Charles King - Chief Master Sergeant
- Air Force Cross
- Silver Star
- Distinguished Flying Cross
- Air Medal with V (for valor) (Somalia)
- Purple Heart
Charles Douglas “Doug” King was born on March 29th, 1946 in Muscatine, Iowa to Charles and Darlene King. Doug has an older sister, Sherry, and two younger half-brothers. Doug’s father, Charles, lived on a farm outside of town, and Doug liked to spend lots of time out on the farm with brothers and step-cousins. They especially enjoyed “snipe hunting” with the younger kids. He loved to spend time outdoors hunting, fishing in the Cedar River, and riding his bike and his pony, Scout, who threw him off every chance he got. As a child, Doug was very sweet, and proper and polite to adults. He got good grades and enjoyed school.
As Doug entered Muscatine High School, he discovered a great passion for wrestling. He liked being part of a team and hanging out with his teammates. Doug and Sherry liked to throw big parties out at the farm on the huge cement cattle lot, complete with live bands and hayrack rides. Doug was well-liked, very social, and very successful. One of Doug’s teachers once said that Doug gave him hope for his generation.
Doug always enjoyed activities that were just a little bit dangerous. His high school job was working for a silo company building grain bins, where he loved to climb to the top. He started parachuting in high school as a hobby, and he rode motorcycles as well.
Doug graduated from Muscatine High School in 1964, and in the fall of 1965 he started in the Forestry major at Iowa State. He joined Sigma Chi right away and really enjoyed his time at Iowa State. He was known for riding his motorcycle all over campus and home to Muscatine as well.
Doug was drafted into the Air Force at the age of 20 in 1966. Following graduation from basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, King was selected for special training as a pararescueman. The mission of a United States Air Force (USAF) pararescueman is to recover downed and injured aircrew members in austere and nonpermissive environments. This required rigorous training, and Doug earned a maroon beret, becoming the Air Force equivalent of a Navy SEAL. Little did Doug know that the Pararescue Creed he took would be so telling of his life, and death.
The Pararescue Creed:
It is my duty as a pararescueman to save life and to aid the injured. I will be prepared at all times to perform my assigned duties quickly and efficiently, placing these duties before personal desires and comforts. These things I do “that others may live.”
Following graduation from jump school and special warfare training, King was assigned to the 40th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron, stationed at the Nakhon Penom Air Base in Thailand. During his time with the Air Force he was a part of the 40th Air Rescue and Recovery squad, and by the fateful night of Christmas Eve in 1968, Doug had completed more than 75 missions. According to military regulations he wasn’t required to do any more and actually had orders in hand to return to the United States.
The afternoon of Christmas Eve, an Air Force pilot went down in Laos, a country next to Vietnam. The F-105, call sign “Panda 01”, had been shot down between the city of Ban Phaphilang and the Ban Kariai Pass. Its pilot, Major Charles R. Brownlee, successfully ejected, and his parachute drifted into an area known to be occupied by enemy troops.
These troops had, in the past, aggressively pursued downed pilots and contested search and rescue efforts. Two HH-3E helicopters, “Jolly Greens” 15 and 17, were on airborne alert and immediately proceeded to the incident site. The on-scene commander discovered a parachute in the trees where numerous attempts were made to raise Major Brownlee on his survival radio. It was late in the day and darkness quickly covered the jungle. There was no radio contact from Major Brownlee. The rescue helicopters did not have a night combat rescue capability and were ordered to return to the air base.
At sunrise, a search and rescue was organized to return to the area on Christmas Day. The crew members of Jolly 17 were all volunteers: the aircraft commander Lt. Col. William Cameron, his co-pilot Captain Robert Heron, the flight engineer Sergeant Jerome Casey, and the pararescueman A1C Doug King.
