Fidiam, Aaron Gregory, Jr., TSgt

Fallen
 
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Last Rank
Technical Sergeant
Last Primary AFSC/MOS
46470-Munitions Disposal Technician
Last AFSC Group
Weapons and Munitions
Primary Unit
1965-1965, 46470, 34th Air Base Squadron
Service Years
1952 - 1965
Official/Unofficial US Air Force Certificates
Cold War Certificate
Cuban Missile Crisis
Technical Sergeant

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Home State
New York
New York
Year of Birth
1934
 
This Military Service Page was created/owned by MSgt Ricky Hudson to remember Fidiam, Aaron Gregory, Jr., TSgt.

If you knew or served with this Airman and have additional information or photos to support this Page, please leave a message for the Page Administrator(s) HERE.
 
Casualty Info
Home Town
Endicott
Last Address
Bien Hoa AB


Casualty Date
May 16, 1965
 
Cause
Non Hostile- Died Other Causes
Reason
Multiple Fragmentation Wounds
Location
Bien Hoa (Vietnam)
Conflict
Vietnam War
Location of Interment
Arlington National Cemetery - Arlington, Virginia
Wall/Plot Coordinates
01E 117

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Pacific Air Forces


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  1965, Vietnam Veterans Memorial [Verified] - Assoc. Page

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Explosives Ordnance Disposal (Senior)


 
 Unit Assignments
US Air ForceUS Air ForceUS Navy (USN)63rd Troop Carrier Wing
Eastern Space and Missile Center/Eastern Test Range34th Tactical Group34th Air Base Squadron
  1954-1956, 75350, 6332nd Air Base Wing
  1957-1958, 75350, 6000th Operations Squadron
  1960-1960, 46430, US Navy (USN)/US Navy EOD School Indian Head MD
  1961-1962, 46470, 63rd Troop Carrier Wing
  1963-1964, 46470, Eastern Space and Missile Center/Eastern Test Range
  1964-1965, 46470, 34th Tactical Group
  1965-1965, 46470, 34th Air Base Squadron
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1962-1962 Cuban Missile Crisis
  1964-1965 Vietnam Advisory Campaign (1961-65)
  1964-1965 Vietnam Advisory Campaign (1961-65)/Operation Farm Gate
  1964-1965 Bien Hoa Air Base
  1965-1965 Vietnam Defensive Campaign (1965-66)/Bomb detonated at Bien Hoa Airbase
  1965-1965 Vietnam Defensive Campaign (1965-66)
  1965-1965 Operation Barrel Roll - Laos/Ho Chi Minh trail
 My Aircraft/Missiles
C-124 Globemaster II  SM-65 Atlas Missile  SM-68/HGM-25  Titan I  Missile  A-1 Skyraider (Sandy, Spad)  
B-57 Canberra  AC-47 Spooky/Puff  O-1/L-19 Bird Dog  
  1961-1963, C-124 Globemaster II
  1963-1964, SM-65 Atlas Missile
  1963-1964, SM-68/HGM-25 Titan I Missile
  1964-1965, A-1 Skyraider (Sandy, Spad)
  1964-1965, B-57 Canberra
  1964-1965, AC-47 Spooky/Puff
  1964-1965, O-1/L-19 Bird Dog
 Additional Information
Last Known Activity
Note:
"TSgt Claude Marvin Bunch, Capt. Ernest McFeron, TSgt Aaron Gregory Fidiam, Jr., and SSgt David Lee Hubbard, Jr. were killed on 16 May 1965.

TSgt Bunch and Fidiam were assigned to the 34th Air Base Squadron, 34th Tactical Group, 13th Air Force, CPT McFeron was assigned to the 33rd Air Base Squadron, and SSgt Hubbard was assigned to the 33rd Air Base Squadron, 33rd Tactical Group. On Sunday, 16 May 1965, a group of 11 Martin B-57B Night Intruder bombers that were loaded for a 0930 hours strike mission were sitting on the runway at Bien Hoa Air Base, Bien Hoa Province.

