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News > History of Travis in the '70s
History of Travis in the '70s

Posted 8/25/2011   Updated 8/25/2011 Email story   Print story


by Tech Sgt. Christopher Thompson
660th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron

8/25/2011 - TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Travis Air Force Base in the 1960s was home to an "aircraft revolution" of modernization.

Turbine driven aircraft, such as the C-130, C-141 and C-135, soared over the Solano countryside.

The base also tended to various humanitarian and support operations, in addition to military ones such as the Vietnam War.

The 1970s brought a winding down of the Vietnam War, the cresting of racial tensions on base, the arrival of another new aircraft, Cold War struggles in Europe and South America, and, again, countless and various unique humanitarian and support missions.

The decade started out with a hefty addition to the Travis AFB fleet.

On Oct. 24, 1970, the first C-5 Galaxy arrived on station. This monstrous aircraft had an empty weight of almost 374,000 lbs. Its massive fuselage could carry any feasible Army equipment, including the M-1 Abrams tank or any high caliber howitzer. The aircraft could also be modified to carry and mid-air launch a Minuteman inter-continental ballistic missile. Each month more and more C-5s arrived at Travis until the summer of 1974 when the 36th and last C-5 was accepted. The aircraft continues its service here today.
The dazzling arrival of the Galaxy, however, could not hide the growing racial tensions on base.

During four days in May of 1971 a riot erupted in the 1300 dormitory complex on base. The original altercation was over a minor noise complaint, but soon enveloped the whole dorm complex and pitted black versus white.

Black service members had a long list of grievances, including unequal pay and leave authorization. During the riot 30 personnel were injured and more than 100 were detained by the dozens of local police officers that were called in for help.

The incident was countered by the base commander's commission of a Human Relations Council. In fact, the incident had brought the issue of race to the forefront throughout the whole Air Force.

Cultural sensitivity courses were held throughout the whole branch which aided in the cooperation of the various cultures and in the mitigation of racism.

The racial tensions in the service were partly caused by a conflict that was finally winding down; the Vietnam War.

Travis cargo and passenger statistics from 1970 to 1975 highlight the drawdown of American forces from Vietnam.

While 1965 to 1970 saw more than 5 million personnel go forward from Travis, the following five years saw only a fraction of this number.
Nonetheless, the aerial port did not get a break nonetheless. In January 1973, following the Paris Peace Accords, American prisoners of war (POWs) began to come home during a special operation labeled Operation Homecoming.

Within a few days of the accord three Travis C-141 aircraft were enroute to Hanoi to retrieve the first 116 POWs.

On Valentine's Day, 1973, the first group of 20 service members, those that had been in captivity for many years, stepped off a 60th Military Airlift Wing C-141 to a welcoming crowd of Travis family and friends. This historic event provided a degree of healing for the nation.

The United States not only retrieved our own POWs, but also attempted to help as many blighted Southern Vietnamese as possible.

From April to May 1975, 60th MAW forces took part in operation Babylift, which rescued nearly 3,000 orphans and brought them to America. With operations New Life and New Arrivals nearly 150,000 Vietnamese were granted refuge in the United States. Although Military Airlift Command operations consisted of the bulk of operations at Travis in the 1970s, Strategic Air Command forces on base, the KC-135, still contributed greatly.

From April to June 1972, Travis KC-135s from the 916th Air Refueling Squadron provided refuel support to SAC forces over Vietnam with operation Bullet Shot. Strategic bombing forces over Vietnam were conducting operation Linebacker II, a massive blow to the North Vietnamese which, in fact, precipitated the 1973 Paris Peace Accords.
However, these wartime operations were, however, just a fraction of the base's efforts worldwide.

In 1970 the 60th MAW directly supported the infamous Apollo 13 mission by retuning the crew to Houston, Texas inside a quarantine capsule within the aircraft.

When the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1973 President Richard Nixon responded to Israel's request for support by ordering a massive military and medical equipment resupply. Operation Nickel Grass' C-5s and C-141s from the 60 MAW flew 143 sorties into Tel Aviv, which provided critical tanks, artillery, and ammunition to our besieged ally.

In a morbid tasking in 1978 C-141s from Travis flew to Jonestown, Guyana, to return the remains of more than 900 Peoples Temple Cult members who had committed mass suicide.

The 60 MAW continued to fly humanitarian missions throughout the world, including Antarctica, Ceylon, Africa, the Middle East and, in 1979, to Three Mile Island, Pa., to help clean up a nuclear mishap.

Furthermore, Travis directly supported the ongoing operation REFORGER, a show of force that demonstrated NATO's right to aid and reinforce Berlin, Germany.

The 1970s saw a constantly vigilant Travis around the world. Its new arsenal of C-5s, coupled with the C-141s and KC-135s, ensured that the base would continue to be called on by the nation.

Next week, with the 1980s, we will see Travis in Grenada and Panama, partnering with the Soviet Union and again providing ready support to those who needed it around the globe.

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