Freedom Flyer organizer honored

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Three T-38C Talons flew over the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio Texas at 1:45 p.m. on Dec. 21, 2018. It was a missing man formation and a rare but fitting tribute to the instructor pilot who played a key role welcoming home freed Prisoners of War.

In 1973 Lt. Col. Charles E. Huff Sr., USAF ret., was assigned to the 560th Flying Training Squadron at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. He was a resident of San Antonio, Texas and he died Dec. 5, 2018. He received full military honors during his interment ceremony surrounded by friends and family.

During his career Huff flew more than 600 combat hours in an F-4 Phantom. Twice he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. After the Vietnam War he was credited as the designer of a patch that more than 200 former POWs continue to qualify for each year.

It all started in February 1973 after the first of nearly 600 POWs were released as part of a ceasefire agreement with North Vietnam. Among them were hundreds of Air Force aircrew members.

“Then we got more news…news, which stunned us. The POWs were coming to Randolph,” Huff said according to “Home With Honor,” a 2003 album that chronicles the 560th’s requalification program for former Air Force pilots who had been POWs.   In the album Huff described meeting with his wing and squadron commander along with other key staff when they heard that the squadron had the mission.

“The POWs were coming to Randolph to qualify in our T-38 jets. We would serve as instructors for them. This was almost too much to comprehend,” Huff said. They mapped out how to begin training and the “Freedom Flight” program was born. Huff participated in three flights with fellow pilots.

The sky-blue “Three’s In” patch, he designed features the words “God bless America and Operation Homecoming.” The script surrounds a U.S. flag and four aircraft in formation beside the word, “Three’s In.” The formation suggests the return of a missing aircraft to where it belongs.

Today more than 200 former Air Force pilots and navigators have returned to the skies thanks to the 560th FTS and the Freedom Flyer program. The unit has helped host a reunion for 45 years and it has recently included a symposium to educate young airmen as well as ceremonies to honor the memories of all POWs and Missing In Action service members.

“We are really honored to get to do the flyover for Col. Huff,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Jackson, an instructor pilot with the 560th FTS who is assigned to the 39th Flying Training Squadron. “The Freedom Flyers really, really appreciate all the work he did with that program over the years,” said Jackson.

An American flag was carried aboard one of the planes along with a lineup card featuring Huff’s picture. “These will go to his family as a memento from our squadron for his service that we are all so proud of,” said Jackson.