The B-57s were loaded with two 750-pound and ten 500-pound bombs, plus napalm. At 0815 hours the aircrews manned and started their aircraft when enemy mortar rounds hit the air base, which caused a 750-pound bomb loaded aboard the lead B-57B detonated. This explosion set off a chain of secondary explosions along the flight line.

The resulting conflagration killed 27 men and destroyed ten B-57Bs, eleven VNAF Douglas A-1H Skyraiders, a USAF A-1E, and a U.S. Navy Vought F-8E Crusader and caused numerous casualties among air and ground crewmen. In addition, 23 other aircraft received damage."
-findagrave.com

 
   
Comments/Citation

It is very difficult to piece together the military record of an individual sixty years after the fact without the primary military records. The following biographical sketch of Aaron Gregory Fidiam Jr, along with the description of events on the day of his death was pieced together with news reports of the day, official Air Force records, eyewitness accounts and testimony, and the research of numerous personsonnel. It is the intent of this author, to record these events, with care in recording them accurately and to honor the service and sacrifice of TSgt Aaaron Gregory Fidiam Jr, his comrades in arms and his family. 

Ricky W. Hudson, MSgt, USAF Retired, EOD

 Aaron Gregory Fidiam Jr., was born on July 31, 1934 to Aaron Gregory and Genevieve Louise Gettings Fidiam in Lake Winola, near Tunkhannok in Wyoming County, Pennsylvania. He had an older sister, Genevieve Louise Fidiam Karayanis. Aaron Gregory Fidiam Jr was a third generation American, his great-grandparents were born in England. His father was a state highway inspector according to the 1940 U.S. Federal Census They moved to Endicott, New York in 1942 and Fidiam Sr later worked for IBM at the Endicott Plant in Endicott, New York.  Gregory Fidiam was an avid aviation fan. He joined the New York Civil Air Patrol Squadron 189. He was appointed a cadet Lieutenant on May 7, 1952 and completed a course of instruction at Griffis Air Force Base, New York. This course was certified by the Air Force and would later reduce Gregory's basic training by two weeks. Aaron Gregory Fidiam Jr graduated Union-Endicott High School in Endicott, New York in 1952. He enlisted in the Air Force in September, 1952 and completed his basic training at Sampson Air Force Base, New York. After his death, his mother was quoted as saying "That the Air Force career was her sons deepest love."

A2C Gregory Fidiam was intially trained as a Small Arms Instructor. He completed a course in demolition at Toole, Utah and was then assigned to the Far East in January 1954 at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa as a Rifle Range Instructor in the 3332nd Air Base Wing and remained there until April-Mary 1955. 

SSgt A.G. Fidiam appears on a military air manifest, departing San Francisco with a stop in Honolulu and final destination as Tokyo, Japan on October 13, 1957 aboard Flying Tiger Air Lines. SSgt Fidiam next appears in the Stars and Stripes, Pacific Edition, November 21, 1957 as an instructor in the Military Development Center at Yamato Air Station, Japan attached to the 6000th Support Wing. The course of instruction covered the Code of Conduct, Brainwashing, and CBR Warfare, politcial events and alliances in international events of the day, as well as combat first aid and the use of assigned weapons. At the time of his death, according to his brother-in-law, Clarence Kayranis (a former Air Force Captain)  Greg was not happy with being a general instructor and longed for the flight line and away from the desk. It is likely when he returned from the assignment at Yamato, he attended the Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal at Indian Head, Maryland. At the same time Captain Karayanis gave had givine his observation, his mother said Greg had never discussed his job with her and she did not have any idea about the specifics of his career because Greg would not discuss it. She also said that TSgt Fidiam assignments lincluded a tour in Japan, Okinawa and an assignment at Patrick Air Force Base, at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

