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C-123 Survivors

Even then, the defoliation missions
over Vietnam were controversial.

Ranch Hand

By Walter J. Boyne

It was an unheralded mission, un-
folding over nine long and dan-
gerous years. Even by the stan-
dards of the Vietnam War, it was
politically sensitive, and national po-
litical leaders tended to recoil from
discussing it. At its cutting edge were
old, unarmed aircraft making low
and slow flights, straight into enemy
That is the way it was for the men
of Operation Ranch Hand, the Air
Force's long-running campaign to
defoliate jungles and, in so doing,
deprive the Communist forces of
concealment cover and food supplies.
Ranch Handers had the hot, smelly,
and dangerous job of spraying chemi-
cal herbicides over large expanses
with maximum enemy presence and
minimum protection.
They flew their obsolescent UC-
123s with abandon, hurling them at
times into 60 degree banks at treetop
level, taking hits on virtually every
mission. Their success could be mea-
sured in the fact that they always
were in high demand. In fact, Air
Force officials never could provide
enough crews and airplanes to sat-
isfy the requests of US ground com-
They were unsung heroes. Neither
those who flew on the missions nor
those who supported them have re-
ceived the credit deserved. The men
of Ranch Hand accept this, for they
were an unusual breed, regarding
anti-aircraft hits and casualties as
badges of honor. They were never a
spit-and-polish outfit.
The basis' for Ranch Hand was
simple. Americans fighting in the

AIR FORCE Magazine / August 2000

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