As the helicopter came into a hover over the parachute, Sergeant Casey saw a man hanging from the parachute by his harness. The man was not moving and was hanging only a couple of feet off the ground. Suspecting an ambush, the helicopter pilot hovered out of range of ground fire and above the pilot while smaller aircraft flew over the area trying to attract fire. The enemy did not respond and the trap was set.
Doug volunteered to descend to rescue the downed pilot. Lt. Col. Cameron was not thrilled about the idea of lowering Doug to the ground, but realized that it was the only way to rescue Major Brownlee. They lowered Doug and a stretcher to the ground. Just as Doug reached the ground, enemy troops began firing, first at the helicopter and then at the men on the ground. Doug freed Major Brownlee from his parachute and secured him to the stretcher. He signaled Sergeant Casey to reel them up.
Only a few feet off the ground, Doug called on the radio, “I’m hit, I’m hit, pull up, pull up.” Normally, men would be hoisted clear of the trees prior to the rescue helicopter resuming forward flight, but enemy troops were hosing the helicopter with effective small arms fire.
Staying in the hover until the two men cleared the tree tops would certainly result in the helicopter being shot down, crashing right on top of Major Brownlee and Airman King. Lt Col Cameron was forced to leave the stable hover, to optimize the chances of the men surviving; he elected to ascend straight up. He hoped that this maneuver would lift the two men clear of the trees, prior to instituting forward flight. As the helicopter moved up, the hoist cable caught on a tree and snapped, dropping King and Brownlee about 10 feet to the ground. Badly injured from the fall and wounded by enemy small arms fire, Airman King made one last radio call, “Jolly, get out of here, they’re almost on top of me.”
The helicopter was seriously damaged and was forced to leave in order to save the lives of the other men. While the helicopter was pulling away, enemy troops swarmed Major Brownlee and Airman King. As the helicopter was hovering up it was unable to fire at the enemy on the ground at the risk of hitting their own men. After two days of searching and numerous radio calls to Airman King, he was officially declared MIA.
Doug’s brother Jeff said the family hoped for years that Doug would be found. But he was officially declared dead on May 15, 1978.
A 2008 Quad City Times article quoted his brother Jeff as saying “We all knew how strong he was and how much willpower he had. We thought maybe he’d get out if he was put in a prison camp. We thought he might have survived because of his inner strength and physical strength.”
While King was still MIA he was promoted to Chief Master Sergeant.
On May 15th, 1978, Chief Master Sergeant Charles Douglas King was officially declared killed in action. He was awarded the Air Force Cross, the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, and the Purple Heart. No news about Airman King surfaced until February 1986, when a Laotian refugee came to the United States and reported that he witnessed King’s capture, and observed him being taken away in a truck. Then, in 1993, US officials found an identification card with Charles Douglas King’s name, service number, date of birth, and writing in Vietnamese that indicated that he was killed on December 25th, 1968. He was 22.
Doug King was also honored on June 12, 1979 for his professional dedication, courage and valor by the Air Force when it named a dormitory for him — King Manor at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C. At Scott Air Force Base near Belleville, Ill., First Street was renamed King Street in his honor on June 28, 1979. On Feb. 27, 1990, another dormitory — King Manor at March Air Force Base in California — was named in his honor, and on Nov. 15, 1996, at Hickham Air Force Base in Hawaii, Building 1856 was dedicated to his memory. Most recently, on October 20th, 2012, US bypass 61 in Muscatine, Iowa was officially renamed “Douglas King Memorial Expressway.”
Charles Douglas King is memorialized in Honolulu, Hawaii at Honolulu Memorial Cemetery. Individuals memorialized on the tablets at the Honolulu Memorial are the Missing in Action, lost, or buried at sea in the Pacific during WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Their remains were never recovered but their sacrifice has not been forgotten by their country.
Charles Douglas King’s name was included in the original POW-MIA bracelets program started by Voices in Vital America in the 1970s to remember Vietnam POW/MIA service personnel. Several hundred people nationwide have owned a bracelet with Doug’s name on it, keeping alive his memory.