In July 1962, SSgt Gregory Fidiam was stationed at Donaldson Air Force Base, near Greeneville, South Carolina with the 63rd Troop Carrier Wing. On Wednesday, July 18, 1962, SSgt Aaron G. Fidiam and SSgt Roland Perkins responded to call from the Rural Police Headquarters at Spartanburg, South Carolina. Three teenage boys had picked up a bomb at Cross Keys, South Carolina and carried it home thinking it was  safe, but on reaching the home of one of the boys, they had decided to report it to the Rural Police. SSgt Fidiam and SSgt Roland Perkins disarmed the bomb around midnight and identified it as a ten pound napalm bomb. They transported the bomb back to Donaldson and detonated it. 

Donaldson Air Force Base was closed in January 1963. The units were sent to Hunter Air Force Base, Georgia. SSgt Fidiam was assigned to Patrick Air Force Base, Florida and supported Cape the Canaveral (Cape Kennedy) complex.He remained there until 1964.

TSgt Aaron Gregory Fidiam Jr., departed his home in Endicott, New York for Vietnam on July 30, 1964. When he arrived ihe was assigned to the 34th Tactical Group, Services and Support Squadron, EOD. 

BIEN HOA AND 34th TACTICAL GROUP BACKGROUND

In 1963 the war in Vietnam continued to spread as enemy forces grew. By June 1963, the USAF presence in South Vietnam had grown to almost 5,000 airmen. As the buildup continued, USAF directed the activation of a more permanent organizational structure to properly administer the forces being deployed to Bien Hoa Air Base. The 34th Tactical Group was established, and activated, on 19 June 1963, taking control of the USAF assets on 9 July. Bien Hoa Air Base was a joint U.S. Air Force and Republic of Vietnam Air Force base. The 34th Tactical Group served as the Air Force advisory group to the Republic of Vietnam Air Force on Bien Hoa Air Base, however the U.S. Air Force mission was changing due to increased Viet Cong activity throughout South Vietnam. The 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron (19th TASS) was organized on 17 June 1963 and was initially assigned to the 34th Tactical Group. Briefly inactivated between August and October 1964, the 19th TASS renewed its support of combat operations on 21 October. Primarily it provided visual and photographic reconnaissance and airborne forward air control for fighter aircraft. 

The 1st Air Commando Squadron was also activated at Bien Hoa. To preclude the need for an increase in personnel, it would absorb the Farm Gate men and equipment. The airmen began to prepare for the reorganization. But the missions continued, and on 20 July an SC-47 crew flew an emergency night mission to Loc Ninh and, disregarding enemy fire, strong winds, and blacked-out conditions, landed and rescued six severely wounded South Vietnamese troops. The 602nd Air Commando Squadron also was activated, flying A-1E Skyraiders. 

Eight days after the Loc Ninh mission, the 1st Air Commando Squadron was activated and Farm Gate was subsumed. Air Force Special Operations Command today traces much of its lineage to Farm Gate. It is the heritage of the air commandos.

Between October 1961 and July 1963, 16 Farm Gate air commandos were killed. Also lost were one SC-47, four T-28s, one U-10, and four B-26s. Within a year of its establishment, the 1st Air Commando Squadron had shed its B-26s and SC-47s and grounded some of its T-28s after two more went down due to catastrophic wing failures.

Following the Gulf of Tonkin incident on 4 August 1964, the Joint Chiefs of Staff began a buildup of US airpower in South Vietnam and 36 B-57B Canberras of the 8th and 13th Bombardment Squadrons at Clark Air Base were ordered to Bien Hoa. Additionally, U.S. Air Force deployed twelve F-102 Delta Dagger air defense interceptor aircraft, their number divided between Tan Son Nhut and at Da Nang Air Base. In addition, eight F-100 Super Sabres joined the F-102s at Da Nang.

