Capt. James McKinstry and the McKinstry chapter of IPMS
IPMS McKinstry is the Northern Illinois branch of the International Plastic Modelers’ Society. The group meets on one Friday (usually the third) of each month at the Arlington Heights Library and discusses model-related topics. Meetings often include helpful demonstrations and much ribald humor.
IPMS McKinstry primarily focuses on aircraft and ship models, but models of all types are welcome. We also welcome new members and guests at our meetings. “The Tick” publishes a monthly newsletter, which is now available online.
The McKinstry chapter is named after Captain James McKinstry Jr. Capt. McKinstry was a founding member of IPMS. He was also an Air Force C-130 pilot, who was tragically killed in action in the Vietnam War.
Captain James J. McKinstry, Jr.
by Bill Peake
The article “In His Honor”, by Ernie McDowell and Walt Fink, which follows on the IPMS McKinstry web site, provides us with background information about Air Force Captain James J. McKinstry, Jr., the person for whom our IPMS chapter is named. For those who may have wanted more details about the event that took his life, there is a book titled, “Vietnam Air Losses” by Chris Hobson from Midland Publishing, which provides information on all of the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fixed wing aircraft lost during the war. Additional details can be found in the “C-130s in Vietnam” section of Sam McGowan’s C-130 web site at http://hometown.aol.com/SamC130/index.html.
(Mar. 6, 2017, Webmaster update. The aol.com website mentioned above has been decommissioned, and while an alternative site has been authored by Mr. McGowan, it does not appear to contain the information regarding the event at A Luoi. We suggest the web page authored by Sgt. Stephen Willcox at TogetherWeServed as an alternative, as it provides an excerpt from Mr. McGowan’s account, as well as additional information regarding the service record of Capt. McKinstry.)
Captain McKinstry was killed in action at A Luoi, Thua Thien Province, Republic of Vietnam on 26 April 1968, while assigned to the 772nd Tactical Airlift Squadron (TAS), 463rd Tactical Airlift Wing (TAW) and flying as co-pilot on C-130B, serial number 60-0298. The aircraft was assigned to the 29th TAS, 463rd TAW and based at Clark AB, Republic of the Philippines. The aircraft and crew were detached to Tan Son Nhut AB, Republic of Vietnam. Captain McKinstry was 30 years old when he was killed in action. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross. His named appears on Panel 52E, Row 22, of “The Wall” the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Killed in action along with Captain McKinstry were Major Liburn R. Stow (the aircraft commander, also assigned to the 772nd TAS, 463rd TAW, but flying as replacement for the regular aircraft commander who was not available for duty that day), Major John L. McDaniel, Technical Sergeant Russell R. Fyan, Staff Sergeant Beryl S. Baylock, Sergeants Daniel J. O’Connor and Larry R. Todd, and Airman First Class Kenneth Johnson. Two of the men on board were USAF photographers. A plaque honoring the crew was placed on the wall of the 29th Tactical Airlift Squadron building.
The histories of the involved units for the Vietnam War period begin with the 772nd Troop Carrier Squadron (TCS), which was assigned to the 463rd Troop Carrier Wing (TCW) at Mactan AB, Republic of the Philippines on 7 February 1966. It was redesignated as the 772nd TAS on 1 August 1967. The squadron provided aircraft and crews for detachments to the 834th Air Division (AD) at Tan Son Nhut AB. The squadron was inactivated on 15 June 1971.
On 30 January 1966, the 29th TCS was attached to the 463rd TCW at Mactan AB, from the 313th TCW at Forbes AFB, Kansas, but was based at Clark AB. The squadron was reassigned to the 463rd on 25 March 1966. It was then redesignated as the 29th TAS on 1 August 1967. The squadron provided aircraft and crews for detachments to the 834th AD at Tan Son Nhut AB. The squadron flew camouflaged C-130B Hercules aircraft, and the “QB” tail code was assigned and began to appear in about July 1968. On 1 July 1970, the squadron became non-operational, and was inactivated on 31 October 1970.
The 463rd TCW relocated from Langley AFB, Virginia to Mactan AB, on 23 November 1965. On 1 August 1967, it was redesignated as the 463rd TAW. The wing relocated to Clark AB, on 15 July 1968. Finally, on 31 December 1971, the wing was inactivated.
