Behind the scenes: C-123K a military ‘provider’

May 22, 2013 

As a volunteer at the Museum of Aviation working in the museum’s archives, I found myself fascinated with all the planes and the stories behind them. I have always had a love of history, but aircraft were not on my radar -- until now.

Planes have all sorts of letters and numbers and nicknames by which they are identified. This mixture of alphabetical and numerical symbols has meaning, at least to those who have been associated with planes.

One by one, I have been learning about the aircraft at our museum. I am beginning to learn what the planes are as in fighter, cargo plane, bomber, utility helicopter, basic trainer and others. I have learned about the numbers and what they mean, but I find the plane nicknames one of the more interesting things about each aircraft.

My latest subject of interest is the C-123K, also called “Provider.” Compared with the cargo planes we are familiar with at Robins Air Force Base, like the C-130 or the C-5, this is a smaller plane. It was known for the missions it flew in Vietnam from the 1960s into the early 1970s.

This type of plane carried everything from jeeps to the usual military supplies. It carried the wounded. It also carried animals and civilians from one village to another. It was a provider for soldiers and for the people of South Vietnam. It could land and take off in a short distance, which helped when there was a short runway. The C-123 could transport almost anything that could fit inside and needed to be moved from one place to another.

There was one thing this plane provided during the war that was controversial and life-changing for both sides. It provided a way to destroy the jungle cover of the enemy so they could be more easily seen. The plane sprayed defoliants such as Agent Orange, Agent White and Agent Purple. Today, we realize that being exposed to those chemicals caused many health problems.

The C-123 could carry 24,000 pounds of cargo or 60 fully equipped troops or 50 wounded on stretchers. It was a very noisy plane with no insulation. It was bare bones with a small cockpit that gave the pilot and crew little room to move around.

One of the famous stories about the C-123 in Vietnam concerned Lt. Col. Joe Jackson from Newnan. He and his crew voluntarily rescued three men from a Special Forces camp at Kham Duc, South Vietnam, which had been overrun by the enemy. Jackson did so under heavy enemy fire and as a result of his bravery he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Lyndon Johnson.

There is so much more to be told about “Provider.” The museum’s C-123 has been restored on the outside with camouflage paint. Hopefully, in the near future it will have a new home inside one of the buildings. If you have a story about the C-123, please contact us and share what you know or have experienced so we can record it for generations to come. Contact our curator, Mike Rowland, at michael.rowland@robins.af.mil.

Marilyn N. Windham, of Fort Valley, is a volunteer at the Museum of Aviation. Contact her at mnwindham@aol.com.

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