Pat Hatch's PhotoJournal A blog about photography & other musings…

Fire in Flight – Final Thoughts

I normally never talk about this stuff, but for some reason it seems alright now, some 41 years later, so please indulge me in my little nostalgia trip a while longer while I wrap up the loose ends once and for all.

Not a day goes by that I don't think about 25 June 1968.  At the very least, I thank God every day for keeping that wing together just long enough.  As I relive the events of that day, I'll never forget the feeling of sheer joy that I had after we got out of the airplane.  Not only was I alive, but I had managed somehow to save my entire crew.  Please don't get me wrong, actions of the entire crew, collectively, saved the day.  But I alone had the responsibility for the safety of my crew, and, as such, there was no joy greater than mine after getting this burning hulk on the ground in more or less one piece with everyone onboard alive.

Furthermore, I felt like I had acquitted myself pretty well, because I think a lot of people at the time had doubts about the wisdom of handing over a C-130 and crew to a fresh-out-of-pilot-training, 24-year-old, 1st lieutenant pilot.  Believe me, I was aware of it.  I had to vindicate myself every day while I was in-country.  Did I feel any pressure?  Not really.  I had my crew, and together we were pretty confident in ourselves, our equipment and our training.

Fig. 32 - CCK Youngest Crew

Fig. 32 - CCK Youngest Crew

I felt that I had earned the respect of my superiors and my crew. Oh, there would be the good-natured ribbing from the crew, like, "Hatch you better not screw up because you'll take the Colonel down with you."  That would be Colonel Clayton Balch, Commander of the 50th TCS (standing, second from left in the photo on the left), a guy whom I admired greatly because he had the guts to upgrade a 1,000-hour copilot, and he did it for all the right reasons.  He took a risk, but I was qualified and deserving, and he knew it.  I was eternally grateful to him at the time, and I hope this incident was a vindication of sorts for him, too.

But I digress.  As that day wore on and we debriefed in Saigon, I slowly was overcome by a feeling of having been born again.  It was spiritual, but not necessarily religious--and extremely powerful.  It gave meaning and purpose to my life in such a way that I vowed from that day forward, because I had been given this second life, that I would live every day as if it were a bonus, unique and special.  I would never again take for granted a day in my life, ever again.

And as I contemplate the wonderful families that flourished from these 5 crew members, I am overwhelmed with gratitude.  This event has been a source of enormous strength and inspiration for me as I faced more than a few challenges later in life.  I'm proud of what we accomplished that day, and I have used this as a guidepost for how I would live my life.  No matter how insurmountable an obstacle I would encounter, it would seem inconsequential in the face of what we did that day.

And now, as I approach the autumn of my days, I think ahead to the inevitable end; and although I won't welcome it, having already made its acquaintance I will accept it with no fear at all.

***

I would like to dedicate this site to the men and women C-130 crew members everywhere who did not come home, especially to my good friend Erle Bjorke who was killed at Khe Sanh.  Welcome home.

Epilogue on next page:

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  1. Pat, What a vivid account of your experience. I am thankful for the story of your experience. I am even more thankful to you for helping my daughter Kristine [daughter of Capt. Erle Bjorke} find peace in the loss of a father she never knew. We all have a mission in life and I feel that part of yours was to be there for her when she decided to research her fathers death when his C-130 went down at Khe Sahn in 1967. My prayers are with you for a continued good life. God bless you. Thank you for remembering Erle. I still miss him and am forever grateful that I have a part of him in our beautiful daughter, Kristine. Gratefully, Janet Bjorke McCombs

  2. Pat, I’ve heard this story before, but never in such detail from the AC. Thank you for sharing…this is a significant piece of my family’s heritage and I’m grateful for all you did that day to save my dad, Jon

    Lt Col Steve Alexander
    Commander, 192 OSS

  3. That is an incredible story, and very well told! I was a Caribou driver in ’69, and always admired the job you C-130 guys did-fields that were a piece of cake for us were often a max-effort for you. Well done to you and your crew, and thanks for writing it! Mark Erickson, Major, USAF, Retired

  4. Thanks Pat, a magnificent story. Furthermore, thank you for your superior Airmanship. You and your crew should have received the Silver Star. You and your crew, remind me of my C-130B crew from Clark. They would all have gone through hell and back for each other. Tactical airlift, which should have been called Combat Airlift had the bravest and most dedicated personnel I ever met. I will never forget these GIANT’S of men.
    Tactical airlift never received the fanfare it deserved. Thanks again for your service and Pensmanship.
    My only regret was not keeping up with my Aircrew after the war.
    George Rigsby, SMSGT, USAF, Retired Loadmaster


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