In early 1968, Intelligence reports began to indicate that the Communist forces were constructing new roads in the A Shau Valley, which was one of the main North Vietnamese infiltration routes from the Ho Chi Minh Trail complex into the South. On 19 April, Operation Delaware was commenced by elements of the 1st Cavalry Division to contest the enemy build-up, and on the 25th the Cavalry landed at an abandoned airstrip at A Luoi. On the next day, C-130’s from Cam Rahn Bay, Bien Hoa and Tan Son Nhut were assigned to drop supplies to the troops on the airfield until it could be prepared to allow landings by C-7 Caribous and C-123 Providers.
The airdrops were made in extremely poor weather, with low clouds and poor visibility. The aircraft were required to descend through 5,000 feet of clouds into a narrow valley with mountains on each side that extended to 2,000 feet. The cloud ceiling was down to about 400 to 500 feet above the floor of the valley with visibility of only one or two miles. The previous night a USAF Combat Control Team, commanded by Major Don Strobaugh, flew into the valley in an Army CH-47 helicopter, but they had been forced to leave much of their equipment behind at Da Nang AB due to the lack of available payload space in the helicopter. This included the ground control airdrop equipment, which allows drops in poor visibility. This required the crews to fly without the aid of outside guidance. They had to call upon all of their experience and courage to perform their dangerous mission. The C-130 navigators used their radar to keep the pilots clear of the ridges as they made an instrument descent. It was also necessary to fly without the benefit of air strikes, which had been canceled due to the weather conditions.
Seven C-130’s were hit by ground fire during the first 20 drops and on the 21st mission Capt. McKinstry’s aircraft was shot down. It was reported that the weather in the valley had improved somewhat and the aircraft broke out of the clouds further down the valley than previous aircraft and was immediately hit by .50 caliber and 37mm ground fire. As the aircraft passed over the drop zone the Combat Control Team could see smoke streaming from the open cargo doors. The load in the cargo bay had caught fire. An attempt was made to jettison it from the aircraft, but it was unsuccessful. Radio contact was lost with the stricken Hercules. As it turned towards the airstrip to attempt a landing the wing of the aircraft hit some trees, which caused it to cartwheel and explode. Major Strobaugh jumped into a jeep and drove to the crash site. He went around the burning airplane looking for signs of life, but none were found. He was awarded the Airman’s Medal for his rescue attempt. After the crash, all operations to supply A Luoi were terminated until the following day when conditions improved.
For those who have an interest in building a model of the C-130 that Captain McKinstry flew, note that the aircraft was in the standard SEA camouflage scheme. The upper surfaces were Forest Green (FS595 34079), Medium Green (FS595 34102) and Tan (FS595 30219), while the undersides were Camouflage Gray (FS595 36622). The QB tail code had not yet been assigned at the time the aircraft was shot down. The serial number, in black letters, was presented as “60298”. The main external difference between the C-130B and later C-130E is the lack of external wing tanks on the “B” model.
“In His Honor”
Emie McDowell and Walt Fink
Many Famous names in the annals of past and present history have, over the past few years, been chosen as namesakes for various IPMS/USA chapters throughout our land; several of these chapters have also elected to add the word “Memorial” to their names, and in a way pay tribute to an airman, soldier, or sailor who has made the supreme sacrifice for our country. Our chapter is numbered among those which are dedicated to paying homage to these fine men; in addition, we are the first chapter to so honor a man who was an active and enthusiastic member of IPMS/USA, a charter member of the society, and to our knowledge the first IPMS/USA member to lose his life in combat.
James J. McKinstry Jr., was born in St Louis, Missouri, on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1938, and spent his early years in various cities, as his father was a Naval Officer on active duty during WW II. War’s end found the McKinstry family moving to America’s West Coast, finally settling in Oakland, California. When Jim finished high school, he entered the University of California and joined the USAF ROTC program, becoming a member of the drill team, and in time, its commander. While at the University of California, he met and then married his beloved wife, Sylvia, who had been the ROTC Unit Secretary. The Arnold Air society welcomed Jim to its ranks, and upon graduation, with a Bachelor of Science degree conferred upon him by the University, he was given the singular honor of being designated Distinguished Cadet of the Class of 1959.
Orders came through, and Jim reported to Lackland AFB, San Antonio, Texas, to begin pre-flight training; Another graduation found Jim being sent to Barstow, Florida, for pilot training; from there, it was on to Webb AFB, Big Spring, Texas, for advanced training and the winning of his silver USAF wings as a member of the June class, 1961.