As the B-57s approached Bien Hoa on the evening of 5 August one crashed on approach and two skidded on the rain-soaked runway colliding with each other and blocking the runway forcing the rest of the flight to divert to Tan Son Nhut Air Base. One of the B-57Bs was hit by ground fire and dived into the ground during approach at Tan Son Nhut and was destroyed, killing both crew members. Ground rescue parties were unable to reach the planes due to strong Viet Cong fire.

During the next few weeks, more B-57Bs were moved from Clark to Bien Hoa to make good the losses of 5 August and to reinforce the original deployment. The B-57s shared an open-air, three-sided hangar with the RVNAF resulting in overcrowding that forced 18 of the B-57s to be sent back to Clark in October.  Also, maintenance facilities for the B-57 at Bien Hoa were scarce. Initially, the B-57Bs were not cleared for actual combat missions, the aircraft being restricted to unarmed reconnaissance missions that were mainly designed to boost the morale of the population. However, actual combat was not to be delayed very long.

On October 4, 1964 the 34th Tactical Group was reorganized to provide the Group Commander adequate command and control over a rapidly expanding mission. The 602nd Fighter Squadron (Commando) was activated in October and a rescue and recovery detachment had been activated back in August. TSgt Fidiam he was officially assigned to the 34th Tactical Group. EOD and reported to the Deputy Commander for Maintenance through the Suport and Services Directorate. 

On the night of 1 November 1964 a VC mortar team penetrated the base perimeter and launched a 30 minute barrages on the base destroying 5 B-57s, 3 A-1Hs and 1 HH-43 and damaging 13 B-57s, 3 A-1Hs, 3 HH-43s and 2 C-47s and killing 4 U.S. and 2 Vietnamese. TSgt Fidiam and his fellow EOD team mates worked over continuously over two days in efforts to get the airfield cleared and so combat flight operations could be resumed.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended reprisal attacks against the North Vietnamese but President Lyndon Johnson ordered the replacement of the lost aircraft and convened a National Security Council working group to consider available political and military options.

Further Viet Cong mortar attacks led General William Westmoreland on February 19, 1965 to release the Bien Hoa-based B-57Bs for combat operations. The first such mission was conducted that day when the government of Vietnam requested the use of the B-57s from Bien Hoa and F-100 aircraft from USAF bases in Thailand to assist in an attack against a large Viet Cong force between An Khe and Pleiku in the Central Highlands. The VC had an isolated South Vietnam Army unit pinned down. That day the USAF's first combat mission bombing VC bases in Phưc Tuy Province, was in contrast to the preceding Farm Gate missions which were ostensibly conducted by the RVNAF, though in reality carried out by the USAF. This strike was, incidentally, the first time that live ordnance had been delivered against an enemy in combat from a USAF jet bomber. The B-57s conducted further strikes from 21 to 24 February and on 24 February USAF units rescued an ARVN unit under attack in the Mang Yang Pass. On 9 March 1965 the Joint Chiefs of Staff formally approved the use of USAF aircraft for offensive operations in South Vietnam, ending the advisory era.

The 34th Tactical Group was reorganized in March also. Explosive Ordnance Disposal was assigned to the 34th Munitions Maintenance function, under the 34th Air Base Squadron.

From 3-6 May 1965 USAF transport aircraft deployed the 173rd Airborne Brigade from Okinawa to Bien Hoa to secure the airbase and surrounding areas and the port of Vũng Tàu. Which began the full fledged U.S. deployment of ground force combatants to Vietnam. The use of the B-57s in combat continued to increase as the VC stepped up their attacks on ARVN outposts throughout South Vietnam and the jets were also used on Operation Barrel Roll missions over Laos. 

This forced the weapons storage facility at Bien Hoa to deliver ordnance well ahead of the frag orders. This resulted in bombs being stored underneath the wings of the B-57s sitting on the tarmac. The ordnance consisted of 250, 500, and 750-pound general purpose bombs, many armed with time-delay fuzes. There were also 750 lb. of napalm stored on the ramp. The pre-positioning of this ordnance was the basis for one of the "worst disasters in Air Force history". 

