Vietnam Warplane Memorial being planned

GENESEO — The National Warplane Museum had a visit from Worldwide Aircraft Recovery over the past week to deliver the fuselage of the C-130A aircraft flown out of Saigon in the Vietnam War.

The C-130A aircraft is one of the last planes out of Saigon in 1975 during the Vietnam War, and has an interesting history regarding her harrowing escape. This historic treasure was piloted by Khiem Pham, a South Vietnamese pilot currently living in Ohio. Khiem flew the commandeered C-130 transport plane with over 50 refugees out of war-torn South Vietnam. He was transporting rice and made an unscheduled stop at an abandoned airstrip outside Saigon, where he picked up family and others and headed for the Pacific Ocean. 

This C-130A is a gift from Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The aircraft has been on display for nearly 30 years at the Dulles International Airport. The plan is to have the historic warplane restored, painted with the proper American and South Vietnamese colors, and on display for a Vietnam War Memorial by spring.

Marty Batura, Worldwide Aircraft Recovery member, said he has been doing this for 23 years. He enjoys dismantling and reassembling old warplanes across the country.

“We have been in constant contact with the museum all the way up here with the fuselage. We have been dissembling and reassembling old aircrafts for over 40 years at the Worldwide Aircraft Recovery out of Nebraska. It is a great honor and privilege to be working on these old planes,” he said. “This model was built in 1957, which makes it one of the first of its kind. They started building these planes in 1955. I have worked on just about every kind of plane you can imagine from WWI planes to the newer ones. We have moved thousands of them over the years.”

Batura said the C-130A found her way to a good home at the National Warplane Museum.

“They are really excited to have this plane here. It is really rewarding for us to see the passion they all have at the museum. This old warplane is going to need a lot of restoration,” he said. “I hope a lot of people take interest in her and help to restore it. The passion these people have will rub off on folks.”

Ray Ingram, NWM Project Manager, said he volunteered to work on spearheading this project over the last couple years. It is rewarding for him to finally see all the parts in the museum.

“It cost us about $140,000 to get this fuselage up here. The main cost was the permits needed to transfer her. Now we need to raise $450,000 to get her restored. We are going to make a Vietnam Veterans Memorial up here,” he said. “We are talking about getting a Moving Wall up here for the museum in the future. We hope that a lot of people like the idea. It will be a tough haul to get it all done. We are going to name her Saigon Lady since she flew out of Saigon.”

Ingram said he hopes to have the project done by Spring if all goes according to plan.

“The inside is complete with all that was donated to us. We have all of the original material to work with. When they let us have the plane, they only took their personal gear out of it. It will take us some time to tidy it up inside. I have been working on this project for so long, and I am just glad to have it at the museum,” he said. “We are asking anyone who wants to help us restore her to come down. We will put everyone who helped us on a plaque when we have her done. We need a good crew of enthusiastic people to help us down here. She sat outside of an airfield for 30 years, and what she needs now is tender loving care. She flew supplies in and out of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The pilot who flew her is still alive, and he wants to be part of the ceremony when we have it done.”

NWM President Austin Wadsworth said that it will be a gradual project to get the plane restored and ready for the Vietnam War Memorial.

“We plan on having her stay part of the memorial. She won’t be a flying plane. We will have her in the middle of some stones and plaques for the memorial, but she will be the centerpiece,” he said. “The other part of this is that we will honor the South Vietnamese who risked their lives to help us in Vietnam. We want to memorialize the Vietnamese people who took our cause during the war but got left behind once the war ended. This plane managed to get the pilots family to safety, but not all of them were so lucky. A lot of them helped us and got left behind at great risks to themselves and their own families. We consider this memorial a national level, not just for the local people.”

Wadsworth said he would like to see this project be a grassroots and corporate partnership that takes on a beautiful meaning.

“We need to get as many volunteers as we can get to help us restore her,” he said. “This plane was like a ghost. The pilot had flown her into the airfield and left the map on the floor. Everything was left exactly the way they found it. They took care of it a while there, but now it is our turn.”

Worldwide Aircraft Recovery members Marty Batura, Jay Henry, Jesse Bendt, and Mike Wingrove all helped in getting the rest of the plane to the Geneseo Warplane Museum. Anyone who wants to help with donations and volunteering can contact the National Warplane Museum at 585-243-2100 or visit at 3489 Big Tree Lane in Geneseo. They are open all week 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information visit www.nationalwarplanemuseum.com