Read Mayday Over Wichita Online

Authors: D. W. Carter

Mayday Over Wichita

Published by The History Press

Charleston, SC 29403

Copyright © 2013 by D. W. Carter

All rights reserved

Front cover
: Courtesy of Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum (crowd) and 22
Air Refueling Wing History Office (plane).

First published 2013

e-book edition 2013

Manufactured in the United States

ISBN 978.1.62584.508.5

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Carter, D. W.

Mayday over Wichita : the worst military aviation disaster in Kansas history / D.W. Carter.

pages cm

print edition ISBN 978-1-62619-052-8 (pbk.)

1. Aircraft accidents--Kansas--Wichita. 2. Airplanes, Military--Accidents--Kansas--Wichita. 3. Aircraft accident victims--Kansas--Wichita--History--20th century. 4. African Americans--Kansas--Wichita--History--20th century. 5. KC-135 (Tanker aircraft)--Accidents--History. 6. United States. Air Force--History--20th century. 7. Wichita (Kan.)--History--20th century. I. Title.

TL553.525.K36C37 2013



: The information in this book is true and complete to the best of our knowledge. It is offered without guarantee on the part of the author or The History Press. The author and The History Press disclaim all liability in connection with the use of this book.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form whatsoever without prior written permission from the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.



Captain Czeslaw Szmuc, 35, North Royalton, Ohio

Captain Gary J. Widseth, 26, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Second Lieutenant Arthur W. Sullivan, 22, Miami, Florida

Staff Sergeant Reginald Went, 34, Baltimore, Maryland

Staff Sergeant Joseph W. Jenkins, 29, Middlesboro, Kentucky

Airman First Class Daniel E. Kenenski, 20, Harrisville, Rhode Island

Airman Second Class John L. Davidson, 21, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Gary L. Martin, 17, 2031 North Piatt

Joe T. Martin Jr., 25, 2031 North Piatt

Clyde Holloway, 44, 2037 North Piatt

Tracy Randolph, 5, 2037 North Piatt

Dewey Stevens, 66, 2037 North Piatt

Claude L. Daniels Sr., 32, 2037 North Piatt

Mary Daniels, 56, 2037 North Piatt

Julia A. Maloy, 8, 2041 North Piatt

Julius R. Maloy, 6, 2041 North Piatt

Emmit Warmsley Sr., 37, 2041 North Piatt

Emmit Warmsley Jr., 12, 2041 North Piatt

Laverne Warmsley, 25 and her unborn child, 2041 North Piatt

Ernest E. Pierce Jr., 46, 2047 North Piatt

Delwood Coles, 34, 2047 North Piatt

Albert L. Bolden, 22, 2053 North Piatt

Wilma J. Bolden, 24, 2053 North Piatt

Leslie I. Bolden, 9 months, 2053 North Piatt

Denise M. Jackson, 6, 2053 North Piatt

Brenda J. Dunn, 5, 2053 North Piatt

Cheryl A. Dale, 2, 2059 North Piatt

Alice Dale, 47, 2059 North Piatt

James L. Glover, 22, 2101 North Piatt

Remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites both for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of individual victims

—Judith Herman,
Trauma and Recovery



1. Seven Men

2. A Routine Sortie

3. Impact

4. Fire All Around

5. Going into Hell

6. The KC-135

7. Inside the Cockpit

8. Recovering Victims

9. Picking Up the Pieces

10. Racial Barriers in Recovery

11. A Divided City and Country

12. Why It Crashed: The Rumors

13. Why It Crashed: The Report

14. A Subtle Killer

15. The Settlement Process

16. Final Settlements

17. The Long-Awaited Memorial




About the Author


It would take a much larger volume to capture every story and document every heart touched by the Piatt Street tragedy. This short work is merely a glimpse, only a highlight, as far more could be said. Notwithstanding, primary source material is the lifeblood of historians, and the work of history is a never-ending search—lest we historians would soon be without employment. Therefore, I am grateful to many for their contributions in creating this chronicle.

First, I thankfully acknowledge the Piatt Street crash survivors and the victims' family members who shared their stories, historic documents and photographs with me: Mark Carlyle, Victor Daniels, Sonya House, Irene J. Huber, Clyde Stevens and Jeanine Widseth.

I express my gratitude to: Mary Nelson at the Special Collections and University Archives at Wichita State University Libraries, who made available numerous primary source documents on the disaster and Wichita history; Daniel P. Williams, the 22
Air Refueling Wing Historian at McConnell Air Force Base, for his extensive help in locating source materials and photographs; and Pat Young, the Resource Collection Coordinator at the Disaster Research Center in Delaware for her assistance in finding taped interviews and valuable documents (once thought to be lost).

Additionally, I am appreciative for all those who aided me through the sharing of their firsthand accounts: Walt Campbell, one of the first firemen to arrive on scene that terrible day; Merv Criser, also a fireman, who provided me with an abundance of resources from the Kansas Firefighters' Museum that he has so meticulously preserved; and Earl Tanner, a Wichita fireman who, like Campbell and Criser, battled the blaze on Piatt Street. Of great help, too, was Larry Hatteberg, who in addition to his story donated important and stunning photographs to this project, and Larry McDonough and John Polson, who provided vivid accounts of the events on the day of the disaster.

