An Unfriendly Alley
by Col. Larry Mayes (USAF ret)
Rapid City, SD
Photo: Larry Mayes in Vietnam
In the spring 1970, I was Port Duty Officer for the 8th Aerial Port Squadron at Tan Son Nhut AB. Our Korean allies had a dedicated C-130 (USAF crew, but mission dictated by Koreans) Flight 642 which flew weekly from TSN to Qui Nhon AB. This flight was handled completely by the Koreans from load planning to loading and unloading. I was in the flight line operations shack when I heard over the crash net that Flight 642 had declared an emergency for “fuel fumes in the cockpit” and was returning to TSN.
I hustled down to Charlie Row to meet the aircraft, to be confronted by a very angry USAF Load Master who wanted to know “who in the hell put a motorcycle under the baggage on the ramp pallet”??
Turns out the Koreans had loaded this motorcycle with a full gas tank in violation of all the rules and common sense—shortly after takeoff the gas tank started leaking and the fumes filled the plane—causing a VERY dangerous situation. Since the plane had been loaded by the Koreans, I tracked down the Korean NCO in charge of their load operations…when found, he denied any part in the incident.
Since he was responsible, regardless of who actually committed the act, I took it upon my authority to insist the aircraft be completely unloaded and the load be reweighed and reloaded correctly by USAF personnel. While this was under way the Korean NCOIC apparently decided his “face” had been lost by me and other USAF personnel taking over “his” flight, and he called for the senior Korean officer at TSN to help him.
During the final stages of re-loading and re-launching Flight 642 I was standing near the C-130’s ramp when a Korean Army major appeared…he approached me and drew his Colt .45 automatic—which he then pointed directly at my head from about 1 foot away—considering he was about 5’6” tall and I am 6’ 4 tall, that was close as he could get!!! He began screaming invective at me in a virtually indecipherable mixture of English, Korean and Vietnamese, with profanity in all three languages. The veins on his neck and head were pulsing and he was spitting on me at about my chest level, absolutely out of control.
While a crowd of Korean and American military personnel quickly gathered to witness this developing crisis, no one stepped forward to assist me, probably from concern that this mad major might shoot them! After what seemed like an absolute eternity, Major Kim (I was able to read his name tape later, once my eyes were able to focus!) apparently decided he had made his point and salvaged Korean face, and he holstered his weapon and left.
Once the aircraft was gone I wrote up an incident report, suggesting that it might be better if the USAF took over control of Flight 642 for the future—and indicating I thought having allies point weapons at USAF officers might not be in our mutual interest. In about a week the report had worked its way though the Port bureaucracy and to the desk of the US Army Liaison to Korean Forces RVN. I was to give my report in person to the US Army officer detailed to investigate the incident. Much to my surprise, this investigating officer turned out to be a US Army Korean/American Major Kim!!!! He interrogated me and the many others involved, and in the end the Koreans retained Flight 642, but we Port personnel “advised” them for the operation.
In retrospect I have two lingering thoughts about this event. While I was pretty certain in the initial moments of my confrontation that Major Kim was indeed going to shoot me, I wonder now if he was just play acting for the observers’ benefit. I had seen mad Koreans before and knew they were capable of incredible violence. I know for damn sure one thing; he had me convinced! And the other thing; I wonder what the odds are that the Korean Major Kim and the US Army Major Kim were related??!!