After more than 23,500 hours of flight and approximately 47 years in service, the MC-130E Combat Talon I known as the “Godfather” left the ground at Duke Field, Fla., for the last time June 22 for its ultimate mission.
The aircraft with the tail number 64-0523 took off for its final resting place – a special operations airpark at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.
“It’s always sad to see these significant aircraft retire,” said Col. Anthony Comtois, the 919th Special Operations Wing commander. “There’s so much history behind these old birds, not just for our wing, but for both special ops and the Air Force. They’ve been a part of the Air Force’s involvement in every major conflict for the last 40 years.”
The Godfather is one of four Combat Talons retiring from Duke Field this year as the 919th SOW begins its transition toward the new aviation foreign internal defense mission.
“Change is always difficult, but it’s a good thing,” said Comtois. “Our wing is continuing to transform and grow to support the special ops mission.”
More than 40 airmen and retirees with connections to 0523 lined the flightline area to see the Godfather off. The aircraft’s nickname came about just after it arrived here in 2000. Duke Airfield was the last of four bases 0523 was stationed at through the years.
“There were four of us who were maintaining it when it first arrived,” said Rick Andreozzi, the crew chief of 0523 for nine and a half years and who gave the Talon its iconic name. “We all came from New England and had Italian heritage … that’s how the name came about.”
Of the many combat sorties in which the Godfather took part, one will always be remembered as part of special operations history.
On Aug. 21, 1970, 0523 flew lead on the Air Force assault force that brought Army Special Forces Soldiers to Son Tay to raid a prisoner-of-war camp and rescue any detainees. Prior to the raid, the soldiers involved trained for the mission at Duke Field.
“We weren’t making war, but leading a humanitarian mission deep into the heart of the enemy,” said William Guenon Jr., the retired Air Force pilot who flew 0523 on the Son Tay raid mission 42 years ago.
Although no POWs were recovered in the raid, the mission forced North Vietnam to gather POWs in fewer locations to prevent similar raids, making POW communication and organization easier. POW morale was said to have soared after word of the raid reached other camps. Later, one POW recalled that “…the Son Tay rescue attempt dispelled all doubt: We were not forgotten; our country cared.”
The Son Tay raid was one of the most complex and dangerous missions of the Southeast Asia war. It laid the groundwork for future joint forces operations by serving as a model of organization, cooperation, and flexible execution, according to National Museum of the Air Force documents.
The mission “is a permanent reminder for one faced with an impossible mission, to know it can be done with proper planning, training, and execution,” said Guenon. “Hopefully it will serve to inform, motivate and even inspire others to achieve that special goal.”