National Vigilance Park - A Background Story

Many have visited and photographed the C-130 60528 Aerial Recon Memorial in National Vigilance Park, National Security Agency, Ft Meade, Maryland. Here's the story on the creation of the memorial and NVP.

In 1995 shortly after NSA opened the National Cryptologic Museum at Fort Meade, I visited the museum. Dr David Hatch provided our group a guided tour, explaining each of the museum's displays. Being from the old school where we did not talk about "such things," I was amazed to see declassified materials in museum displays that only a year or so earlier were still classified TOP SECRET CODEWORD. Dr Hatch really got my attention while discussing a display containing a piece of wreckage from Gary Powers' U-2 that the Soviets had shot down over Russia in 1960. Dr Hatch's discussion of how a Soviet SA-2 SAM brought Powers’ plane down immediately brought to mind our 17 Air Force brothers who perished when Soviet MiG pilots shot down their C-130 ACRP over Armenia.

Catching Dr Hatch alone after the tour, I asked him why NSA did not have a display in the museum honoring the C-130 recon crew that the Soviets shot down over Armenia in 1958. He responded that the Agency did not have any materials to create such a display. I was bothered by his answer. On the way home, my thoughts kept returning to creating such a memorial.

While flying as an AMS with the 6916th SS at Rhein Main (1967-73), I often paid tribute to the lost crew at pre-mission briefings. We had a plaque in our briefing room that was dedicated to the crew, but we could not discuss the incident outside of operations. At pre-mission briefings while pointing at the plaque, I would remind our crew to remain vigilant for potential threats to our mission, and we would dedicate the day’s mission to our brothers who had the misfortune of not returning from their last flight.

Seeking support for a memorial, I called a few former USAFSS recon flyers--the Prop Wash Gang had not yet evolved. Tom Tennant and a couple of others had lost friends in the C-130 shootdown. Some had photos of C-130 tail # 60528 and photos of lost crew members, plus a few Stars & Stripes newspaper articles that addressed the incident. The more I delved into the shootdown, the more I was drawn to the idea of creating a memorial honoring the crew.

I wrote Dr Hatch a letter explaining that I'd gathered quite a bit of information and memorabilia associated with the C-130 shootdown and offered to assist in creating a memorial display dedicated to the crew. He declined my offer, stating that the NSA was not interested in creating an airborne recon memorial at this time.

At that point, I was determined to find a way to make the memorial happen. I created a 12-15 page briefing package explaining why America should honor 60528's lost crew. I pitched the briefing to anyone who would listen and sent hardcopies of the presentation to several persons whom I believed might support the project. A hardcopy of my presentation 'mysteriously' found its way into DIRNSA's in-basket. Air Force Lt Gen Kenneth A Minihan (DIRNSA) read my briefing. A few years earlier when he was the AIA commander, Minihan had created an EC-47 memorial honoring our USAFSS brothers who had paid the ultimate price in the Vietnam War.

At a staff meeting just before Thanksgiving 1996, Gen Minihan dropped a bomb shell on his staff. "Out of the blue," he announced that he wanted NSA to create a memorial honoring that C-130 crew that had been shot down over Armenia in 1958. His entire staff--including Dr Hatch--thought that DIRNSA had a great idea. A staff member said something to the effect, "We'll work with the NCM museum curator and create a meaningful display honoring that crew." That was the idea that I had in mind, but Gen Minihan responded that perhaps the staff did not understand what he had in mind. He said, "I want a memorial C-130 here in an NSA parking lot."

"Yes sir," said the staff as they left the meeting. Scratching his head, one staffer commented, "Where in the hell does the general think we can get a surplus C-130?"

Gen Minihan dialed the phone of Col Chris Cook, commander of the 694th Intel Group at Fort Meade, the senior AIA liaison officer at NSA at the time. "Chris, the Agency wants to create a memorial honoring that recon crew that lost their lives over Armenia in 1958, can your outfit make it happen?" He explained to Cook that he wanted a refurbished, surplus C-130 as the centerpiece of the memorial. "Well, Yes sir," replied Cook. "When would you like to dedicate the memorial?" "On the next anniversary of the shootdown, next September 2nd [1997]; can we do that?" "Yes sir!"

Cook contacted MSgt Fred Ferrer immediately and assigned him as C-130 memorial project manager. The project would include the creation of National Vigilance Park. Within an hour of Gen Minihan's endorsement of the memorial, Sgt Ferrer called me. He asked me to sit down, saying he had some explosive news, "Gen Minihan has approved the creation of a memorial for 60528’s crew, do you know where we can get a C-130?"

I assured him we could locate a plane for the memorial. Then I mused aloud, "Where in the hell can we find a surplus C-130?"

As I recall, it was a Friday afternoon, maybe the week before Thanksgiving. By this time, we fundamentally had a Prop Wash Gang forum of 12-15 members although we were not yet calling ourselves the PWG. One of our gang recalled that Kirk Carpenter, a former 6990th Chinese linguist, lived in Tucson and might be able to check at the Davis-Monthan surplus aircraft storage facility (boneyard) to determine the availability of a C-130. I gave Kirk the tail numbers of the eight C-130A-II aircraft in the event that one of our former A-model ACRP’s might be available.

Sure enough, by close of business that Friday Kirk confirmed in a phone call to the D-M boneyard manager that C-130 60484 (the first C-130A-II) was in storage at D-M. The Air Force was processing the paperwork authorizing the facility to chop up 484 and sell it for scrap metal at something like 34 cents per pound. Kirk got that paperwork placed on hold and arranged to visit the manager the following Monday. On Monday, he photographed 60484, but with its engines, landing gear and other parts missing, 484 was not a viable candidate for our C-130 memorial. However, four other A-model C-130's were in storage, any one of which could be committed for the memorial.

