Lance, the 356th is still operating as a squadron of the 445th Airlift Wing at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio. They are flying C-141's all over the world. Retirees can fly with them Space A Their flight schedule is available at base operations 30 days in advance. Here is an (unrelated)extract from the WPAFB web page:( Use if you wish) Jim.
RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) -- Two and a half decades after his release from captivity, some details of his six years as a POW in North Vietnam are not as clear as they once were for Brig. Gen. Edward Mechenbier. On the other hand, there are six numbers he'll never forget -- 660177 -- the tail number of the C-141 Starlifter which flew him and other POWs to freedom. Mechenbier landed here March 12 aboard that same aircraft, nicknamed "Hanoi Taxi," that took to the air at a small airport called Gia Lam in Hanoi, North Vietnam, bringing the first group of American servicemen back to freedom Feb. 12, 1973.
The general visited Randolph with more than 50 other former POWs to participate in the 25th annual "Freedom Flyers" reunion, and to commemorate the silver anniversary of Operation Homecoming-the repatriation of U.S. servicemen from Southeast Asia. In the final chapter of Operation Homecoming, Randolph's 560th Flying Training Squadron was responsible for returning more than 150 active-duty pilots to flight status. As part of the process, pilots were provided "freedom flights" representing a safe last landing in a combat theater and concluding with a celebration among comrades. Following the pilot re-qualifications, "freedom flights" were extended to former POW pilots who did not return to active flying status.
The 560th FTS has conducted more than 180 of these flights for the former
POWs referred to as "freedom flyers." Sharing center stage in this year's
"freedom flyer" reunion activities is the "Hanoi Taxi," which now
belongs to the 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
The historic C-141 was assigned to the wing's 907th Airlift Group when it converted from C-130 aircraft in 1992. Subsequently, the aircraft's crew chief noticed a label with the words "Hanoi Taxi" on the flight engineer's panel. The crew chief's research revealed the famous Operation Homecoming mission; then he and several other members of the 445th Aircraft Generation Squadron formed "Team 177". The team initiated a project to dedicate the aircraft to those who endured confinement as a result of their service in the U.S. military. Now a virtual flying museum, the words "First C-141 to Hanoi" appear above the entrance door, and photographs depicting POWs line the cabin wall. The flight deck seats have special headrest covers featuring the black and white POW/Missing in Action emblem. Attached to the bulkhead is a plaque which includes a statement about the mission, the prisoner of war medal, a biblical verse and the names of the first 40 men airlifted home.
Among the first 40 out of Hanoi was Capt. Thomas Klomann, a B-52 navigator shot down Dec. 20, 1972 while participating in Operation Linebacker II. The operation was the bombing campaign that helped pressure North Vietnam to resume negotiations to end the conflict and release the POWs. Klomann, now retired, was severely injured while escaping his crippled aircraft. He remembers the trip to the flightline and boarding "Hanoi Taxi." We left the prison camp in a van, and crossed the Red River by way of a pontoon bridge, since the permanent bridge was demolished by U.S. forces during the campaign," said Klomann. "When we arrived at Gia Lam, we were taken to a holding area, and after what seemed like hours, I heard someone shout, 'There it is-there's our plane!'" The visions of being taken aboard "Hanoi Taxi" on a stretcher are still crystal clear for Klomann. "I remember a very pretty nurse greeting me and asking if I would like a kiss," he said, "Of course, I said 'yes.' She then asked me for my autograph, and since my arm was still badly injured I could only scribble my name. Then they attached my stretcher to the inside aircraft wall, and we headed home.
Mechenbier also has a vivid recollection of his homecoming ride. "The white C-141 approaching Gia Lam was the cleanest, brightest, most beautiful thing we had seen in years. My emotions ran the gamut of nervous fear to a quiet explosion of anticipation that this ordeal might just be coming to an end. "When we got airborne and the frailty of being a POW turned into the reality of freedom, we yelled, cried and cheered," said the general who is now the mobilization assistant to the commander of the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson AFB. "Twenty-five years later we'll do it all over again recalling the thrill of our flight to freedom."
