Willis, William Sherrill, Lt Col

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Last Rank
Lieutenant Colonel
Last Primary AFSC/MOS
1425J-Air Operations Officer
Last AFSC Group
Air Operations
Primary Unit
1974-1975, 604th Military Airlift Support Squadron
Service Years
1953 - 1975
Lieutenant Colonel

 Last Photo   Personal Details 

Home State
North Carolina
North Carolina
Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by A3C Michael S. Bell to remember Willis, William Sherrill, Lt Col.

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Casualty Info
Home Town
Coats, NC
Last Address
Clark AB, Philippines

Casualty Date
Apr 04, 1975
Non Hostile- Died Other Causes
Air Loss, Crash - Land
Bien Hoa (Vietnam)
In The Line of Duty
Location of Interment
Coats City Cemetery - Coats, North Carolina
Wall/Plot Coordinates
01W 122

 Official Badges 

Air Force Commander

 Unofficial Badges 

 Military Association Memberships
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
  2012, Vietnam Veterans Memorial [Verified] - Assoc. Page

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 Ribbon Bar

Navigator Observer (Master)

 Unit Assignments
357th Airlift Squadron  - Deliverance60th Military Airlift Wing604th Military Airlift Support Squadron
  1961-1961, 357th Airlift Squadron - Deliverance
  1974-1975, 60th Military Airlift Wing
  1974-1975, 604th Military Airlift Support Squadron
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1975-1975 Operation Baby Lift (Vietnam)
 My Aircraft/Missiles
C-119 Flying Boxcar  C-5 Galaxy  
  1961-1961, C-119 Flying Boxcar
  1975-1975, C-5 Galaxy
 Additional Information
Last Known Activity
Crewlist to the destroyed C5A Galaxy, "operation Babylift".

LtCol Willis was Mission Observer on this aircraft (1 Jul 09) -------

LtCol William S. Willis C-5A 68-0218 It was a "BABYLIFT" Operation Flight Crashed during Take-off from Tan Son Nhut boots date 4 Apr 75 (8 days in country) MAC 60th Military Airlift Wing 604th Military Airlift Squadron -------

At 4:03 pm 03 Apr 1975 an Air Force C-5A Galaxy, serial number 68-218, of the 60th Military Airlift Wing lifted off the runway at Tan Son Nhut AB near Saigon, bound for Clark AB in the Philippines. As the initial mission in "Operation Babylift", the C-5 carried Vietnamese orphans enroute the United States. The aircraft commander was Captain Dennis Traynor, the copilot Captain Tilford Harp, and there was a crew of 15 others, including a 10-person medical team. -------


US Air Force LTC William Sherrill Willis, Korean War Veteran and Vietnam War Veteran, Native of Coats, NC.

US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Sherrill Willis was a casualty of the Vietnam War. As a member of the Air Force, LTC Willis served our country until April 4th, 1975 in Bien Hoa during "Operation Babylift", South Vietnam. He was 41 years old and was married. It was reported that William died when his plane crashed. His body was recovered. William was born on August 18th, 1933 in Coats, North Carolina. LTC Willis is on panel 01W, line 122 of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.

LtCol Willis was my my DO at Clark AB (604 MASS) and a fellow Tarheel. I often think about you and the guidance you provided for my Air Force career and the Masons. Wrote your final decoration and assisted in configuring C-5 68-218 for it's fateful mission. You'll always be in my thoughts-thanks, God Bless. CMSgt John Yoder(Ret), yoderj7@charter.net.

My father was LtCol William S. Willis of Clark AFB/P.I.- He was Commander of Flight Operations for the airlift. He died in the C-5A crash. I hope all those that were provided a second chance in the USA, understand the dues he and our family paid. Mark Willis. See Below:

Memorial Service, April 4, 2002, Site of the C-5A crash outside of Saigon, Vietnam: By Sister Susan Carol McDonald.

In late March, early April of 1975, commercial aircraft had all seats leaving Saigon already filled to capacity. The war was at a pitch where the airport sustained shelling from time to time and the main flights out were military cargo planes. Our agency, as well as others in Vietnam at the time who were responsible for children in their care, were looking for ways children could join awaiting families. The other option, of being returned to an overcrowded orphanage, we knew, would be choosing a probable death for the the child. Orphanages which ordinarily were used to meager resources now had very few means of acquiring medication and food. The U.S. government was providing an airlift for some Vietnamese persons who worked for US agencies and, every half hour, a cargo C-131 or C-141 would fly over our orphanage on its way out to Guam or the Phillippines. On April 3, 1975, we were notified by USAID (United States Aid to International Development) that three Medevac Nightingale(C9) planes were in the Phillippines and would be sent the next day to provide transportation for the children in our care.

