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Skymaster relives glory days at Shaw

Gary Willis, Society of the Vietnamese Airborne director speaks at the O-2 Skymaster static display rededication ceremony at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., May 4, 2018.

Gary Willis, Society of the Vietnamese Airborne director speaks at the O-2 Skymaster static display rededication ceremony at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., May 4, 2018. Willis flew the O-1 Bird Dog from late 1969 to the middle of 1970 in support of the South Vietnamese Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Benjamin Ingold)

Members of the Society of the Vietnamese Airborne stand together at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., May 4, 2018.

Members of the Society of the Vietnamese Airborne stand together at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., May 4, 2018. The members gathered for the rededication of Shaw’s O-2 Skymaster static display and to commemorate the 50th year since the Vietnam War. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Benjamin Ingold)

Members of the Society of the Vietnamese Airborne unveil a rededicated plaque for the O-2 Skymaster static display at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., May 4, 2018.

Members of the Society of the Vietnamese Airborne unveil a rededicated plaque for the O-2 Skymaster static display at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., May 4, 2018. The Skymaster was repainted to its original combat colors in remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Benjamin Ingold)

U.S. Army retired Lt. Col. Ray Rhodes, Society of the Vietnamese Airborne president, speaks at the O-2 Skymaster static display rededication ceremony at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., May 4, 2018.

U.S. Army retired Lt. Col. Ray Rhodes, Society of the Vietnamese Airborne president, speaks at the O-2 Skymaster static display rededication ceremony at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., May 4, 2018. Rhodes spoke on the mission of the O-2 Skymaster and the work of the Red Berets advising the South Vietnamese Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Benjamin Ingold)

Members of the Society of the Vietnamese Airborne stand together at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., May 4, 2018.

Members of the Society of the Vietnamese Airborne stand together at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., May 4, 2018. The members gathered for the rededication of Shaw’s O-2 Skymaster static display and to commemorate the 50th year since the Vietnam War. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Benjamin Ingold)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Far from the jungles of Vietnam where it served in the war effort from 1969 to 1970, an O-2 Skymaster sits perched above Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina.

The Skymaster 962 static display at Shaw was rededicated May 4, to honor the service and sacrifice of the Red Marker Forward Air Controller Detachment members and to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.

“This is an exciting day for our society,” said retired Army Lt. Col. Ray Rhodes, Society of the Vietnamese Airborne president. “It feels like we’re inviting a long lost friend back into our ranks. And, indeed, for those of us ‘Red Hats’ from Team 162 who were on the ground in the jungles, rice paddies and mountains of Vietnam, O-2 Skymaster 962 was an angel who kept watch over us when our enemies sought to do us harm.”

The pilots of the Skymaster and its predecessor, the O-1 Bird Dog, coordinated close air support and artillery adjustment, and provided real-time intelligence to American and allied ground forces by flying quiet, slow moving aircraft low over the jungle.

“The South Vietnamese Airborne was an elite unit known for its courage and ferocity in combat,” said Gary Willis, Society of the Vietnamese Airborne director. “They were recognized off the battlefield by their distinctive red berets. The American Army advisors in Team 162 and the Air Force detachment that supported the airborne adopted their uniform, including the red beret.”

The Red Markers, the call sign of the forward air controller detachment, began as a single officer in 1962 without an aircraft, advising from the ground. The detachment grew to maximum strength in 1969 with a crew of 36 forward air controllers, crew chiefs, radio operators and maintenance personnel.

“In early 1971, the South Vietnamese Air Force assumed the direct air support mission for the airborne and the Red Markers’ combat role ended,” said Willis. “The Red Marker O-1s were all transferred to the South Vietnamese Air Force and allies. Most of the O-2s were withdrawn from Southeast Asia and assigned to units in Korea, Hawaii and the continental United States, including Shaw Air Force Base.”

Over the course of the 20-year conflict, five men who served with the Red Markers died in combat, 34 Red Hat advisors were killed and 20,000 Vietnamese Red Berets were lost in battle.

“We hope this aircraft, number 962, now wearing its combat colors, reminds all who see it of the mission and sacrifice of the Red Markers, Red Hats and Red Berets,” said Willis. “I’ll close with the radio call every forward air controller loved to make, ‘Lead, this is red marker one-eight. You are cleared in hot, hit my smoke!’”