THE BIEN HOA DISASTER - MAY 16, 1965

  On Sunday, 16 May 1965, a second flight "Jade Flight" consisting of four Martin B-57B Night Intruder bombers were loaded for a 0840 hours strike mission (Barrel Roll) inside of Laos against the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  Flight 1 was waiting to take off on the runway and Flight 3 and 4 were on parking ramp.  The bombers were sitting on the north ramp at Bien Hoa Air Base.  They were loaded with 250-pound M57A1 general purpose bombs, 500-pound M64A1 general purpose bombs, 750-pound M117 demolition bombs, 750-pound M35 cluster incendiary bombs, and napalm.  At 0815 hours the aircrews manned their aircraft.  At 0824 hours a B-57B (Steel Tiger 1 parked at spot A-4, aircraft S/N 53-3904) with the 13th Bombardment Squadron (Tactical), 405th Fighter Wing, 34th Tactical Group, 13th Air Force) manned by Captain Charles Nathan Fox and his navigator Captain Vernon Lee Hanyes did the last pre-flight checks. They had been internally grounded with four 750 lb bombs under their wings and nine 500 lb bombs and were supposed to lead a group of four machines into action. They were just starting their turbine when suddenly an explosion completely ripped the plane. The explosion quickly propagated to nearby aircraft and munitions, including the other three B-57s of the task force but also four more B-57s being prepared for another mission and two B-57s that had recently returned from a mission. The explosions were so violent that some parts were thrown nearly two kilometers, a whole J65 turbine had been flung 900 meters. A real shower of wreckage fell over the apron, destroying Bells F-8E, an A-1E of the 34 TG and two A-1Hs of the South Vietnamese Air Force. 30 A-1s of the VNAF and a USAF HH-43 helicopter were damaged.

A black powder cartridge is used to start the aircraft, it causes a small starter turbine to spin.  These turbines sometimes spin loose and fly out of the starter housing.  On this day the turbine is thought to hit a fuze (possibly a M124A1 chemical long-delay anti-withdrawal tail fuze) of a 500-pound bomb, setting off a chain reaction of detonations.  The resulting conflagration killed 27 Air Force personnel and one South Vietnamese, it also injured 76 Air Force personnel, 29 Army personnel, and seven South Vietnamese.  The bombs were already fuzed on the aircraft and some of the 500-pound bombs were fitted with M124A1 chemical long-delay anti-withdrawal tail fuzes.  Out of 85 bombs on these aircraft, 65 exploded, and that left 20 bombs that needed to be dealt with. 

USAF Pilot Maj. Robert Graham Bell flew as exchange officer for several months with the USS Oriskany VF-162. That morning, with his F-8E "Crusader" (150931), he had flown a CAS mission over southern Vietnam when he was shot at from the ground. The suspension of his remaining bomb had been damaged and a fuel leak caused. The latter forced him to abandon his mission due to low fuel. According to USN instructions, he was not allowed to land with a "Hung Bomb" on a carrier deck and therefore diverted to Bien Hoa to have his machine checked and repaired there.  When he rolled out on the apron shortly after 8 o'clock and took his assigned parking position, he saw not far from him some rows of B-57Bs "Canberras". He parked his machine in the assigned slot and awaited arrival of the base EOD team to clear his hung ordnance. TSgt Tolbert L. Evers, TSgt Claude Marvin Bunch and TSgt Aaron Gregory Fidiam Jr, along with two weapons loading technicians, including A1C Barton H. Rogers. After dearming the aircraft the EOD team turned it over the A1C Barton and his teammate for downloading. A1C Rogers and his teammate downloaded the bomb and then proceeded back to the A1-E ramp to continue uploading munitions.