Selfridge Field was the first base for the newly graduated pilot, and he and Sylvia set up housekeeping at the Michigan SAC base. In the following years, two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, were born to the young couple. At this time, Jim became very active in IPMS/USA and was one of the charter members, being listed as number 0097 on the roster; he volunteered to set up, procure, and distribute binders for both the QUARTERLY and the NEWSLETTER, a most formidable task.
The Air Force, recognizing a fine officer, promoted Jim to First Lieutenant in February 1963, and to the rank of Captain in October 1964.
At Selfridge, Jim flew the KC-97, one of Boeing’s old standbys; however, as the war in Southeast Asia escalated, he was transferred to TAC, and was soon ordered to Sewart AFB, Smyrna, Tennessee, where he transitioned to the Lockheed C-130 Hercules. Despite the increasing demands on his time by his new assignment, he still found time to devote to IPMS and its programs.
Jim began to really “see the world” in some of the best traditions of the armed services; he and his crew took part in Exercise Deep Furrow in October, 1967. They staged out of Incirlik Airfield (of U-2 fame) in Turkey, and touched down at other bases in that country such as Merzifon, Cigli, Essenbaga, and Dvarbakir. Other letters to his IPMS friends here at home bore postmarks from Larisa and Thessilonika in Greece; from Rhein-Mein and Wiesbaden, Germany; Iceland; El Alto, Bolivia; Lima, Peru; Kadena, Okinawa; Moron, Spain; and various large Stateside bases. Wherever Jim went, his camera was present and where permissible, he took photos; many of us IPMS members were recipients of Jim’s slides.
Orders came through for a tour in Southwest Asia, so Jim and his family left Smyrna on December 14, 1967, in order to settle Sylvia and the girls in California before he went overseas. By one of those odd coincidences, Jim left the States on his thirtieth birthday, February 14, 1968. Our last letter from him was dated February 21, 1968, when he reported that he was at Mactan, near Cebu in the Philippines, still undergoing processing, but scheduled to depart for Vietnam that day. Typical of Jim and despite the fact that most of his personal luggage had gone astray in a G.I. foul-up, his letter included five aircraft slides.
Jim flew his final mission on April 26th, 1968, and was lost when his C-130 was hit by enemy ground fire and exploded over A Luoi Air Strip in the A Shau Valley, RVN. At the time, Jim was flying as co-pilot, but was due to get his own ship back shortly, and probably could’ve elected to stay on the ground…but the going was rough and he wanted to do his part. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross, and as a member of the 5260th Support Squadron based at Tan Son Nhut, would have been eligible to wear the Outstanding Unit Citation which the squadron received later for action between July 1, 1967 and June 30, 1969
Jim McKinstry was above all a fine human being…kind, generous, thoughtful, intelligent, and loyal. A devout Christian, he took active part in his Church, serving in the base chapels, and with Sylvia, singing in the Church choirs as well. He was very active in Boy Scouting, again giving selflessly of his time and efforts. Having a large stamp and coin collection’ he pursued his aviation interests not just in modeling but in an extensive collection of books, magazines, and photographs. But Jim was more then all this. He was an honest man and a sincere friend. To his parents he was a wonderful, kind, thoughtful, and loving son; to his wife and daughters he was a devoted husband and a loving father.
Jim has left us all a heritage not only by his example and sacrifices, but some real tangibles we can enjoy and which will enrich our hobby. His superb book collection has been donated to the USAF museum, where it can be used for research by anyone who shares his love of aviation. His outstanding slide and photo collection is also preserved for us, as it has been donated to the Air University at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, available to historical researchers, and to be enjoyed by anyone visiting this facility.
The McKinstry chapter of IPMS
The foregoing will give you some idea of why we selected the name McKinstry for our chapter; it is a proud name and we are proud of it. If someone should ask you about our name and you don’t have time to fill in all the details, it will suffice to simply say what we say:
We named it for a very fine American.
Our chapter logo reflects our heritage. The background is the IPMS “world” which has been slightly reoriented to put our location, Chicago, at the center, and features a stylized silhouette of “Big John”, the John Hancock building, one of Chicago’s most prominent landmarks. Across the face from the lower left to upper right is the red, white and blue “IPMS USA stripe”, headed by three stylized aircraft flying appropriately, in the USAF “missing man formation”.
