Blind Bat, Yellowbirds, Willy the Whale, the "Night Intruders" on Uncle Ho's trail
December 15, 2004, updated May 30, 2013
Blindbat Photo Gallery: The crews
Photos of Blind Bat hat and patch provided by Darrell Parker.
This is a memorial plate for Blind Bat that has been dedicated at the National Museum of the US Air Force at Dayton, Ohio.
This is the display at the National Museu of the US Air Force honoring the flare missions, Candlestick, Lamplighter and Blind Bat. Garry Arndt sent me this photo. I want to present the words in the display.
The blue “flight suit” is the party suit worn by Colonel Elebash, a 606th SOS pilot who flew C-123K Candlestick missions in 1968.”
“Turning Night into Day.
“Candlesticks, Lamplighters, and Blind Bats.
“The enemy used the cover of darkness to move and attack. Air Force flareships played an important role in lighting the night sky over friendly positions.
“Flareship crews also directed night air strikes, often against trucks on the Ho Ci Minh Trail. They used night observation devices --- or ‘Starlight scopes’ --- to detect the enemy, then dropped flares to mark and reveal the targets to strike aircraft.
“Two USAF units performed the flareship mission in Laos and on occasion in North Vietnam. The 606th Special Operations Squadron flew C-123Ks under the callsign “Candlestick.” Elements in the 374th Tactical Airlift Wing flew C-130 flareship missions under the callsign ‘Blind Bat: or ‘Lamplight.’”
“Blind Bat Patch: Blind Bat was the call sign for flare missions in southern Laos while Lamplighter was used for missions in northern Laos or Vietnam.”
“MK-24 Parachute Flare” The MK-24 parachute flare was widely used by US forces in Southeast Asia. After being dropped from an airplane or helicopter, it ignited and then burned at two million candle-power for about three minutes”
We'll close by introducing you to some of the Blindbat aircrews. Anyone having more photos can send them to us and we'll add them to this gallery.
These are the Blindbats; they got theirs at night!
This next set of photos was either sent to me by John R. Philson or John alerted me to them for my use here.
817th TAS crew, L-R (educated guessing): TSgt Frenchie Poynter, engineer; SSgt. Ron OMps, loadmaster; Capt Ed Sleeper, pilot; 1st Lt Doug Beacham, navigator; Capt. Dave Behrens, co-pilot. Provided by Doug Beacham: “The picture was taken at Pleiku, Viet Nam in November 1967. It was taken for an article in The Stars and Stripes featuring our "Stewardess." We flew Blind Bat together in the spring of 1968 destroying 77 trucks during that period. Ed Sleeper flew the mission on and off from 1965 until 1968 and recorded over 100 missions. I flew with another crew in later 1968 and recording a total of 58 flare missions.”
Hal Talbot’s Blind Bat crew.
Wayne Warner provided this photo, and said, “I am not sure but from seeing pictures and reading about Blindbat I believe we may have had the only all Lieutenant crew that flew Blindbat missions.” The nav was Lt. Curt Newland, standing to the far right. Warner, standing second from the left, could not recall the co-pilot’s name (standing between the two) but he had just been promoted to 1st Lt. Warner flew 18 Blind Bat missions before upgrading to aircraft commander, then 66 as AC/Mission Commander. Warner was also a lieutenant. He added, “Of my 84 missions in Blindbat, 68 were in Route Pack One with 2 in Route Pack 5. On 13 January 1967 two Navy A-4s collided under our flares - we located the survivors, alerted search and rescue, and directed the recovery of one of the downed pilots - the other pilot perished during the night extraction attempt.”
Back row (L-R): Maj. Frank Camstra, Capt Jerry Vance, Major Vince Markalonis (Nav), Richard Kawzinski; Front row (L-R): Joseph Soto, James Ford, Donald Beardsley. Circa 1968.
Blind Bat 06. Back row (L-R): Lt. Don Hobert, co-pilot; SSgt Jim Perales, flight engineer; Capt. Bill London, navigator; Maj. Joe Siniuk, navigator; Front row (L-R): Sgt. Wayne White, loadmaster; Capt. John Harrison, aircraft commander; Sgt. Dennis Hartley, loadmaster; Sgt. Don Broxton, loadmaster. This crew was applauded for its mission of May 13, 1969, working with Yellowbird 25, a B-57 from Phan Rang AB in Steel Tiger south (southeastern Laos). The crew set up, maintained timely and accurate surveillance of the target, and passed them on to Yellowbird for action. In spite of heavy 37 mm fire, the crew spotted 14 enemy trucks, selected four for attack, synchronized his flight with that of Yellowbird, kept his lights on so Yellowbird knew where Blindbat 06 was, and enabled Yellowbird to attack the fast moving trucks and kill them.
Front row (L-R): Navigator or co-pilot; Major Ronald Dudley, aircraft commander; Navigator or co-pilot. Back row (L-R): Sgt Frost, loadmaster; SSgt Donald Brandt, loadmaster; Sgt. Garry Arndt, loadmaster; TSgt Harris, flight engineer.
Sgt. Garry Arndt, loadmaster, preparing to load a flare.
