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Families Restore A-26A

    A 5-Minute History Lesson
'Nimrod' families hope to restore A-26A
AirForce Times
April 2, 2007
By Robert F. Dorr and Fred L. Borch

The call themselves "Legacies" now - instead of the word from the Air Force of their era, "Dependents."

They're the sons and daughters of members of the 609th Special Operations Squadron, the "Nimrods" who flew the A-26A Counter Invader bomber at the secret base at Nakhom Phanom, Thailand, during the Vietnam War.

And now these veterans' children have established The A-26 Legacy Foundation, whose mission is to acquire the world's last flyable Counter Invader and fly it in tribute to 609th aircrews.

The 609th squadron and its A-26A, a rebuilt version of a propeller-driven, World War II attack plane, did some of its fighting in Vietnam but most of it in Laos, a country where U.S. involvement was not openly acknowledged. Laos was officially neutral, but the Laotian government allowed North Vietnam to operate a Laotian infiltration route, dubbed the "Ho Chi Minh Trail" by Americans, bringing military supplies to enemy forces in South Vietnam.

Between 1966 and 1969, Nimrod A-26As flew risky night missions to try to choke off the flow of supplies.

For pilots and crews in a jet, the propeller-driven plan evoked memories of an earlier time.

Douglas Aircraft Co. built 2,529 A-26 Invaders between 1942 and 1946. They fought in Europe and the Pacific during World War II.

When the Air Force's system for naming aircraft was overhauled in 1948, the Invader became the B-26. B-26 Invaders fought throughout the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, and they were used by the Central Intelligence Agency in the failed invasion at Cuba's Bay of Pigs in 1961.

When the Pentagon began to emphasize counterinsurgency in 1961 - President Kennedy sparked a renewed interest in special operations, and the U.S. faced a counterinsurgency war in South Vietnam - the Air Force contracted with On mark Engineering Co. of Van Nuys, Calif., to modify 40 of the bombers for new duties against guerrilla forces. Initially known as B-26Ks, they went to Southeast Asia with the 606th Air Commando Squadron, and after an organizational shuffle served with the Nimrods. Because of an agreement with Thailand that banned "bombers" operating from Thai soil (though the fighters took off on bombing missions daily), the Nimrods' aircraft was renamed the A-26A.

Last living remnant
One of the Nimrods was the late Lt. Col. Charles C. Vogler, a 609th Special Operations Squadron pilot. His son, Donald Vogler, described himself as "the moving force" behind the mission to honor the Nimrods.

The A-26 Legacy Foundation has located the world's last airworthy A-26A, affectionately named Special K and owned by a family in Billings, Mont.

Not satisfied with the heritage of the 609th being reflected in the five nonflying A-26As that survive at museums, Don Vogler said, "We have a goal of acquiring the plane, restoring it, and flying it at air shows and in other settings where public awareness can be raised of the Nimrods' service to our country as well as the history of their plane that served this nation so faithfully."

Vogler said his foundation's hope is to raise $500,000 to purchase and restore Special K to its Vietnam-era configuration in time for the next Nimrod reunion, scheduled for October at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The foundation's website is www.A-26Legacy.org.

Robert F. Dorr, an Air Force veteran, lives in Oakton, Va. He is the author of "Air Combat," a history of fighter pilots. His e-mail address is robert.f.dorr@cox.net. Fred L. Borch retired from the Army after 25 years and is the regimental historian for the Army Judge Advocate General's Corps. He is the author of "The Air Force Cross," a history of the service's second highest award for valor. His e-mail address is borchfj@aol.com.