Richard “Rick” Lee Ward, IO
18th SOS, Nakhon Phanom, Da Nang, and Bien Hoa, 1971-72
Rick Ward was born June 6, 1949, in Aurora, Illinois and graduated from West Aurora High School in 1968. Rick died in a C-130 crash on March 12, 1985 while TDY at Ft. Hood, Texas doing what he loved best – flying as an Instructor Flight Engineer. According to the Air Force, it was pilot error. The crew was doing drop training in a goose formation. It was thought that the pressure between the wings of his C-130 and another C-130 caused his aircraft to lose altitude and the wing hit a tree. The two crewmen that were pushing loads out of the back were blown from the aircraft and somehow, survived. Rick was a Master Sergeant at the time, assigned to the Blue Barons, on a C-130 crew out of Little Rock AFB, Arkansas.
Rick’s mother said that a recruiter came to his High School Senior year, and that he signed up for the Air Force at school. He graduated June 6, 1968 and left for basic training at Lackland AFB, San Antonio, TX on August, 28, 1968. Rick’s parents were very surprised at his decision to join up, and his daughter, Theresa said he never really told them why he volunteered.
Before his tour as an AC-119K Stinger Illuminator Operator, Rick’s assignments included 3380th Civil Engineering Squadron at Keesler AFB, C-130s at Little Rock, MacDill AFB, and two other tours in Southeast Asia.
One of Rick’s most exciting AC-119 missions was when he distinguished himself by extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as an AC-119K Illuminator Operator in Southeast Asia on 2 May 1972. As his citation for the Distinguished Flying Cross reads, “On that night, Sergeant Ward’s crew was providing close air support for a friendly position being overrun by enemy troops. When six SA-7 heat seeking missiles were fired at his aircraft, Sergeant Ward immediately launched two flares which drew the missiles off target. Due to Sergeant Ward’s quick thinking and superior knowledge his aircraft and crew of ten were saved. The professional competence, aerial skill, and devotion to duty displayed by Sergeant Ward reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.” This is from Rick’s Distinguished Flying Cross, First Oak Leaf Cluster.
Theresa remembers that her Dad never talked about Vietnam, ever. If they ever asked he would point to a small plaque on his library wall that said, “War is hell, but peace is a pain in the ass.” Theresa said she never understood that until she was an adult and in the Air Force herself. Gus Sininger remembers many ‘Oh-dark-thirty’ phone calls from Rick after Vietnam. Seems Rick enjoyed a shot or two of tequila with his Stinger Gunship buddies when he went on TDYs, and invariably that usually led to some memories of the great camaraderie we all shared in SEA, followed rapidly by a phone call to say ‘Hi’ to one of those friends. Rick visited Wayne Laessig several times and after some tequila, both would say “Let’s call Gus (Sininger)”, followed (sometimes) by “What time is it there”, and ALWAYS followed by, “Gus won’t mind, we’re Stinger buddies!” Wayne recalls Gus’s wife’s sleepy, “It’s for you” at many at 2 a.m. followed by an occasionally grumpy (but always glad to hear from us) “Are you two drunk….again”, from Gus.
Wayne told Theresa about the time their crew had flown 32 nights in a row and was replaced at the last minute on the 33rd night with the explanation that they’d exceeded safe combat fatigue limits and had the next 5 days as “Combat Time Off” or CTO. The whole crew headed downtown, rented a hotel, and unwound playing poker, etc………all night long. As soon as the 12 am – 6 am curfew was lifted, they en masse headed to Jimmy Wong’s tattoo parlor around the corner, where about half the crew got tattoos. Wayne was last to get his and had imbibed a little more Mekong and Mekong (said to be Mekong brand whiskey plus Mekong river water) than is healthy and ended up with a Gemini tattoo on his butt. Later in life, Rick (who was a Gemini as well and stationed at Travis AFB with Wayne as a good friend) decided he needed one just like that too. The results included a fair number of unique double moons, with matching (almost) tattoos, at several bases as Rick and Wayne’s paths crossed over the years. True friendship has no bounds.
Rick’s awards included two Distinguished Flying Crosses and 11 Air Medals. He is survived by his daughter Theresa Ward-Cockhill and granddaughter Addison, and son Richard Jason.