IPMS/McKinstry first came into existence on January 15, 1971, the first chartered chapter of IPMS/USA in the Chicagoland area; due to some operational needs (and some beyond our control) the meeting location has changed four times over the 32 years we’ve been around. Originally meeting at the California Park Field House in Chicago, we changed to the Horner Park Field House when the City of Chicago razed the California Park location. A further move to the near north suburb of Niles came about in an attempt to find a more suitable location with better facilities, and for two and a half years we held our meetings at Intelect Hobbies. The recession took its toll on our host, however, and when Intelect closed its doors for the last time, the chapter moved yet further west, to the northwest suburban location of Arlington Heights, and our current meeting place, the Arlington Heights Public Library.
Over the past years, as is the norm, members have come and gone; the other IPMS chapters in the Chicago area were in fact founded by ex-McKinstry members, who, for reason of distance and convenience, found a more local chapter to be in their best interests. Like McKinstry, these chapters have flourished, and a good liaison has developed between the various groups, one of which has spawned an “offshoot” chapter of its own.
IPMS McKinstry’s roots go deep into the fabric of IPMS/USA; the people who started the chapter were the ones who held the very first IPMS “convention” so many long years ago. Basically, it was a get-together to meet with Jim Sage (founder of IPMS/USA) from whom most of the charter members had been buying Japanese kits through Jim’s overseas contact. Jim was from Galva, Illinois, working in Texas, and coming home for a family visit.
The original IPMS/USA “charter” member list of 118 names includes eleven people who were the local group which chartered IPMS/McKinstry. Over the years, the chapter has produced three Regional Coordinators: Walt Goodlewski, Steve Kumamoto, and Kim Margosein. Steve subsequently assumed the duties of National Director of Local Chapters. The chapter produced two National Editors: Chuck Graham, first editor of the QUARTERLY, to whom the Society owes so much for getting the ball rolling with his fine publications, and Walt Fink, Q Editor for Volumes 7 and 8 who, along with then-Publications Director Bob LaBouy, also pioneered the UPDATE. Over the years, many members have contributed articles to both magazines and to their present successor, the IPMS/USA JOURNAL. Four QUARTERLY staff artists came from IPMS/McKinstry; Chuck Spinelli, Roger Witt, Don Grajek, and Dennis Soderstrom. Another fine artist, Keith Ward, was allied with the chapter, though not officially a member.
Two National Officers, McKinstry members Ed Cole and the late Gene Porter, took the paperwork helm when the Society was perilously close to folding, and put it back into smooth working order. The membership renewal system which Ed pioneered some 30 years ago is basically (with refinements) still in place, testimonial to its success. Another member, Emil Salinaz, served for two years as the Society’s 2nd Vice President in subsequent times. The late Mike Kenworthy served a term as the Foreign Liaison for IPMS/USA. Many of the early McKinstry members helped Robert Clifford Jones, the British chap who founded IPMS, get it organized and built up and set the ground for the foundation. We were among the first chapters to hold annual dinner meetings with members of the hobby manufacturers as guests, among them people from Hawk, Monogram, Airfix, and Minicraft/Hasegawa. Along with some members from other chapters, we put together one of the first displays for the HIAA trade show. Other McKinstry members such as the late Ernie McDowell and George Letzter have authored numerous military and aviation works. McKinstry Chapter has always supported Regional and National Conventions and sponsored trophy packages whenever possible.
We work with our host, the Arlington Heights Public Library, in putting up required displays on occasion, and with the other local chapters in the area on local displays and get-togethers. Our chapter maintains an active liaison with the hobby dealers in the area and helps out by assisting with contests, giving modeling demos and the like at various stores. In accordance with our standards and those of IPMS/USA, our chapter maintains an active Junior membership and a program aimed at those youngsters who wish to enhance their modeling skills; each contest features a junior or novice division. We hold monthly meetings year round, plus occasional field trips and special events as they come along in the schedule.
We are proud to be a supporting cast member of the IPMS/USA team; we continue to strive for excellence in our modeling, fun and camaraderie among our membership, and dedication to the ideals and purposes of the Society. Our selection as the 1984-85 IPMS/USA National Chapter of the Year has been a high point in our existence; we believe that we bring honor to Jim McKinstry’s name, and credit to his memory and to those precepts which he would have wanted IPMS to pursue.