Whitesburg KY

Our first mission to Southeast Asia

Strategic Air Command handed over the keys of Travis Air Force Base, California, to Military Air Transport Service when my headquarters, Western Transport Air Force (WTAF), moved from Hickam Field, Hawaii, in July 1958, with Major General Russell Waldron assuming command, reestablishing airlift as Travis’ top mission.

We were overseeing four bases including Travis and a slice of the globe from Florida to Saudi Arabia, which included 37,000 miles of military air route. The land between the Mississippi River to Saudi Arabia was a big chunk of territory.

The first mission by a Travis aircraft to Southeast Asia took place in 1954 when, in the aftermath of the disastrous French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, 10 of the base’s C-97s collected 509 French soldiers and flew them to destinations in France and Algeria. In 10 years, Travis would be back, and the place would have a new name — Vietnam.

As a young printer in charge of my biggest job to date, I had my hands full. Much has been written about this time, and I was right in the middle of it. All printing equipment was put in one building at Travis and I was noncommissioned officer in charge of all this for the next 13 years. We were open 24/7 for many years.

(Contributing writer Everett Vanover lives in California.)

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