(This article appeared in Hangar Talk, The News of the 317th Veterans Group, February, 2002)
Two of our veterans were navigators on the first flight of a 4 engine aircraft into Kabul in 1959. The aircraft was a C-130A of the 317th TCW from Evreux AFB, France. The 317th was there first...........
Afghanistan Independence Day 1959
--- By Ed Merck
One of the more unique missions I was a part of while at Evreux was a trip to Kabul, Afghanistan in 1959. The country was celebrating their 40th year of independence from Britain with a week long schedule of activities. The United States was invited to send a contingent to join in the celebration.
This was before we built them a modem airport, so the C-130 was chosen to bring in the American contingent and provide a good show. There had never been a four engine bird landing on their dirt field.
Lt. Col. Jim Hunter chose to circle the city before we landed to show off a little bit. When we landed and blew up a large dust cloud when the props were reversed with a loud roar, some natives thought we exploded when we disappeared into the dust -- then the miracle happened when we appeared again. They parked us next to the two engine Russian plane with armed guards around it, and we welcomed the crowd to tour the aircraft. This surprised the Russian aircrew who had theirs secured, but they also took a look at the C130 and were amazed at the crew comforts, backup communications, etc.
The Air Attache insisted we stay at his house instead of at the arranged quarters the Afghan military had planned for us, so we were included at various embassy parties during our stay. We ran into the Russian crew at several of these events and compared notes. One of the major events during that week was a gigantic parade of all their military equipment, flyover, mounted cavalry, etc. The Attache asked if we would try to remember as much as we could about any markings we saw on the tanks and aircraft furnished the Afghans by the Russians.
Gene Keifer and I found a great viewing spot above ground level where we were eventually joined by other viewers. Some Afghan uniformed men kept the others from blocking our view -- I don't know who they thought we were. So Gene was able to get a lot of good pictures from that location. When we returned to the house that evening, the Attache informed us that the men he and the Army Attache had positioned around town to get pictures had all had their cameras and film confiscated. It apparently was illegal to take pictures. He was astounded when Gene nnounced he had more than one roll of film, especially when he was told that Afghans had helped him get that good view. Gene left his film with the Attache who later sent the printed photos to him.
BGen William F. Train, Asst. Division Cmdr of the 8th Infantry Division, was the senior official in our group. He was a longtime student of military fortifications. He mentioned this at one of the embassy parties and told a senior Pakistan official of his interest in the Khyber Pass. The Pakistani asked Col. Hunter why we didn't just fly over there and visit it. When told that we could not cross borders without diplomatic clearance and orders from our headquarters, he said he would take care of that. The next day we had orders wired to us with an invitation from the Pakistan government to visit Peshawar, the Khyber Pass, and be treated as special guests of their government. So we extended our mission to do just that.
C-130 aircraft number 56-0456, commanded by Lt. Col. James H. Hunter, then Commander of the 40th TCS. Other 40th TCS crew members on this mission were: Capt. Thomas R Dickenson, Pilot; Lt. Gerard E. Greaux, copilot; Lt. Herman E Kiefer, III, Navigator; Lt. Edward M Merck, Navigator; TSgt Norman J Kotlewski, Engineer; TSgt Jesse D Jobe, Engineer; SSgt Donald A Cooper, Engineer; SSgt Kenneth R King, Loadmaster; A2C Andrew E Alps, Loadmaster; Capt. Armstead E Hudnall, MD, Flight Surgeon (317th TAC Hosp). In addition to Gen. Train, we carried along an Army marching unit to march in the parade.