Air Force veteran Rich Fox of Clancy earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal, principally for saving numerous lives as a Caribou pilot during the Vietnam War.
After graduating from Hardin High in 1961, Fox obtained a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology from the University of Montana. He then enlisted in the Air Force on Dec. 27, 1967.
During his first tour in Vietnam, from August 1969 to August 1970, Fox flew C-7A Caribou cargo planes assigned to the 483rd Tactical Wing. He was stationed at Phu Cat and Cam Rahn Bay, with the 459th and 458th Tactical Airlift Squadrons, respectively.
Fox received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his “extraordinary achievement” on Sept. 18, 1969, while participating in aerial flight at the Mai Loc Forces Camp.
“First Lieutenant Richard Fox airlifted quantities of whole blood to the camp on an emergency resupply mission in extremely adverse weather conditions … (and) hostile ground fire,” according to the DFC.
Fifty years after that mission, Fox recalled flying north up the coast over the ocean.
“We found what we thought was the right river, then flew up skimming the water below the jungle canopy … (until) we saw the outpost,” Fox, 76, wrote in an email. “It was a special forces fire base under siege by the NVA. There were many wounded, hence the cargo of blood.”
He recounted how they couldn’t land because the airstrip was beyond the fire base perimeter.
“We delivered by LAPES (low altitude parachute extraction system) while the bad guys shot at us,” Fox said. “I’m very satisfied with this mission – medal or no medal – because I was saving lives, not delivering weapons of destruction, as I often did.”
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His Air Medal (with five Oak Clusters) citation for June 24, 1970, reads, in part, “… Fox participated in a combat essential mission to evacuate Cambodian refugees to Pleiku Air Base, Republic of Vietnam ...”
Fox described Bung Lung, Cambodia, as an old French rubber plantation. They were evacuating refugees under hazardous weather conditions because the NVA was breathing down the Cambodian’s necks.
“And they were shooting at me, of all things,” he quipped. “Anyway, I was one of several aircraft evacuating all day. Each time a cargo door opened, they would swarm the airplane. Once aboard, you couldn't get them off, so we had to be pretty ruthless, often threatening to shoot, if not firing over their heads.
“All this was due to aircraft weight and balance limitations. As many as 60 managed to cram into my aircraft each time, severely threatening takeoff. But we made it.”
After his first tour in Vietnam, he then flew B-52 Stratofortresses (D, F, G and H models) from 1970-74. Among Captain Fox’s assignments were conventional bombing in Southeast Asia (including Vietnam) from January to December 1973, with the 63rd Bomb Squadron, 8th Air Force, at Utapao Air Base, Thailand, and Anderson AFB, Guam.
Fox returned to Montana after retiring as a professor at the University of South Dakota in 2011. He authored the book “Archaeology, History and Custer’s Last Battle,” and earlier this year he received The Wright Brothers “Master Pilot” from the FAA, for 50 years of safe flight.
His current activities include numerous involvements with his grand nephews and nieces, in addition to the Military Affairs Committee of the Helena Area Chamber, and at the Montana Military Museum.
“And I still fly several hours monthly,” he said, “but lower and slower this time.”