Tuesday, October 10, 2017

TOP STORY >> Flying Cross recipients reunite

Leader staff writer

The Distinguished Flying Cross Society Ira Eaker Chapter held its 20-year anniversary on Saturday at the Jacksonville Museum of Military History.

The chapter was founded in 1997 to serve DFCS members who live in Arkansas. The DFCS national president, retired Navy Commander Chuck Sweeney of California, was the guest speaker.

Eaker Air Force Base in Blytheville, which closed in 1992, was named after the general who was one of America’s air pioneers and a top commander in World War II.

The Distinguished Flying Cross Society was started in 1994 in California. It honors men and women from all branches of the military who demonstrated heroism or extraordinary achievements in difficult situations in aerial flight. The honor is mostly awarded to service members but has been given to civilians.

The Ira Eaker Chapter has 135 members in Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi and Texas. They served during the Second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the War in Afghanistan.

One of the first Distinguished Flying Cross medals was awarded to Charles Lindbergh in 1927 by President Calvin Coolidge for his nonstop solo flight over the Atlantic.

Amelia Earhart was the first woman awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross medal in 1932 for the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Some of the Distinguished Flying Cross recipients talked with The Leader about the incidents for which they received the medal.

Retired Lt. Col. Jack McCollum of North Little Rock was in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. He flew an AC-130 gunship at night over South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. He had a crew of 14.

“On one mission I flew, we destroyed many trucks on the Ho Chi Minh trail,” he said.

McCollum was awarded the medal for destroying 10 supply vehicles while facing anti-aircraft fire on March, 5, 1972.

Buzz Smith of North Little Rock was an Air Force C-130 aircraft commander during the Vietnam War. “It is a very prestigious award and I’m very proud of it,” Smith said.

He flew an emergency air evacuation mission in southeast Asia on Sept. 2, 1967, with 48 battle casualties on board.

“We were being attacked while loading the wounded. Mortars and rockets were hitting the runaway,” Smith said.

Tim Murphy of Conway was an Army warrant officer during the Vietnam War, where he was a Chinook CH-47 helicopter pilot.

On Dec. 14, 1970, he landed a helicopter to unload supplies and picked up the dead and wounded. He said the area was being hit with mortars. No one was injured on the helicopter during the incident.

“Somebody important was watching that day. It is very seldom a Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded for combat support aircraft,” Murphy said.

“I wear it for all the people that deserved it and didn’t receive it,” Murphy said.

Ken Zellmer of Sherwood received two DFC medals as a pilot in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.

The first, as a first lieutenant, he flew a C-130 loaded with needed supplies to U.S. forces on Dec. 4, 1968, at Song Be, Vietnam.

“They were under attack with rockets, mortars and Cobra gunships. We were on the ground for less than five minutes,” Zellmer said.

Zellmer, as a captain on May, 1, 1971, was flying an A-37 in Cambodia.

“On the way back from dropping bombs, we gave a few passes, shooting to help the friendlies. We were running low on fuel,” Zellmer said.