Then, the following day, April 4, 1975, we were told that plans had changed; that one of the worlds largest planes, a cargo C-5A (which stood about six stories high) had landed at Tan Son Nhut and had off-loaded military supplies (the plane could carry four "Jolly Green Giant" helicopters, tanks, very large equipment). President Ford had heard of our request for transportation, had decided that the military would provide transportation, and called this effort Operation Babylift. The first of the Operation Babylift flights would be the C-5A cargo plane and would carry children in our care as well as wives and children of the US Defense Attache office, the embassy and other U.S. personnel. When we realized the Medevac planes hadn't materialized, the decision was made to put mainly the oldest children on board, children aged three and above. Also, I was to send 22 of the strongest infants in my care, who could be strapped into seats in the troop compartment of the huge plane. None of the high risk children from New Haven or Hy Vong would go on the flight.

Each of the children had passports, documentation required for adoption and had been placed with adoptive families who were waiting for their arrival. The cargo hold of the C-5A was the size of a large gymnasium (it could hold more than 16 city buses parked side by side), had netting on the floor, and a few seats along the side of the plane. It was not configured for passengers, there were no seat belts, and no possibility for oxygen, should that be needed. Much later we learned that that specific plane had had trouble with its rear doors 17 times. Only later did we hear the tape (acquired by 20/20) with the pilot expressing his concern that if something should happen with decompressors, there would be no way to safeguard the passengers. However, the pilot was instructed by the board master to proceed.

Just 15 minutes after take off - as the plane approached cruising altitude just over the South China Sea - the back doors blew out and, along with them, some crew, staff and children. The rudder control for the plane was lost, but the pilot was skillful and somehow was able to turn the plane back toward Saigon, however, with no control over speed of descent. Just outside of Saigon, the plane impacted in a rice field at 350 m.p.h., bounced over the Saigon River and eventually came to rest in a rice paddy a few miles from the airport. The pilot was later given well-deserved credit that anyone survived. Nurses at Saigon Adventist Hospital (the old Third Field Military Hospital for those of you who were there) phoned me (I was back at the nursery) and asked me to send child care workers. They are bringing in your babies wounded was the message. Rosemary Taylor and I jumped in a taxi. We rode to the hospital in complete silence in a ride that seemed to last forever and arrived at the ambulance entrance along with trucks, jeeps, conveyances of all kinds which were bringing in adults and children, some living, some badly injured and others, dead. In all, about 230 of our children and half of our staff had boarded the plane and at least 180 children, staff and US citizens were killed. One of our staff members, Christie Lievermann, survived, as well as some of the children, including the 22 I whom had boarded from New Haven. As I looked through body bags, attempting to identify persons, I became aware of the number of U.S. citizens, wives and children of American and U.S. government agencies who had also died on that plane.

At the site we will have a memorial service. Included also are the names of children and staff who died in the crash. We remember, too, the U.S. citizens, women, and children of the attache office who also died in the crash, as well as members of the plane crew. For more information, go to: http://atalink.org/atq/ATQ_Spring_2005.pdf.

This American Hero, served with Honor and died with Courage! 'The initial mission of Operation Babylift to bring Vietnamese orphans to the US in the few remaining days before the Republic of Vietnam fell. The C-5 departed Saigon-Tan Son Nhut Airport at 16:03. Twelve minutes after takeoff, after climbing through FL230, there was what seemed to be an explosion as the lower rear fuselage was torn apart. The locks of the rear loading ramp had failed, causing the door to open and separate. A rapid decompression occurred. Control and trim cables to the rudder and elevators were severed, leaving only one aileron and wing spoilers operating. Two of the four hydraulic systems were out. The crew wrestled at the controls, managing to keep control of the plane with changes in power settings by using the one working aileron and wing spoilers.The crew descended to an altitude of 4,000 feet on a heading of 310 degrees in preparation for landing on Tan Son Nhut's Runway 25L. About halfway through a turn to final approach, the rate of descent increased rapidly to 4,000 feet per minute. Seeing they couldn't make the runway, full power was applied to bring the nose up. At 50 feet, the throttles where retarded to idle and the C-5 touched down in a rice paddy. Skidding about 1,000 feet, the aircraft again became airborne for a half mile before hitting a dike and breaking into four parts. The cargo compartment was completely destroyed, killing 141 of the 149 orphans and attendants. Only three of 152 in the troop compartment perished. Five of the flight crew, three of the medical team, and three others lost their lives, but 175 of the 328 aboard survived.' Source: Air Force Magazine, Aug. 1991.

He served with the 604th Military Airlift Squadron, 60th Military Airlift Wing, Military Airlift Command(MAC).

He was awarded The Airman's Medal Posthumously, The Bronze Star Medal, The Purple Heart Medal for his combat related wounds, The Vietnam Service Medal, The Republic of Vietnam Campaign Service Medal, The National Defense Service Medal, The Air Force Achievement Medal and The Air Force Commendation Medal.
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