HUNTINGDON — Retired Air Force Colonel James C. Harding of Huntingdon will be honored for his 87th birthday with a resolution from the Tennessee General Assembly at a celebration at the Carroll County Civic Center.
The event is a public event to honor the county’s most distinguished military service member. The event starts at 2:30 p.m. Doors open at 2 p.m.
James C. Harding (born June 27, 1934) is a retired United States Air Force colonel and pilot. He served two tours, during the Vietnam War and flew a total 596 missions, all in propeller aircraft.
He served as squadron commander for a 400-person unit at Lackland Air Force Base and as an A-1 Skyraider combat squadron commander. Harding is one of the top 25 most decorated American veterans. Harding was born on June 27, 1934 in Brookville, Pennsylvania, one of five children into a dairy farming family.
He attended Pennsylvania State University studying for a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture. While at university he played lineman for the Penn State Nittany Lions football team. He turned down an offer to play for the Los Angeles Rams, as well as an opportunity to work International Harvester. On graduation he was commissioned, on June 9, 1956, through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program which he passed with distinction, according to Wikipedia.
Harding served as an instructor pilot and aerial demonstration pilot at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, until September 1962. He flew with the 558th Tactical Fighter Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, from September 1962 to July 1963, and then transferred to the 313th Air Division at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa.
Harding flew 442 combat missions in the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog and U-10, of which 101 missions were over North Vietnam. He served as an Instructor with Squadron Officer School at Maxwell Air Force Base from 1967 to 1971, when he began training at Air Command and Staff College.
Harding returned to the U.S. in July 1967 and served as an Instructor with Squadron Officer School at Maxwell Air Force Base, until January 1971. Harding attended Air Command and Staff College from January to November 1971, and then returned to combat in Southeast Asia as the Commander of the 1st Special Operations Squadron at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand, where he flew another 154 combat missions in Douglas A-1 Skyraider.
1972 Mission To Rescue Major Clyde D. Smith
A-1E Skyraider of 1st SOS
In 1972, he was engaged in the rescue of U.S. Marine Corps A-6 Intruder pilot Major Clyde D. Smith and bombardier/navigator, 1st Lt. Scott D. Ketchie, who were shot down over North Vietnam. 1st Lt. Ketchie was not rescued and was subsequently declared Missing in action. For his effort in leading the rescue mission, Harding was awarded the Air Force Cross. The rescue effort is depicted in History Channel.
Shoot-down and Evasion
He was shot down in Vietnam in 1972 northeast of Qui Nhon and just south of the DMZ — an area overrun by the North Vietnamese Army. He successfully evaded capture by the North Vietnamese and was rescued by U.S. Army helicopters.
After Vietnam, Harding then served with the 23rd Tactical Fighter Wing at England Air Force Base, from November 1972 to November 1973, followed by service at Randolph Air Force Base, where he served until June 1976.
The resolution approved by the General Assembly will be presented to Colonel Harding by State Representative Curtis Halford. It reads,
WHEREAS, our nation was conceived by individuals who were willing to sacrifice their personal safety and concerns to ensure our individual and collective freedom, and the Volunteer State is especially proud to be the home of so many valiant men and women who have performed above and beyond the call of duty; and WHEREAS, while the heroic deeds of Tennesseans have been extolled throughout the history of our State and nation, the distinguished military service of every proud Tennessean should be illuminated, shared, and properly honored; and WHEREAS, one such individual is Colonel James C. Harding, a gallant veteran of the United States Air Force, who now resides in Huntingdon after a highly distinguished military career; and WHEREAS, a distinguished graduate of the Penn State University Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), Colonel James Harding enjoyed an extensive military career that saw him complete a variety of flying assignments and serve in various command positions; and WHEREAS, Colonel Harding served as squadron commander for a 400-person unit at
Lackland Air Force Base and as an A-1 combat squadron commander at Nakon Phenom, Thailand, in Southeast Asia; and WHEREAS, a veteran of the Vietnam War, Colonel James Harding flew 596 total combat missions, 139 of which were over North Vietnam; as a command pilot, he has nearly
5,000 hours of military single-engine flying time and has attained master parachutist rating with sixty-nine total jumps.
WHEREAS, during his service in Vietnam, Colonel Harding was shot down by a SA-7 Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) while directing a rescue mission in 1972; he was rescued by United States Army helicopters after evading North Vietnamese troops and directed the rescue of his wingman who had also been shot down; and WHEREAS, upon retiring from active duty, he entered general aviation in Texas and later was instrumental in the organization and implementation of the Air Force Junior ROTC program in the continental United States and the Department of Defense schools overseas; he has also served as an advisor to the Royal Saudi Air Force; and WHEREAS, in 1998, Colonel James Harding retired from the Air Force Junior ROTC and became a tree farmer in Texas; he later moved his tree farming operation to Tennessee, where he has also served as a substitute teacher in Carroll County; and WHEREAS, a member of twenty national service organizations, Colonel Harding holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Penn State University and a master’s degree from Auburn University and is a graduate of Squadron Officer School, the Air Command and Staff College, the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, and the Air War College; and
WHEREAS, the twenty-fifth-most decorated hero in U.S. military history, Colonel Harding was awarded a number of medals, ribbons, and commendations for his service to our country, including the Air Force Cross, the Silver Star with two Oak Leaf clusters, the Legion of Merit with one Oak Leaf cluster, the Distinguished Flying Cross with eight Oak Leaf clusters, the Bronze Star with Combat V and one Oak Leaf cluster, the Purple Heart with three Oak Leaf clusters, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal with thirty-nine Oak Leaf clusters, the Air Force Commendation Medal with one Oak Leaf cluster, the Presidential Unit Citation with four Oak Leaf clusters, the USAF Outstanding Unit Award with Combat V and four Oak Leaf clusters, the Combat Readiness Medal with two Oak Leaf clusters, the National Defense Service Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with eight Bronze Service Stars, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the Royal Thai Supreme Command Forward Badge 1st Class; and
WHEREAS, an honorary captain for the Penn State Veteran Appreciation Game, he has received the Tennessee Baptist Ambassador for Christ Eagle Award and been inducted into the Pennsylvania Veterans Hall of Valor and the Brookville Area High School Hall of Fame; and
WHEREAS, while no offering can properly relay our gratitude for his bravery and dedication to preserving the blessed freedom that is inseparable from our American heritage and ideals, it is most appropriate that we should honor Colonel Harding to the full extent of our ability, as he has made untold and innumerable sacrifices to preserve the liberties we enjoy today; now, therefore,
Be it resolved by the House of Representatives of the one hundred twelfth General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, the Senate concurring, that we honor and commend Colonel James C. Harding, United States Air Force (retired), for his courageous service to our nation as one of Tennessee’s most heroic citizens and extend to him our best wishes for continued success in his future endeavors.