Thursday, June 5, 2003

Combat air crews donate memorabilia

Iraq war items go for special display

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

DAYTON, Ohio - Capt. Chris Wachter got a scare after dropping bombs from a B-1 bomber on a building complex in a Baghdad neighborhood April 7.

Upon returning to his base, a fellow officer tried to tell Wachter that he hit the wrong target.

Wachter learned later that not only did he hit his mark, but the target was a building where Saddam Hussein was thought to have been.

"We checked our coordinates," Wachter said. "We were right on."

On Tuesday, Wachter's crew and three others who played important roles in the Iraq war donated flight suits, combat boots, dog tags, maps and other personal items for display at the United States Air Force Museum.

The soldiers included a C-17 crew that dropped the first U.S. paratroopers into combat, a KC-135 tanker crew that helped support the search and rescue of a downed F-15 jet fighter, and the crew of an A-10 tank-killer that provided air support for ground forces.

Retired Maj. Gen. Charles Metcalf, director of the museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, said he put out a request for items from soldiers who had returned from Iraq to help tell the story of the war.

"The American public is really interested in this," Metcalf said. "They've watched this war on TV, day by day by day, almost hour by hour. They're fascinated by it. And frankly they're very proud of these youngsters they've watched."

Lt. Col. Fred Swan had no idea who the target was when he dropped four bunker-buster bombs on the Baghdad building April 7. It was only after Swan - the weapons systems operator aboard the B-1 - went on to strike an Iraqi missile site and then returned to his base was he told that Saddam may have been in the building.

"It probably didn't sink in right away for any of us," Swan said. "It's just like, 'Wow, that's pretty huge.' We just happened to be the crew there at the right time in the right place."

Among the items donated by Swan's crew was a bomb pin, the metal lanyard that remains after bombs are released from the B-1.

Swan said he and his crew were en route to another target when they got a call from their commanders.

"They said, 'Hey, disregard that. We've got a Priority One leadership target for you. Stand by for coordinates,"' Swan said. "It kind of caught us off-guard. We were pretty pumped up."

Swan said the crew was given 12 minutes to get to the target and had little time to think about what the target might be.

Wachter said he realized the mission was special by the tone of the radio communication and by being told to check and then recheck the target coordinates.

"We knew it was something important," said Wachter, 27, of Huntington Beach, Calif.

Saddam was targeted by cruise missiles March 20 in the opening salvo of the war and again on April 7. His fate and whereabouts remain unknown.

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