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Caribou Vietnam vets honored at Pentagon

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The assistant vice chief of staff of the Air Force unveiled a scale model C-7A Caribou during a ceremony acknowledging the service of Vietnam War Caribou crewmembers and support personnel at the Pentagon Sept. 9.

Lt. Gen. Stayce D. Harris officiated the ceremony, which was held as part of the Defense Department’s United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration’s Vietnam War 50th anniversary tribute.

“You are truly American heroes,” Harris said to the more than 30 Vietnam veterans from the Caribou Association in attendance. “There are Vietnam veterans alive today only because of C-7A aircrews.”

The Vietnam War era model C-7A will be included in the Pentagon’s Wings Through Time display. The model was handcrafted and donated by retired Master Sgt. John Schuepbach, a former Caribou administrative specialist and current Caribou Association member.

After touring the Pentagon several years ago, Schuepbach noted the absence of the Caribou in the Vietnam War-era section. He decided he would remedy the absence by creating a scale model of the aircraft and donating it to the Pentagon for future display.

“Our story needed to be told and our sacrifice represented,” Schuepbach said.

The Caribou was a critical component of the Vietnam tactical airlift world, with its ability to maneuver at low altitude and slow airspeeds, enabling it to make precision airdrops into tight spaces.

At the peak of the Vietnam War in 1968, the Caribou accumulated a solid reputation as a reliable short takeoff and landing aircraft. It delivered more than 2.75 billion pounds of cargo and transported roughly 4 million people in a 12-month period and conducted around-the-clock takeoffs and landings every 38 seconds.

“It wasn’t the prettiest aircraft,” Harris said. “But to troops under attack in the middle of the jungle, seeing it roll out on an 800-foot dirt strip or pop up above the treetops overhead, it had to be the most beautiful sight in the world.”

For the veterans in attendance, the ceremony was more than an unveiling of a model aircraft, it was a long-awaited thank you from a grateful nation.

“The ceremony today is closure from the war,” Schuepbach said. “Our story is finally out there, and we can get recognition for what we did because we did amazing things over there.”