We chose C-130A 57-0453 to be our memorial aircraft. It had last seen service with the Tennessee ANG and was mothballed a couple of years earlier. The task of getting the aircraft refurbished to represent C-130A-II 60528 lay ahead.

Within a week the Big Safari Air Force Special Projects office at WPAFB had volunteered to deliver a refurbished "Memorial 60528" C-130 to Fort Meade in time to dedicate the memorial on 2 Sept 1958. The Big Safari office had managed the purchase of C-130 60528 in the late 1950's. Bill Grimes, the Big Safari boss, assigned Mike Patterson as program manager to deliver the aircraft to Fort Meade.

Mike Patterson hired an aircraft restoration firm in Tucson to retrieve 70453 from storage and make it airworthy. An Air Force crew from a test squadron at Eglin AFB--the only crew in the Air Force currently certified in the A-model C-130--flew 70453 from D-M to Majors Field, Greenville, Texas. The ferry crew used a hand-held GPS for navigation since 70453 had been stripped of its nav gear and related electronics. In addition, Mike had to borrow a couple of compatible engines because two of 70453’s engines failed pre-flight airworthiness tests.

Raytheon (currently L3) at Majors Field, offered the company's facilities gratis to restore the aircraft in 60528's paint scheme. LTV Sys./Greenville (a predecessor to Raytheon) had delivered the original C-130A-II 60528 to the Air Force in July 1958. Raytheon’s technicians--many of whom had retrofitted the original 60528 in 1958--volunteered thousands of off-duty hours to refurbished the memorial C-130. The aircraft’s new paint job was identical to the original 60528, including its new tail number.

To add authenticity to the Memorial 60528, Raytheon engineers 'dusted off' an original specification for fiberglass external antenna pods mounted outboard of #1 and # 4 engines and created a pair of pods for the aircraft. Those antenna pods which resemble fuel tanks to a casual observer have a fuel cap and will hold about a gallon of fuel (so I've been told). The engineers also mounted an extra long-wire antenna for added authenticity.

In early July 1997, Maj. Gen. Paul Martin (retired former ESC CC), Mike Patterson, Horace "Red" Haire (GRHS), Martin Kakosian and I visited the 60528 crash site in Armenia. Kakosian, an Armenian national currently living in NY, witnessed the shootdown in 1958. He served as our translator for the trip. We talked to other witnesses at the crash site and collected aircraft debris and other memorabilia that we brought home to the States. A piece of 60528 that I hand-carried from Armenia is included in one of the three 60528 memorial displays in the cryptologic museum.

In late July 1997, the aircrew from Eglin flew the refurbished C-130 (Memorial 60528) from Greenville to Tipton Field, a small Army airplane patch about two miles east of the NSA Headquarters building on Fort Meade, MD. The pilot made a low-level pass over Tipton to accommodate a camera crew on the ground, made a sharp bank and used no more than half of the 2,500 feet runway when landing. A number of PWG members from the Maryland area welcomed the arrival as the crew taxied to the parking ramp with Old Glory fluttering out of an overhead hatch, There was not a dry eye among the welcoming PWG members.

The C-130 was to be towed from Tipton Field along Fort Meade streets to its resting place in newly created National Vigilance Park. NVP lies west of NSA Headquarters at the intersection of the Baltimore-Washington Pky (MD 295) and MD Route 32. I was Mike Patterson’s sidekick in reconnoitering the route from Tipton Field to NVP. Any obstacles along the towing route had to be accounted for and obviated, so we photographed the route. I drove Mike’s rental car from Tipton Field to NVP while he hung out the passenger window videotaping the entire route. If we had been caught, we would probably still be in jail, given the sensitivity of NSA’s security patrols to anyone taking pictures around the NSA complex.

The Maryland ANG who moved memorial 528 to NVP and set it up did an outstanding job. They removed the vertical stabilizer and the wing sections outboard of engines # 2 and #3 for the trip. Then on a Saturday morning they towed 528 right along the street that we had photographed. At some intersections "wing walkers" held up utility wires on high poles so that 528 would clear under the traffic lights. In some areas, shrubbery had to be trimmed back along the road so that 528 would clear. To housewives on their way to the Fort Meade commissary on a Saturday morning, it was quite a sight to see a big Hercules being towed across an overpass on post enroute to its final resting place.

Like all A-model C-130's, our memorial aircraft had been retrofitted with 4-bladed propellers in the late 1970's, and still had its 4-bladed props when it arrived in Maryland. Mike Patterson had made a deal with someone that had a C-130A on display with 3-bladed propellers to trade their 3-bladers for the 4-bladed props on 0453. Thus the 4-bladed props on Memorial 60528 were replace with 3-bladed propellers, adding C-130A-II authenticity to the C-130 on display in NVP.

On 2 Sept 1997 (39th anniversary of the shootdown), Gen. Minihan dedicated the 60528 Aerial Recon Memorial and National Vigilance Park before an audience of 2,000 patriots who came to pay their respects at last to 17 Air Force brothers who died defending our freedom. Approximately 100 PWG members, their families, and 95 family members of the lost crew participated in the event and renewed old acquaintances at the Prop Wash Gang’s first annual reunion.

For any of you PWGers who have not visited National Vigilance Park and the National Cryptologic Museum at NSA, it is well worth the trip for any former SIGINTer. You will see declassified displays in the museum that will blow your mind.

In Brotherhood

Larry Tart

Larry's Home is in Pennsylvania and he winters in Destin, Florida