POW service remembered

Retired Lt. Gen. Vernon Kondra, 21st Air Force commander and former 62 Airlift Wing commander, speaks during the rechristening ceremony of the C-141 Starlifter, serial number 65-0277, August 6, 2016, at Heritage Hill, Joint Base Lewis-McChord. In honor of the first C-141 arrival at McChord, members of the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings celebrated with museum volunteers, veterans, and community members for the 50th anniversary of the arrival of McChord's first C-141. (Air Force Reserve photo by Tech. Sgt. Bryan Hull)

Retired Lt. Gen. Vernon Kondra, 21st Air Force commander and former 62 Airlift Wing commander, speaks during the rechristening ceremony of the C-141 Starlifter, serial number 65-0277, August 6, 2016, at Heritage Hill, Joint Base Lewis-McChord. In honor of the first C-141 arrival at McChord, members of the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings celebrated with museum volunteers, veterans, and community members for the 50th anniversary of the arrival of McChord's first C-141. (Air Force Reserve photo by Tech. Sgt. Bryan Hull)

Kelsey Schmidt, Miss Washington 2016, rechristens the C-141 Starlifter, serial number 65-0277, August 6, 2016, at Heritage Hill, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, while Lt. Col. Elizabeth Scott, commander 4th Airlift Squadron, and Sandra Marth Hill, Miss Washington 1966, look on. In honor of the first C-141 arrival at McChord, members of the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings celebrated with museum volunteers, veterans, and community members for the 50th anniversary of the arrival of McChord's first C-141. (Air Force Reserve photo by Tech. Sgt. Bryan Hull)

Kelsey Schmidt, Miss Washington 2016, rechristens the C-141 Starlifter, serial number 65-0277, August 6, 2016, at Heritage Hill, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, while Lt. Col. Elizabeth Scott, commander 4th Airlift Squadron, and Sandra Marth Hill, Miss Washington 1966, look on. In honor of the first C-141 arrival at McChord, members of the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings celebrated with museum volunteers, veterans, and community members for the 50th anniversary of the arrival of McChord's first C-141. (Air Force Reserve photo by Tech. Sgt. Bryan Hull)

From left to right: Tom Hanson, President of the McChord Air Museum, Ernie White, McChord Air Museum volunteer, Sandra Marth Hill, Miss Washington 1966, Kelsey Schmidt, Miss Washington 2016, Jeff Demmon, son of Lt. Col. George Demmon, and retired Lt. Gen. Vernon Kondra, 21st Air Force commander and former 62nd Airlift Wing commander, next to the C-141 Starlifter, serial number 65-0277, August 6, 2016, at Heritage Hill, Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Lt. Col. Demmon piloted the first C-141 Starlifter into McChord Field on August 5, 1966. Members of the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings celebrated with museum volunteers, veterans, and community members for the 50th anniversary of the arrival of McChord's first Starlifter. (Air Force Reserve photo by Tech. Sgt. Bryan Hull)

From left to right: Tom Hanson, President of the McChord Air Museum, Ernie White, McChord Air Museum volunteer, Sandra Marth Hill, Miss Washington 1966, Kelsey Schmidt, Miss Washington 2016, Jeff Demmon, son of Lt. Col. George Demmon, and retired Lt. Gen. Vernon Kondra, 21st Air Force commander and former 62nd Airlift Wing commander, next to the C-141 Starlifter, serial number 65-0277, August 6, 2016, at Heritage Hill, Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Lt. Col. Demmon piloted the first C-141 Starlifter into McChord Field on August 5, 1966. Members of the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings celebrated with museum volunteers, veterans, and community members for the 50th anniversary of the arrival of McChord's first Starlifter. (Air Force Reserve photo by Tech. Sgt. Bryan Hull)

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --

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, August 6 at McChord Field, Wash.

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 August 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-141’s 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 7 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 50 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.”
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