Victor Craig of Harbor Heights near Port Charlotte, Fla. spent 21 years in the Air Force serving as a loadmaster. He was a sergeant in charge of loading giant cargo planes properly, flying with them to their destination and getting the planes quickly unloaded.
During 15,000 hours in the air flying with the Air Force the 78 year old former sergeant has been in some tight squeezes. He’s witnessed some bizarre happenings.
Much of his time over the years was spent working with Special Forces, Rangers and Airborne troops in Vietnam. At one point he served in a Black Bird Outfit over there flying with Special Operations along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Cambodia.
“One time we were flying a dump truck up to some French people who lived in the mountains in Vietnam. After we landed in our C-124 (transport plane) we shut our engines down while we waited for our people to arrive,” Craig said. “All of a sudden out of the jungle came a group of 50 VC (Vietcong). I happened to be outside the airplane in the back with a head set on. I called to the crew and told them we were under attack by the VC.
“I grabbed my rifle and 60 rounds of ammunition in a doubled clip. I got in a prone position and waited for the VC to get closer so I could fire on them. All of a sudden my hat blew off. I looked around and saw the airplane was pulling away leaving me out on the runway.
“I ran as hard as i could back to the plane. I threw my weapon in the airplane and grabbed a ring on the back of the airplane’s ramp. My body was hanging outside the plane when it took off. I pull myself inside to safety,” Craig recalled.
That wasn’t his only close call.
“On one of the Black Bird Missions I flew we dropped radios from a C-123 World War II vintage glider equipped with four engines. The radios were spaced out along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Special Operations people knew where they were.
“The radios sent signals back to Special Ops that told them what was coming down the trail. They could pick up voices, engine noises and people riding bicycles and send this information to headquarters,” Craig explained. “The Special Operations people would call in fighter planes, napalm or even B-52 bombers to hit the enemy.
“We were flying along the trail in one direction and a formation of B-52s were flying over us in another direction. I happened to be looking out the window of the plane and saw a blur go by between the wing and the tail. I looked again and there was another blur. I looked up and realized we were under a B-52 bombing formation,” he said.
“I called my pilot and told him we were being bombed by B-52s. He nosed our plane down and cut away to get out from under the bombers. We were lucky to escape.
“The copilot apparently went berserk and tried to jump out of his seat. The pilot knocked him back down in his seat.
“The flight engineer was in worse shape. When he climbed aboard the airplane he had black hair. When they took him off the airplane in a straight jacket his hair was white. He went crazy and was discharged from the Air Force,” Craig said.
“When we got back to the field my airplane commander went into the Operations Office, found the operations officer and pulled him over the counter. He was going to punch him in the nose, but didn’t do it. It was just a mix-up. That’s the way thing go in war,” he said.
On another occasion Craig and his flight crew were part of a rescue operation. They were to take part in an extraction of some American POWs.
“We went up there and re-conned a little bit. The rescue mission was set up.
When we got there the prisoners were gone. There was too much activity in the area. The enemy got wind of what we were up to and moved the prisoners out of the area,” Craig said.
“There was a mission in North Africa where we picked up a bunch of starving orphans. We loaded 200 orphans on our airplane that sat on the floor. We flew them to an island in the Atlantic occupied by the British.
“When we got those children on the airplane they were like wild animals. They fought over every scrap of food we gave them.
“Several months later we had to fly back to the island where we had dropped ’em off and pick them up and fly them back to where we found them. I don’t know what was going on or why,” he said with tears in his eyes as a pulled a handkerchief out of his back pocket.
“In the early 1960s I was stationed in Saigon. I helped open up Cam Rahn Bay Airport. On my first mission over there we were flying out of Japan. My last mission over there was in 1968,” he said.
His 21 year military career, which began in 1952 as a teenager out of high school, was winding down in ’73.
“No matter where I was in the world I’d come back to Wichita Falls, Texas where I was a loadmaster instructor. One of my last jobs in the service was to help train 300 loadmasters. We trained all of them and then the Air Force said we had too many of them.’
“By then I had 20 years, six months in the Air Force. I decided to get out in August 1973,” Craig explained. “My first wife, Sara, and I moved to this area a short time later and went into the trailer park business in Arcadia with my father.
“With $20,000 I saved I put $10,000 in a mobile home and $10,000 in some property. Eventually we had 23 rental units on a mobile home park which I designed and built all by myself.
“After a few years people were flocking to the Arcadia area. We bought 20 acres up the road on U.S. 17, six miles north of Arcadia. After three years of fighting with the De Soto County Commission we put in a RV park.
“It’s called ‘Craig’s RV Park’ and over the years it’s grown to 98 acres. When it’s full we have 400 units,” he said proudly. “My daughter Vicky runs the place.
“Sara was killed shortly after Hurricane Charley blew through the area in 2004 when her car was hit by a truck on U.S. 17,” he said. “I got married to Susan in May of last year.”
Craig has three children from his first marriage: Vicky and Cynthia, who live in the Port Charlotte area and a son who died years ago at age 10.
Name:Victor Alan Craig
D.O.B: 15 Dec 1932
Hometown: Columbus, OH
Current: Port Charlotte, FL
Entered Service: 1952
Unit: Military Air Transport Service MATS
Commendations: National Defense Medal, Good Conduct Medal
This story was first printed in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, April 18, 2011 and is republished with permission.
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