Monday, September 8, 2003

Veterans of spy missions reunite

The Associated Press

DAYTON, Ohio - A group of Air Force veterans who flew spy missions during the Vietnam and Cold War eras reminisced over the weekend about intercepting radio signals and getting caught in enemy air space.

Butch Moore, 66, of Southside, Ala., and his crew were flying over the Barents Sea north of Russia when they found themselves in a Soviet air force exercise.

"They were shooting missiles at drones," Moore said. "I was thinking at the time what a perfect opportunity to shoot us down and it would just seem like an accident."

More than 100 former crew members of Air Force reconnaissance missions attended the annual Prop Wash Gang reunion, held this year in Dayton in southwest Ohio as part of the city's celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight.

Darwin Bruce, 65, of Columbus, said he flew "low and slow" in a World War II-vintage C47 during his year in Vietnam.

"We got shot up at least five times I know of, but nobody was hurt," he said.

At the height of the Cold War in 1959, Air Force Reconnaissance Flight 60528 drifted by accident into Armenian airspace. Four Soviet jet fighter pilots took turns firing on the C130 propeller plane until it crashed, killing its crew of 17.

The victims' families were told they were lost on a "training mission." Larry Tart, a former member of the same squadron, eventually succeeded in getting the government to disclose the truth in 1997 and honor the C130 crew.

Tart went on to found the Prop Wash Gang so reconnaissance veterans could meet to renew ties and trade stories about their experiences flying the spy missions.

Wives also share stories of their struggles while their husbands were away on secret missions.

Mavis Moore said her husband, Butch, told her "not to ever ask about anything he did, and that he couldn't tell me anyway. He said his job came first and his family second."

Butch Moore was away on duty when the couple's 4-year-old son, Michael, drowned.

Mrs. Moore said members of her husband's squadron supported her throughout the ordeal.

"They were there for me all the time until Butch came back," she said. "You just can't put into words how you feel toward these people. That's why these reunions are so important to us."

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