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The Vietnam War — C.J. Molitor as an Air Force Loadmaster in Vietnam

The Lyon County Museum is organizing an exhibit about the impact of the Vietnam War on Lyon County. This continues a series of columns about residents affected by that war. If you would like to help this effort or with the exhibit, please contact me at the email address after the column or Jennifer Andries at the museum at 537-6580.

We’ve been learning about Milroy’s C.J. “Cy” Molitor’s Air Force service, which he entered at 17 in 1949. He was a crewman on wartime flights over North Korea during the Korean War. After the war he interrupted his Air Force service with a Navy enlistment that took him to Japan, but later reenlisted in the Air Force.

Cy was assigned to Langley Air Force Base, Virginia in 1967 when the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War reached out to him. He recalled, “I was at Headquarters, Tactical Air Command at Langley, Virginia when I received orders (to Vietnam)”

A friend advised Cy to remove his loadmaster qualification from his records before going to Vietnam, unless he wanted to return to flight status. Cy recalled, “I didn’t take it off. I landed in Cam Ranh Bay and then I was assigned to Phan Rang Air Base, which is south of there about 60 miles.”

Cy described his first assignment at Phan Rang, “I was working in . . . plans and programs. I was one of the guys that would monitor landing systems, new communications systems, and this sort of thing. It was a good job.”

Cy’s good job lasted but a couple weeks before Major Cole, the commander of Cy’s operations squadron, called him to his office.

Cy recalled that meeting, “He said. ‘Molitor, I’ve got some bad news for you, I think.’ I said, ‘Thanks a lot. (Cy laughed) So he says, ‘They’re going to put you back on flying status.’ I said, ‘Oh, crap! I forgot to take that off.’ So, anyway, that’s what happened.”

Flying status meant that Cy was being reassigned as a loadmaster on C-123 cargo aircraft. A loadmaster conducts pre-flight aircraft checks; supervises loading and unloading of the aircraft; and scans for any cargo or aircraft problems on the ground or in-flight.

Cy had an important function aboard his aircraft, but he made no bones about his regard for the C-123, “They were a bad plane. They were old — a two-engine plane. But you could land them in a lot of places.”

He remembered a scary experience on what should have been a routine C-123 cargo flight.

“I had one of the biggest scares on one of them. We had two jet engines aboard. We were heading down to Tan Son Nhut Air Base, which was at Saigon. We had just lifted off. Colonel Linebacker was the pilot. The engine on my side coughed and the wing dipped. The wing didn’t miss the ground by more than that much (indicating 18 inches). I thought it was over. (The engine) caught and went back in, thank goodness! Linebacker called back and says, “Molitor, you all right?” I said, “Yeah, but I think we should go around so I can change my pants.” (Cy laughed)

Cy explained that his most common resupply missions aboard C-123s involved the aircraft delivering its cargo without ever landing.

“We used them mostly for shooting touch and goes. (The cargo is) loaded on skids. And there’s only one skid per plane because when you touch, you trip it and it goes out. The parachute pulls it out and onto the runway and you just keep going. Mine skidded pretty well all the time. You’re standing there by the drop door and it goes shooting by you because it goes by pretty fast once you release it.”

Cy got plenty of experience executing “touch and goes” when the Marines at Khe Sanh Combat Base near the Demilitarized Zone with North Vietnam were cut off from land resupply by the North Vietnamese army in January 1968.

“When the Marines were under siege at Khe Sanh, we flew 23 tough-and-goes there. We’d take medical supplies one time; food another time; ammunition another time — whatever they needed. And a lot of times when we were coming in they’d lob mortars onto the steel runway there and try to hit us, but we never got hit. Scary, though.”

Cy also crewed long-distance, medevac flights.

“I also flew out of Danang on support flights to the Philippines on C-141’s. We flew wounded in them. They’d have four racks on each side and then big, double racks down the middle with wounded. But, it was pretty hard on me. There was this one Marine. He was in the second bunk up from the bottom and right across from where I was monitoring engines and stuff. He was laying there and he never moved his head from the time we loaded him in there. He just looked straight up all the way. I asked the flight nurse what’s wrong with him and she said, ‘Shell shock.’ I don’t think he was over 18 or 19. I thought was his whole life ruined because of that?”

Cy had extreme experiences like these while serving as loadmaster aboard cargo aircraft, but he also shared some extreme experiences while on the ground at air bases in Vietnam where he served.

I welcome your participation in and ideas about our exploration of prairie lives. You may reach me at prairieviewpressllc@gmail.com.

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