ENID, Okla. — A veteran Air Force pilot was honored for his service Tuesday, with the presentation of a book commemorating the type of aircraft he flew in Vietnam and a chance to visit at Woodring Wall of Honor and Veterans Park and Vance Air Force Base with a few pilots who followed in his footsteps.
Doug Schoenhals gathered at 8 a.m. Tuesday at Woodring Wall of Honor with Lt. Col. Nathan Perry, commander of the 8th Flying Training Squadron at Vance Air Force Base; first lieutenants Tawnie Kerr and Landon Ellis, instructor pilots in the 8th FTS; retired Lt. Col. Deirdre Gurry, former commander of the 8th FTS and director of Enid Woodring Regional Airport; brothers Jim and Rick Schoenhals and cousin Dennis Schoenhals.
After the presentation and a casual breakfast at Barnstormers, in the Woodring terminal building, the group took a tour of Vance Air Force Base and had a chance to fly the virtual reality simulators for the T-6 Texan II.
Jim Schoenhals, of Shattuck, arranged the presentation of the book "Remembering an Unsung Giant: The Douglas C-133 Cargomaster and Its People," by Cal Taylor, as a late birthday present for his older brother, Doug, who flew during Vietnam and later piloted the C-133 for the Air Force.
Jim, who is a Vietnam veteran of the First Combat Evaluation Group, a precision radar targeting group, said when he found out about the book, he wanted an Air Force pilot to present it to his older brother as close as possible to his 78th birthday, which was July 26.
"This is far more than I had hoped for," Jim said of Tuesday's honor for his brother. "I thought it would be nice if someone in the military gave it to him."
Doug, who was born and raised in Shattuck, said the presentation and tour of Vance was "just incredible."
"It's just wonderful to be here with everyone," Doug said.
Growing up in Shattuck, Doug said he can't remember a time when there was any doubt what he wanted to do when he grew up.
"Ever since I was first around airplanes, I said I wanted to fly," Doug said.
He had a passion for building model airplanes as a child, and as soon as he graduated from high school he pursued the Air Force ROTC program at Oklahoma State University.
Doug landed a pilot billet out of OSU, but it didn't take him quite as far from home as he had planned.
"I joined the Air Force to see the world," Doug said, "and they sent me to Enid."
He completed the undergraduate pilot training program at Vance in 1967 and was assigned to fly the C-7 Caribou in Vietnam. The C-7 was the American variant of the Canadian de Havilland short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft, still in use in many countries as a "bush" plane today.
After his combat tour in Vietnam, Doug transitioned to fly the Douglas C-133 Cargomaster, the largest turboprop cargo plane ever flown by the Air Force, according to the Air Mobility Command (AMC) Museum.
Originally designed to carry ballistic missiles for the Strategic Air Command, the C-133 was pressed into service flying cargo missions to Vietnam.
"I was so proud to fly that thing," Doug said, "because it was a giant airplane, and it had an important job of resupplying the troops in Vietnam."
The Cargomaster had a 13,000 cubic-foot cargo area, according to the AMC Museum, and could accommodate 110,000 pounds of cargo or a fully-assembled Thor, Jupiter or Atlas ballistic missile.
Doug has fond memories of flying supplies into Vietnam and flying disassembled "shot-up" Huey helicopters back to Pennsylvania to be repaired, then returned to the troops.
The Cargomaster could carry five disassembled Hueys in its cargo bay, Doug said. "They stacked them up like a set of dominoes in there."
Another fond memory of his time in the C-133 was an unauthorized low-altitude fly-by of his home town, during a cross-country flight from Dover Air Force Base, Del., to Travis Air Force Base, Calif.
Doug said he dropped down to about 1,500 feet and flew over the Shattuck golf course, where his father and uncle were playing a round at the time.
When the Cargomaster was phased out of service in 1971, Doug transitioned again to the C-5 Galaxy, still the largest cargo plane flown by the Air Force.
For his last tour in the Air Force, which ended in 1986, Doug was assigned to the Strategic Air Command as a launch officer in a missile silo. Watching consoles in a silo deep underground was a poor substitute for the cockpit.
"That was like going to jail every day," Doug said.
But, looking back on his military service, Doug said he doesn't regret any of it.
"I loved flying," Doug said, "and I was delighted to serve our country."
Perry, commander of the 8th FTS, said it was an honor for him and his instructors to meet with and acknowledge the service of one of the elders of their "military family."
Meeting people like Doug reinforces the reasons members of Team Vance and the 8th FTS signed up to serve, Perry told Doug during Tuesday's breakfast.
"The will of the people wins wars," Perry said, "and when the young people get to come and spend eight minutes with guys like you, and those who came before us, that will only gets stronger. All we're trying to do is live up to your expectations."