The general summarized the significance of "Hanoi Taxi" and the message it sends by adding, "This airplane is more than a tribute to the POWs fortunate to be released in 1973. "It reminds us of the service of more than a million Vietnam era veterans and it says to those POWs/MIAs who didn't share in our joy, 'you are not forgotten.'" Mechenbier hoisted the POW/MIA flag from the top of "Hanoi Taxi" shortly after landing as it approached the crowd gathered in front of the 560th FTS at Randolph March 12.
The flying museum is a fitting tribute to the sacrifices of all POWs and MIAs, and to all those involved in Operation Homecoming and the first "freedom flight" out of Hanoi a quarter century ago.
This is the Web Site for the 356th: http://www.afrc.af.mil/units/445aw/356TH/356th.htm
Lance, I thought you might be interested in this for the web site. Bob Shondel 10/08/2002 08:44 AM
'Hanoi Taxi' returns to duty with new look Photo credit U.S. Air Force. The "Hanoi Taxi," the Air Force's flying tribute to the Vietnam War's prisoners of war and missing in action, was recently repainted in the 1970s white and gray paint scheme. (Photo by Lt. Col. Philip Pierce) | 10/07/02 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AFPN) -- The "Hanoi Taxi," the Air Force's flying tribute to the Vietnam War's prisoners of war and missing in action, received a makeover and a hero's sendoff here before returning home Oct. 7.
This C-141 Starlifter was the first aircraft to airlift American POWs to freedom from Gia Lam Airport in Hanoi, North Vietnam, on Feb. 12, 1973.
The 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, which owns the aircraft, asked Air Force Reserve Command headquarters officials for permission to repaint the aircraft in the 1970s white and gray paint scheme. AFRC officials approved and funded the work, which was done while the aircraft underwent programmed depot maintenance at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center here.
Air Force Reserve Maj. Gen. Edward J. Mechenbier, one of the POWs repatriated aboard the Hanoi Taxi, flew the historic aircraft from Robins back to Wright-Patterson. "It was the most beautiful thing I had seen in six years," said Mechenbier, referring to the first time he saw the Hanoi Taxi. He is currently the mobilization assistant to the commander of Air Force Materiel Command, Mechenbier, a command pilot with more than 3,500 flying hours, was assigned to Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam,and was on his 80th mission over North Vietnam when his F-4C Phantom II fighter was shot down in June 1967. He spent nearly six years as a POW before the Hanoi Taxi brought him home.
The Hanoi Taxi's name comes from the writing on the flight engineer's panel by the POWs aboard the plane for the freedom flight. Signatures of the freed prisoners have been preserved on the panel over the years and are the centerpiece of what is essentially a "flying museum." Plaques, documents and photographs of the homecoming are part of the on-board exhibit researched and created by the 445th AW. Etchings of the names of those who are missing in action were taken from the Vietnam Wall in Washington and are mounted on the plane.
"The Hanoi Taxi is a tribute to the men and women who serve in the Air Force," Mechenbier said. The general added that it is important for the American public to know about the airplane and what it means to the nation. The aircraft, which has been upgraded to a C-141C with improved avionics, is used to transport troops and cargo worldwide. It is one of four C-141s flown by the 445th AW that were involved in Operation Homecoming, the repatriation of American POWs in the Vietnam War. All C-141s are scheduled to be retired from the Air Force inventory by 2006. (Courtesy of AFRC News Service)
Retired Brig. Gen. James E. Sehorn points to signatures of fellow prisoners of war from the Vietnam War on display in the "Hanoi Taxi." This C-141 Starlifter was the first aircraft to airlift American POWs to freedom from Gia Lam Airport in Hanoi, North Vietnam, on Feb. 12, 1973. (Photo by Dan Doherty)