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Air Commando Hat

26 November 2000

Colonel Robert L. Gleason

3775 Brookdale Drive

Clemmons, NC 27012


Dear Bob,

I just finished reading your book, Air Commando Chronicles and I must say it stirred some great memories of my service in the 1st Air commando Group 1962-1966-with two combat deployments to Vietnam and Laos.


It was of particular significance to me that you took time to pay tribute to one of the greatest warriors the Air Force ever produced-General Ben King. I came to know Ben when I was a Lieutenant in the Korean War. Then Major King was my squadron commander in the 8th Fighter Bomber Squadron, 49th Fighter Bomber Group. He lived in the old saying, “if it’s too tough for everybody else, it’s just right for me. When a particularly tough mission (read heavily defended target) was directed to our squadron Major King would be “big red leader.” There were many examples but two, in which I was personally involved are typical: 1) At the time (winter of ‘50-“51) we were flying F-80’s off about 6000 feet of PSP and we had a temperature restriction of about 35 degrees to take off with 1000 lb. Bombs, anything higher was viewed as too dangerous. One day with the temperature at about 40 degrees we got an urgent call from the JOC to attack an enemy position that was threatening friendly forces, Uncle Ben (as we affectionately called him) said, “Who wants to go with me.” My hand went up, we grabbed our chutes and helmets and we were on our way. As we walked briskly to our machines Ben said, “Don’t release your brakes until you see me get airborne, if I don’t make it, abort.” Toward the end of his takeoff roll I released my brakes as I started to gain speed I could see he was airborne and blowing dirt off the end of the runway. I waited till I was near rotation speed to lower takeoff flaps and as the end of the runway approached eased the stick back, ever so gently, and we were on our way.


I think today’s Air Force Ben would probably get an Article 15, and 2) Another day the JOC called and said they needed an armed reconnaissance of the two airfields at Pyongyang-two heavily armed defended airfields at the North Korea capital. Again my hand went up and we were on our way to Pyongyang. We crossed both airdromes on the deck at high speed. I positioned myself slightly aft of line abreast and was somewhat amused to watch the anti-aircraft gunners firing from both sides of the airfield, in effect, at each other but over us-we were very low and fast. We came away without damage and returned home-another routine mission for the great warrior leader-Ben King.


I went to war five times-twice in Korea and three times in Vietnam-and the lessons I learned in combat leadership from Ben were the foundation of my future. Some years later when I had the fighter branch in Fifth Air Force Tactical Evaluation (’59-“62) I began to read some classified traffic about a clandestine force of air commandos who were starting operations in Vietnam. I also learned that Ben King was “Jungle Jim”, so it followed that I left Fifth Air Force in the summer f 1962 and with the help of Colonel King I was transferred to the 1st Air Commando Group at Hurlburt. Colonel gave me the same test you mention in your book: “there will be no promotions or medals and you will be subject to extraordinary hazardous duty-sometimes in civilian clothes and your country may deny you exist.” My kind of outfit, especially if the leader is Ben King. There are legions of warriors who were touched by the combat leadership of this magnificent officer. I was one of those blessed to serve with him.


Again my compliments to you for capturing the essence of great American who answered their country’s call before general purpose forces were committed to Vietnam.


All the best,



L.W. Svendsen, JR

Major General, USAF (ret)




John McCain

United States Senator

Washington, DC 20510



April 16, 2001


Brigadier General Benjamin H. King, USAF (Ret)

PO Box 67

Payson, Arizona 85547


Dear Brigadier General King,


I would like to extend my deep appreciation to you for your dedicated service to our great nation and I would like to congratulate you on your unparalleled career. As a fellow American, I cannot thank you enough for all that you have done to help defend our great nation.


Your heroic achievements over the skies of the Pacific and European theaters during WWII and Korea are the cause for the rest of us to stand in awe of an ultimate warrior. Those accomplishments are only outdone by the brilliant foresight and leadership you displayed by establishing the USAF Air Commando and Special Operations forces.


Your personal sacrifices and professional achievements have been essential in maintaining the freedom all Americans are so fortunate to enjoy. May you continue to find challenge and reward in the years ahead.




John McCain

United States Senator



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