TSgt Bunch, TSgt Fidiam and TSgt Evers were just returning to their vehicle from dearming the hung ordnance on the F-8E Crusader when the first of a series of explosions occurred.  The first explosion occurred on the northwest corner of the B-57 parking ramp, was followed by several additional explosions, slinging hot, razor sharp shrapnel throughout the area. The initial explosion in Captain Foxes B-57 propagated to additional B-57s. TSgt Fidiam, TSgt, Evers and TSgt Bunch began helping others out of the area after the first explosion ocurred, and continued aiding in the evacuation until the explsions came nearer them. TheThe Major Graham's F-8E detonated last., and  TSgt Bunch, TSgt Evers and TSgt Fidiam were caught in the blast. Shrapnel struck TSgt Bunch mortally wounding him. TSgt Fidiam and TSgt Evers were uninjured and helped TSgt Bunch to safety and found medics to provide aid. With their vehicle destroyed, they proceeded back to the EOD shop on foot.

ACTIONS AFTER THE INITIAL DETONATIONS

The blast ignited aviation fuel storage in above ground rubber fuel bladders in the POL area adjacent to the B-57 ramp. Thousands of gallons of fuel resulted in a huge pyre of fire and dark black choking smoke.  The ignited fuel worked it way around to the deep ditches on both the north and south sides of the B-57 ramp. The ramp and the surrounding area became a burned out area, with debris, burned aircraft, burning fuel and scattered ordnance throughout the area. Through heroic efforts by many different base personnel, aircraft were taxied out of harms way, firefighters finally contained the numerous fires and the interminable detonations and fires subsided and the task of recovery began.

According to SSgt Elwood Dean Quimby's many Rememberances for SSgt Hubbard, he and SSgt David Lee Hubband could hear the explosions in their barracks at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, which was about fifteen air miles distance. 2nd Air Division at Tan Son Nhut directed Captain Ernest McFeron, SSgt Dale E. Shelley and SSgt Daniel C. Craig to respond by chopper to Bien Hoa to provide assistance. SSgt Elwood Dean and SSgt David Lee Hubbard shuttled over the Bien Hoa by vehicle along with other volunteers. 

The on-scene commander (OSC) on orders of the 34th Tactical Group Commander directed the remaining members of the Bien Hoa EOD team and the EOD Team from Tah Son Nhut to attempt roll-out procedures on the bombs fitted with these anti-withdrawal fuzes. The EOD Team tried to convince the OSC to let the bombs burn off and detonate, as there was nothing left to protect, but were unsuccessful.  The task was to sweep the area, locate and identify armed bombs safing them and then loading the safe bombs on trailer and transporting them to a safe holding arear until the EOD could complete disposal procedures. The EOD Team began the hazardous task of recovery and render safe operations.

At 10:30 a.m. Captain McFeron, TSgt Fidiam, SSgt Hubbard and SSgt Craig were working between the taxiway and the B-57 ramp attempting to render safe several bombs as quickly as possible, while SSgt Neil Scaible (munitions technician) loaded the safed bombs on a trailer. A1C Rogers reported he looked toward the operation and witnessed a bomb hanging from a munitons crane and men were applying CO2 to bombs already on the trailer in efforts to cool them down. SSgt Shelley also saw TSgt Fidiam applying the CO2. SSgt Shelley and SSgt Craig were inspecting another bomb a short distance away. With a jarring explosion the bomb which TSgt Fidiam was applying CO2 detonated, killing him Captain McFeron and SSgt Hubbard instantly. SSgt Shelley was thrown a distance and was seriously injured. Shrapnel struck SSgt Craig severing his right leg above the knee. Through an act of God SSgt Schaible survived the blast, he had been bent over trying to engage the power takeoff lever, and his position bending over had afforded him some protection, the blast had overturned the munitions truck. 

 TSgt Aaron Gregory Fidiam Jr, was within sixty days of completing his tour in Vietnam when the Bien Hoa disaster unfolded At the time of his death he was 30 years of age and had served in the Air Force for thirteen years. He was listed as missing for four days after the disaster at Bien Hoa and was positively identified on May 20th. His remains were flown back to the states and arrived by train to Endicott, New York for funeral and memorial services. Members of the local VFW Post 1449 met the train and transported his body to the awaiting hearse.

