In Memoriam: The Silent Warriors

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What images are conjured up when you hear “The Cold War”? Does it make you think of espionage? The Iron Curtain? The Politburo? Cuban Missile Crisis? Kruschev? Checkpoint Charlie? The Berlin Airlift? Those are all typical answers from the average American that was alive and even somewhat aware of global politics anywhere from 1947 to 1991. It was called the Cold War because there were no large scale engagements between the Western Bloc countries and the opposing Eastern Bloc countries. NATO versus the Warsaw Pact nations. East against West. Sure, there were small skirmishes and minor engagements between some proxy countries but the major powers merely sat back while simultaneously building up their paranoia and their nuclear arsenals. Direct contact between the USSR and the United States was minimal and only a few stories, like Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 shootdown, made it anywhere close to national headlines. But there were other, more serious incidents that remain as unknown now as they were then. To some, the Cold War involved actual life and death situations.

One such incident involves 17 men who were lost in the line of duty while flying an unarmed aircraft near Soviet Armenia on September 2, 1958. USAF flight 60528, an unarmed C-130A-II, took off from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey with a crew of 6 aircraft personnel, 9 linguists, and 2 maintenance technicians onboard. Their mission was to fly a racetrack pattern close to the border of Soviet Armenia while remaining in Turkish airspace and use their onboard antennas to pick up any radio communications they could for translation and analysis. This was a typical SIGINT (signals intelligence) mission and had become a routine type of mission for this area. In fact, Flight 605238 reported clear weather and everything in the green as it reached an altitude of 25,000 feet. It was never heard from again.

12939588_10205508187773225_1964089894_nAs this was in the era before GPS, most navigation was done using radio beacons of known frequencies, and due to a Soviet beacon in the Tblisi Air Defense District using a similar frequency as the beacon near Trabzon, Turkey, the aircraft mistakenly crossed into Soviet airspace. The National Security Agency helplessly recorded Soviet aircraft communications describing the aircraft sighting and subsequent shootdown. According to the transcripts, four Soviet MiG-17 fighters were directed to the “hostile” “enemy” C-130’s location. At no point did they attempt to make radio contact with the aircraft. Never did they attempt to communicate visually with them. There were no attempts made to escort it out of their airspace. They clearly identified it as a “big transport” and then each fighter took a turn firing at it until it burst into flames, broke apart, and crashed outside the village of Sasnashen.

The incident was not made public because of the obvious and sensitive nature of that type of mission. 12939601_10205508192693348_1034362282_nThe State Department even waited two days before contacting the Soviets, and once confronted, the ambassador denied his country’s role in shooting down the aircraft but did confirm that they found a crash site. He even refused to listen to the recordings of the attack, dismissing them as propaganda. Later, after considerable and lengthy negotiations, six sets of remains were handed over and the fate of the other eleven crew members was not revealed. It would be another 40 years before the rest of Flight 60528 would make it home.

In 1996, Lt Gen Kenneth Minihan, then the Director of the National Security Agency, directed Col. Wyat Cook to help create a memorial for the crew of Flight 60528. Within less than a year, a moth-balled C-130 was located and restored to flight status, repainted, and delivered to Tipton Field across from Ft. George G. Meade, MD. After the wings, tail, and engines were removed, it was transported across base to its final resting place, National Vigilance Park, and reassembled for its dedication on September 2, 1997, 39 years to the day of its unfortunate demise.

12914821_10205508192053332_209533284_oOne year later, on September 2, 1998, the remaining crew members’ remains were laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. Flight 60528 had finally returned home in its entirety. I was proud to have had a hand in the planning and preparation for their memorial and I look back on the day I watched that aircraft land in my truck’s rearview mirror while driving down Tipton Field as one of the proudest of my military career.

National Vigilance Park has constructed more memorials since then, to commemorate some of the 13 total reconnaissance aircraft shot down during the duration of the Cold War. These “Silent Warriors” were lost in the line of duty under less than ideal conditions. They were usually close to hostile environments in unarmed aircraft, often operating under strict radio silence, and typically out of range of Search and Rescue assets. That didn’t deter them from their assigned missions. With the exception of Francis Gary Powers, these men were unknown outside of their friends and families. But Flight 60528’s sacrifice is not forgotten. In addition to the memorial next to the NSA, there’s a plaque outside of the little town of Sasnashen, that was placed there by the locals. It reads, “We must never forget that freedom is never really free. It is the most costly thing in the world. Freedom is never paid in a lump sum. Installments come due in every generation. All any of us can do is offer the generations that follow a chance for freedom.”

In Memory of: Capt. Paul Duncan, Capt. Rudy Swiestra, Capt. Edward Jeruss, 1st Lt. John Simpson, Lt. Ricardo Villareal, MSgt. George Petrochilos, A1C Robert Oshinskie, SSgt. Leroy Price, Tsgt. Arthur Mello, A2C Gerald Maggiacomo, A2C Clement Mankins, A2C Robert Moore, A2c Archie Bourg, Jr., A2C Harold Kamps, A2C Joel Fields, A2C James Ferguson, Jr., and A2C Gerald Medeiros.

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Posted by on April 1, 2016. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION,War. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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5 Responses to In Memoriam: The Silent Warriors

  1. Michael John Scott

    April 1, 2016 at 9:29 am

    I’m old enough to remember the Cold War, and remember it vividly. This is a passionate tribute to the heroes of that dangerous time. Thanks Josh.

    • Josh Fielder

      April 1, 2016 at 11:56 am

      Thanks, Mike. That dedication ceremony was the only time I ever cried in uniform. If you’re ever near Ft Meade, I highly recommend a visit to National Vigilance Park.

      • Michael John Scott

        April 1, 2016 at 2:59 pm

        I was there, at Ft. Meade, but it’s been about 45 years. I was stationed near there, at a place called Fort Holabird, which was close to Meade. We visited the base several times but missed the park.

  2. Bill Formby

    April 2, 2016 at 11:51 am

    Great Post Josh. Semper Fi To those who were lost.

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