Authors: D. W. Carter
Published by The History Press
Charleston, SC 29403
Copyright Â© 2013 by D. W. Carter
All rights reserved
: 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
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Carter, D. W.
Mayday over Wichita : the worst military aviation disaster in Kansas history / D.W. Carter.
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.
: 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
Trauma and Recovery
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 searchâlest 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
, 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 suitâaffixed with an abundance of zippers, pockets and patchesâdistinguishing 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 variedâpilot, copilot, navigator, boom operator and crew chiefâbut 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 refuelingâa mammoth KC-135A-BN Stratotanker with the tail number 57-1442, or “Raggy 42,” as it was so nicknamedâto 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”âwhich 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
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.