His funeral was conducted on June 2, 1965 at the First Presbyterian Church on Grant Avenue in Endicott, with military honors provided by an Honor Guard from Hancock Field at Syracuse, New York as his body and casket were placed in the hearse for transport to Arilington, National Cemetery, where he was buried on June 3, 1965. 

TSgt Aaron Gregory Fidiam Jr., was awarded the Airman's Medal and Bronze Star, posthumously. The awards were present to his parents, Aaron G. Fidiam Sr and Genevieve Louise Gettings Fidiam in their home on August 16, 1965. The medals were presented by Colonel F.H. Forester of the 416th Bombardment Wing, Griffis Air Force Base, New York.

The Bronze star was for the period August 1, 1964 to Mar 15, 1965 with primary notations about the mortar attack on Bien Hoa on November 1, 1964. This was the first time his parents and his sister were aware of his actions on that date.

The Bronze Star citation in part reads;

 

"TSgt Aaron G. Fidiam Jr., distinguished himself by meritorious service as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician from August 1, 1964 to March 15, 1965"... During and after the mortar attack on Bien Hoa Air Base, Sergeant Fidiam worked continuosly for 28 hours without regard to his own safety in order to clear the flight line are of explosive hazards."

The Airman's Medal citation in part reads;

 

"TSgt Aaron G. Fidiam Jr., distinguished himself by heroism involving voluntary risk of life at Bien Hoa Air Base, Republic of Vietnam on May 16, 1965. On that date the flight line was rocked by explosions of several 500 pound aerial bombs which in turn ignited large quantities of aircraft fuel and set off large quantities of 20mm ammunition. After the ensuing fire had been extinguished, Sergeant Fidiam acting with utter disregard for his safety and in the face of extreme danger courageously volunteered to assist in clearing the area of numerous unexploded delayed action bomb...While performing this hazardous operation, one of the bombs exploded..."

Letter, 34th Air Base Squadron, Commander, Major Donald E. Finkelson, Bien Hoa Air Base, Republic of Vietnam, to Mr. and Mrs. Aaron Fidiam Sr, 110 Adams Avenue, Endicott, New York, in part;

 

"The personal courage that Aaron displayed, risking his life to protect his fellow servicemen set him apart from his fellow airmen. We are honored to serve with men of his caliber."

 

" ...The first explosion happened on the flight line about 8:34 a.m. TSgt Fidiam entered the area as a member of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit..."the mission was to check for unsafe conditions. ..At 10:25 there was another explosion.. the sergeant was last seen walking toward the area of the explosion at which time he was fatally struck by fragmentations...., he died of multiple sharpnel wounds."

 

Survivors included his parents, Aaron Gregory Fidiam Sr and Genevieve Louise Gettings Fidiam, and sister Genevieve Louise Fidiam Karayanis. 

BIEN HOA AFTERMATH

After the fatal blast the took the lives of Captain McFeron, TSgt Fidam and SSgt Hubbard, operations were limited to tending the wounded, and injured and recovering the casualties. The area was evacuated and sealed off and base leaders were forced to look at other options. EOD began the task of clearing hazardous ordnance on May 17th. Late in the Afternoon of May 17, 1965 additional EOD support was requested and Captain John Cormier and SSgt Rudy Davis from the Kadena, Okinawa EOD Team along with SSgt Vaughn Ashley and SSgt Grove Ramsey from Tan Son Nhut Air Base arrived and linked up with remaining Bien Hoa members, TSgt Tolbert Evers (NCOIC), TSgt Joe Moore and SSgt Riley Bates. The combined EOD Team members began the task of safing the general purpose bombs. The task was complicated due to the deterioration from the fires and damage by shrapnel impacts. These operations continued until sundown and was suspended until daylight the next morning.