Others to whom I am indebted for their contributions are: Technical Sergeant Brandon Blodgett and Airman First Class Thomas Carter, for their extensive help with researching the KC-135; Gene Countryman for his support on the
Gene Countryman Radio Show
; Caitlin R. Donnelly, Head of Public Services at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library; Dr. Gretchen Cassel Eick, who was gracious in sharing her knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement in Wichita; Kansas Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau, for her assistance in locating survivors and photographs; Jamie M. Haig, Division Manager for the U.S. Courthouse in Wichita, Kansas; Richard Harris, Chairman, Kansas Aviation Centennial; Ralph Hipp and his support from WIBW; Captain Benjamin Jamison and his help with understanding the complex aspects of aviation; the Kansas State Historical Society; Cindy Klose and her support at KWCH 12; KAKE-TV for providing still images; and Richard Kluger, one of the greatest social historians of our time, who graciously encouraged my efforts.

I must thank, too: Amy Renee Leiker, a reporter for the
Wichita Eagle
, who first broke the story of my book in print; Becky LeJeune, my Commissioning Editor at The History Press, for her passion and support of local history; my manuscript proofreaders, David D. Ross and Tess Wilson; Pat Moyer from KPTS, for a wonderful interview on
; Thom Rosenblum, a friend and historian for the National Park Service; the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library; Jami Frazier Tracy, Curator of Collections at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum; Van Williams, City of Wichita Spokesman; and J. Schafer, the voice of Kansas Public Radio, who gave me my first shot at publicizing the book on the radio.

And for their inspiration, I wish to thank: Apostle Cornelius Sanders II, PhD, whose faith, prayers and overwhelming support is beyond words; Paul and Laurie Browning, my family, whose love and enthusiasm for my work are without measure; and to my wife, Lyndzie, my chief supporter and advisor, who first read and edited the manuscript and endured my incessant talk about the project and who, above others, understands the solitude of a military historian.

With much gratitude and affection,

D. W. C



They were seven capable and confident men. Some were officers, some enlisted. Some wore bars, others stripes. Each was dressed in a sage green K-2B flight suit—affixed with an abundance of zippers, pockets and patches—distinguishing their ranks and titles. They carried maps, checklists and orders outlining their mission. Their time in service was wide-ranging, some longer than others. Most, though not all, had never set foot in Kansas. They came from all over: Ohio, Minnesota, Florida, Maryland, Kentucky, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. Their occupations varied—pilot, copilot, navigator, boom operator and crew chief—but each had a specific commitment to the service that intertwined their destinies.

They were common men, young with high aspirations. Only two were above the age of thirty. All were determined; not one was passive. They lacked nothing in spirit, diligence or temerity. Each had a burning conviction of his devotion to country. None claimed to be a hero, though they were heroic. Each possessed his own talents, idiosyncrasies and flaws. But when assembled, they were a solid crew. These airmen represented another wave of patriotic, steadfast Americans heading into what had become, by 1965, an escalating and ultimately protracted war: Vietnam. Leaving their homes, serving their country, sacrificing time with loved ones, using all their strength, they were taking part in something bigger than themselves.

They were seven men in the prime of their lives, completely unaware of the grim fate awaiting them. And on the frigid morning of January 16, 1965, they entered through the gates of McConnell Air Force Base (AFB) and onto the flight line for the very last time.

Duty-bound, their boots shining in the Kansas morning sun, they climbed aboard Boeing Aircraft Company's revolutionary design for aerial refueling—a mammoth KC-135A-BN Stratotanker with the tail number 57-1442, or “Raggy 42,” as it was so nicknamed—to engage in a vital undertaking.


Their mission was ironically named “Operation Lucky Number,” but it was not their original assignment. Their orders were switched at the last minute from a refueling mission in the Pacific called “Flying Fish”—which developed as a result of the Gulf of Tonkin incident on August 2, 1964, when the USS
opened fire on three North Vietnamese Navy torpedo boats of the 135
Torpedo Squadron.
The Gulf of Tonkin incident marked the beginning of America's deeper involvement in Vietnam. And with the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution only five days later, President Lyndon B. Johnson gained the authority from Congress “to take all necessary steps,” the resolution said, “including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom.”
Despite not having a formal declaration of war from Congress, the resolution provided a
justification for Johnson to begin deploying U.S. conventional forces into Southeast Asia. It was also a signpost of America's further entanglement with and warfare against North Vietnam and communist aggression.

As a consequence of Johnson's actions, the resolution greatly affected members of the U.S. Air Force (USAF) stationed at air refueling bases. Bombers do not fly without fuel, and there was work to be done. Tactical Air Command (TAC) aircraft, frequently heading into Southeast Asia during this period, were refueled by KC-135s.
Strategic Air Command (SAC) bombers, making rotations to Andersen AFB in Guam, were refueled by KC-135s. And just about any U.S. military aircraft, needing close air support, especially in Vietnam, were often refueled by KC-135s. The United States dropped “three times as many bombs in Southeast Asia,” one historian noted, “as it did in all of World War II.”
The tremendous bombing and refueling by the U.S. military between 1965 and 1974 even gave rise to a new acronym amongst aerial refuelers: NKAWTG or “Nobody Kicks Ass Without Tanker Gas.” Enough said.

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