Garry Arndt sent me these two photos and provided some interesting background. He said he was assigned to the 7th Aerial Port Squadron in Naha, Okinawa. The loadmasters were assigned to different missions for training, combat experience, and flight time. As a loadmaster with the aerial port, he did all the drop training for the regular squadron crews. He also flew aboard missions over North Vietnam dropping propaganda leaflets. He was assigned to the AC-47 “Spooky” gunships out of Danang AB, RVN for six months and worked with mobility teams along the Cambodian border during the US incursion. At Cam Ranh Bay, he rigged and dropped the 10,000 and 15,000 “Daisy Cutter” bombs. He was also sent to Korea during the Pueblo Crisis on mobility teams. And, he was assigned to Blind Bat at Ubon Royal Thai Air Base for 84 missions. During his assignment there, the Blind Bats lost Blind Bat 01. As you can see, these loadmasters saw a lot of different action, Blind Bat included.
Hal Talbot’s Blind Bat crew
Steve W. loadmaster top left, standing
Captain Charles E. Roberts at the crew door of a C-130A Blindbat, circa 1969-70. Photo provided by Lynda Roberts.
Blindbat crew before a mission, 1967, from the 817th Troop Carrier Squadron (TCS), home-station, Naha, Okinawa, Japan. We could use some help identifying all these guys, but here's what we have. Back row, L-R: Bill (good athlete), loadmaster; "Tub", engineer; Don Kuecker and "Twiggy," both loadmasters. Front row, L-R: Navigator (Air Force Academy grad), Aircraft Commander, Lt. Col. Meyers, co-pilot; Navigator (Air Force Academy grad). Photo provided by Don Kuecker.
In the cockpit with Capt. Cal Peterson on the left, aircraft commander; SSgt. Joe Almeida, flight engineer in the middle; and 1Lt. Trip Meade, co-pilot, far right.
"Blindbat Crew 9." Rear row, L-R: Lt. Col. W.B.McDonald, aircraft commander. Capt. Gene Perkins, navigator; Major Jim Cinotto, navigator, Lt. Ken Trease, co-pilot. Front row, L-R: SSgt Carl "Willy" Williams, loadmaster. Bill Tkacs, loadmaster. Joe Kotai, flight engineer. Mike Shanley, loadmaster.
A 20 year-old SSgt. Bill Tkacs checks his Night Observation Device (NOD).
Major George Nadler's crew, with Major Nadler rear row, far left.
This is an autographed photo of Capt Peterson's crew. Their handwriting is unique, and we could identify only a few. Front row, second from the right is the skipper, Capt. Peterson. First from the right is Lt. Trip Meade. Rear row, far left is SSgt. Tkacs, the NOD operator. Next to him we think is a fellow name "Hammond." Next to him is Lou, nicknamed "Wally." Still rear row, far right, the guy who looks a former Green Bay Packer is Joseph Almeida. Front row, far left, good old Dave. Next to him, the autograph was too faded to read, but we could see he was the navigator.
This photo was taken by Steve Randall, now living in Yakima, Washington. He said it has been a long time, April or May 1968, but gave a shot at identifying as many as he could. L-R, Loadmaster Gary Cook, loadmaster Steven Randall, Engineer Carey, aircraft commander Flaugher, loadmaster Robert Moon, and then he thinks the navigator and the co-pilot.
Look Ma, it's us! Chester Smith sitting in front, Darrell Parker in the rear, 1969 to early 1970. Both loadmasters on Bat Crew #10. Parker made 110 Blind Bat missions.
Standing L to R: Lt. Lloyd K. Clayton, co-pilot; Maj John F. Hilgenberg, aircraft commander; Maj. Robert L. Evers, navigator; SSgt Peter J. Staffan, flight engineer. Front L to R: Sgt. Steven P. Weisgarber, loadmaster; Sgt. Tim P. J. Dotsie, loadmaster; Capt. William H. Kirchman, navigator; Sgt William J. Barrett, loadmaster.
Standing L to R: John Knarr, navigator; Ron Matteson, aircraft commander; Charles Ries, co-pilot. Fron L to R: Bernard Ehle, flight engineer; Steven Pennypacker, loadmaster; James Crepeau, loadmaster; Larry Lund, loadmaster.
1Lt Mead briefs Laotian interpreter as rest of crew loads the truck prior to a mission.
Standing L-R: Herm Clark; Gary Peters, loadmaster, Bob Fry, loadmaster Woody. Front L-R: Capt Buckner co-pilot, Maj Webb, aircraft commander; Maj Hutcherson, navigator.
Crew chief (L) and SSgt Kotai (R).
J P Morgan’s crew with the BlindBat Beret.
Crews load up and await their rotation back to Naha, Okinawa, Japan, home base.
Lt. Trip Meade catching a "nay-nay" prior to a Blindbat rotation
Hat's off and Bats on to all of you! Crew Chief Denham pours the champagne at a Blindbat party.
Blindbat crew lost over Laos makes the flight home.
Blind Bat Plaque, Major George Nadler, aircraft commander, 150 missions, June 1969 - March 1970.
During the Vietnam war, there was always enormous pride among those who flew 100 combat missions. This kind of patch was a real badge of courage.
"We lit the trail." The Blindbats have organized and held their second reunion in April 2005 in Biloxi, Mississippi. The door prize was this quilt made by a lady who works for the wife of one of the Blindbats, entitled, "we lit the trail." His wife and she designed it and did the sewing. It is made up of one inch squares backed by padding and then sewn together to depict a Blindbat dropping flares over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Thanks to Ralph Kracs for the photo, and thanks to the ladies for the terrific quilt. We understand Joe Tucker won the quilt. Tucker was mentioned in our article as a participant in the LGB combat testing program. (07/18/05)