WARNER ROBINS -- One day a couple of years ago, a flat-bed truck rolled onto the Museum of Aviation grounds with a weathered old F-100 jet strapped to the back.
One man saluted as he fought back a wave of emotions.
That man was retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Rick Goddard, former commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center. He flew the jet on 180 combat missions in Vietnam, including one in which he was awarded the Silver Star. It was the first time he had seen the plane since he left Vietnam in 1969.
Budget cuts have delayed restoration of the plane, but the museum expects to start on it full force early this year. The project will be a major effort for the museums restoration team and is expected to take about a year to complete. The plane will be displayed in Hangar One, which is dedicated to the Vietnam War.
This airplane took me into combat and brought me home at times when I probably had abused it and it shouldnt have brought me home, Goddard said as he stood by the fuselage of the disassembled aircraft recently. There is a special bond between a pilot and an airplane, especially in a combat role.
About two years ago, Goddard was talking to a man who had painted a picture of the plane for him, and the painter asked if Goddard knew what became of the aircraft. Goddard didnt know, but the painter gave him the phone number of a man who kept track of the location of every F-100.
Goddard didnt figure there was much chance it even still existed, in part because many F-100s were used as target drones. Goddard contacted the man anyway and was told the plane was on a display pedestal at Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts. He had a friend who lived in the area go by and confirm by the tail number that it was his plane.
That didnt sit too well with Goddard.
It was important to me to find out what had happened to it, Goddard said. When I found it was sitting on a pedestal in Massachusetts in the wintertime, I just thought that was not a very good place for an airplane that had served so well.
He contacted the museum and said he cajoled them into trying to acquire the plane. Museum Director Ken Emery, who stood next to Goddard as he told the story, said it didnt actually take much cajoling.
The museum had an F-100 already, but it had never been in combat.
Goddards plane not only had extensive combat history but was flown in a Silver Star mission, and that would make it a prize possession for the museum in Emerys eyes.
At the museum we are anxious to show historic airplanes that have actually done something, Emery said. Our goal is to restore it just the way Gen. Goddard flew it in Vietnam.
Emery, however, wasnt sure if Otis Air National Guard Base would give it up. Once officials there learned why the museum wanted it, they bent over backwards to help, he said. They worked out an exchange in which the museum sent its F-100 to Otis to replace Goddards plane.
Goddard isnt the only local tie for the plane, Emery noted. When it left the factory, the first place it ever landed was at Robins Air Force Base. Modifications were done at the base before the plane went to Vietnam.
Silver Star mission took out anti-aircraft batteries
The Silver Star is the third highest combat medal for a member of the Air Force, behind only the Medal of Honor and the Air Force Cross.
Goddard received the medal for his actions on Feb. 9, 1969. According to the citation, he flew through heavy enemy flak and automatic weapons fire to destroy three anti-aircraft positions and supporting facilities.
The anti-aircraft positions were protecting supply routes, and most of Goddards missions involved attacking those routes. The plane was equipped with four 20-millimeter cannons that would rain down 6,000 rounds per minute, causing the plane to shudder.
He would swoop down so low he could see the enemy troops on the ground. He has a case full of 16-millimeter film the plane recorded every time he opened fire. He hopes to have it transferred to video, so a display can be set up by the plane at the museum and people can actually see what the plane did on a combat mission.
However, the film is more than 40 years old and has never been played, so Goddard is looking for the right person with expertise to transfer it.
It was an emotional moment for Goddard when the plane arrived at the museum, and it will be emotional again when he sees it restored and on display, he said. He contacted his crew chief in Vietnam, as well as the pilot who flew the plane after Goddard returned home, and both said they will be there when the plane is unveiled to the public.
You dont fly that many missions in an airplane and not have a great respect of what it did for you, he said. When we put it back together, there will be some tears.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.