On May 18th efforts were concentrated on transporting the safed bombs to the EOD holding area and the safing and clearance of the less hazardous ordnance. Once again the EOD Team was augmented by munitions maintenance and aircraft weapons loading crews. Hundreds of rounds of .50 caliber ammunition along with 20mm round were recovered and removed along with other hazardous ordnance. This endeavor was completed and the ramp was cleared for scrap and debris removal and allowed ramp recovery to begin.

On Wednesday, May 19th, EOD was not allowed to conduct demolition operations due it being a Vietnamese holiday. Captain Cormier, took the opportunity to request support from the EOD Team at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. Captain Michael Henri , SSgt Robert Funk and two others arrived on May 21st and hazardous operations were againg undertaken with the disposal of the hazardous munition. Full recovery would not be completed for several day, but the end was in site. Memorial Services were held at Bien Hoa on May 22, 1965 for the 27 lost souls of 16 May 1965, U.S. Ambassador Maxell Taylor, Lt General William C. Westmoreland, Commander of U.S. Forces in Vietnam and Colonel William E. Bethea, 34th Tactical Group Commander, were some of dignitaries in attendance. 

The The Bien Hoa Air Base Vietnam May 16, 1965 Conflagration/Fire Accident Investigation Board concluded that the disaster was caused by the accidental explosion of a bomb on a parked B-57 triggering a series of blasts. The aircraft and the ammunition were stored too close together which allowed the fires and explosions to spread. The accident investigation board recommended improvements. In the face of such experience, engineers initiated a major program to construct revetments and aircraft shelters to protect individual aircraft.

The 10 surviving B-57s were transferred to Tan Son Nhut AB and continued to fly sorties on a reduced scale until replacement aircraft arrived from Clark AB. As the B-57B was withdrawn from active front-line service, some B-57Bs had to be transferred to Vietnam from the Kansas Air National Guard, and 12 B-57Es had to be withdrawn from target-towing duties and reconfigured as bombers to make good these losses. In June 1965, the B-57s were moved from Tan Son Nhut AB to Da Nang Air Base.

 

Sources:

1)-Mike R. Vining, SGM USA (Retired);

2)-CMSgt Marshall B. Dutton, USAF Retired, "The Hellbox Times", Volume  1, Issue 7, July 1995;

3)-EOD Wounded Warrior Foundation;

4)-Wikipedia articles on Ben Hoa, B-57 Canberra Bombers, 33rd and 34th Tactical Groups;

5); The Coffelt Vietnam Casualty Data Base, on -line;

6)-Lt General William K. Martin, Air Force Insperctor General, statement before the Armed Services SubCommittee of the U.S. House of Reprsentatives, 26 May 1965;

7)-U.S. Air Force Accident Incident Report (Redacted), for 16 May 1965, report dated 17 Jul 1965, President of Investigation Board, Maj General Gilbert L. Meyers

8)-Newpapers - The Press and Sun Bulletin (Binghamton, New York), May 6, 1952; The Press and Sun Bulletin (Binghamton, New York), September 25, 1952; The Press and Sun Bulletin (Binghamton, New York), March 6, 1955, The Stars and Stripes Pacific Edition, November 21, 1957; The Evening Telegram (Rocky Mount, North Carolina), July 20, 1962;  The Greenville News (South Carolina), July 19, 1962; The Press and Sun Bulletin, (Binghamton, New York), May 17, 1965, The Press and Sun Bulletin, (Binghamton, New York), May 30, 1965, The Press and Sun Bulletin (Binghamton, New York), August 17, 1965; The Hays (Ft Hays Kansas) Daily News, May 17, 1965; The Times Recorder (Zanesville, Ohio) May 23, 1965) 

9)-Aaron Gregory Fidiam Jr  in the U.S., Vietnam War Military Casualties, 1956-1998

   
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