Charles L. Lunsford
Charles (Chuck) L Lunsford, 76, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, passed away
after a brief illness on Friday, September 21, 2012. A Memorial service will be held at St. Mary’s
Episcopal Church in Albuquerque, NM at 2:00 PM on September 29, 2012. Interment will be at the Santa Fe
National Cemetery on Monday October 1, 2012 at 2:15 PM.
Charles L. Lunsford
Charles (Chuck) L. Lunsford, 76, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, passed away
after a brief illness on Friday, September 21, 2012. A Memorial service will be at St. Mary’s Episcopal
Church in Albuquerque, NM at 2:00 PM on September 29, 2012. Interment will be at the Santa Fe National
Cemetery on Monday October 1, 2012 at 2:15 PM.
Chuck was born on March 5, 1936 to Lawrence and Mary
Lunsford in Terrero, New Mexico. He attended high school in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 1955, he enlisted
in the United States Air Force and was trained as an airborne radio operator and was proficient with Morse
Code. Chuck was assigned to the 12th Troop Carrier Squadron and later stationed at Dreux,
France outside of Paris. While stationed in Druex, his missions took him to various parts of Europe, North
Africa and the Mediterranean. After completing his enlistment he returned to Albuquerque where he met
the love of his life, Sharon Van Auken, his wife of 47 years. Chuck worked at various locations in the
Albuquerque area and spent 18 years with Garcia Honda before retiring. Before passing, he commented
with pride that he had sold over 8,000 cars in Albuquerque in his career.
Chuck never lost his passion for the Air Force, the lost art of airborne Radio
Operators, nor his beloved C-119 aircraft. In his spare time, and well into his retirement, he became
the go-to authority for C-119 history and trivia. His research eventually built a complete database of
C-119 information allowing him to locate complete histories of nearly all C-119s just by referencing a tail
number. In fact, his knowledge was instrumental in locating several C-119s used for the remake of the
“Flight of the Phoenix”. His name appears on the
last line of the movie credits.
He authored two books about his experiences with the United States Air Force and
C-119s. “Departure Message” was a nonfiction account of his Air Force adventures, told in his own
voice. He also authored an adventure novel titled “Boxcar Down”, based loosely on his career
Chuck is survived by his wife Sharon; his son SGM Lawrence Lunsford and wife Christena of Ft.
Bliss Texas; his daughter Valerie Benavides and her husband Hector, their four children, Joy, TJ, Christian and
Stephen of Highlands Ranch, Colorado; and his sister Penny Chapman and her husband Wayne of Lawton, Oklahoma in
addition to two nieces, 1 nephew and two cousins.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in Chuck’s name to the Paralyzed Veterans
Those of us that knew and loved Chuck will forever remember his infectious laugh and
his never ending list of stories.
A departure message
Comes loud and
For all to
And all to
From a place in
Where he now
We can see
In the sunny
A code he
It out on
So he could
It’s to the
You know the
Where an angel
And with a
He can be
On a one
He says its
So don’t feel
He says – no
We will all see
from Ken Sanderson
of Chuck's friends. I don't know if you all have found out.
Chuck was diagnosed with stage 4 liver and spine
cancer. He found this out the first part of September, going into the VA Hospital in Albuquerque for
horrible back pain.
As of today, 21 September, he has been moved in to
the ICU, and is expected to be with us a short period of time.
I know how he loved you guys. I don't know if
he had a chance to tell all of his friends.
His Little Sister
we know how your Brother loves
each and every one of us.
better people because of knowing your
is Special. Please tell him how
much we all care for him.
in our thoughts & prayers.
Shiela it is difficult to find any words for a such a good friend and contributor to our group. He
was a walking encyclopedia for our past adventures in the 60th Troop Carrier Wing. There was no officer in
our group who had the knowledge interest and gumption to gather and verify the facts of most of the C-119s
we had and what happened to them later. No...........it was Airborne Radio Operator Airman 2nd Class
Charles "Chuck" Lunsford who had the foresight as a young man to record our cold war activities
on tape and paper and 50 years later transcribe it into a wonderful book called
will be missed. Les
heartbroken. Nothing more I can say.
I’M SURE YOU HAVE HEARD BY NOW THAT WE
LOST CHUCK LUNSFORD LAST EVENING. CANCER. A GOOD MAN AND A GREAT
A GOOD MAN AND A GREAT AMERICAN WHO ADDED MEANING TO THE LIVES OF ALL WHO KNEW HIM.
EVEN BY MAIL
BE WITH YOU.
has told us how he feels in the books he has written, the comments he has made and the moving pictures he
has taken, with sound, over the early years of our flying together.
crewed on my assigned aircraft many times, according to him. We would spend a lot of time acquainting
ourselves with the customs and cultures of many North African and Middle East countries. It was
comforting to be there with a great buddy covering each other's back.
his movies he referred to many of the pilots by their first name, as if he were their
sure you and your family will miss him as we in the 60th Troop Carrier Wing will miss him. He was a source
of inspiration and a great source of information with reference to the 60th.
forever friend of Chucks,
I could not say it any better or more accurately than
Hugo said it. I hope Chuck knows how many people are happy to know him.
completely agree with Hugo also.
Chuck was at Dreux in"G" model C-119's while I was at Evreux in "C"
Although I never met Chuck, we conversed via e mail and because we both had written books about our
experiences we seemed to hit it off and became good friends. Even through our e mail relationship, I could
tell that Chuck was a very special person. Always willing to give advice or help out in a situation and he
always had a positive attitude.
shared information for our books and I must tell you that Chuck was an excellent writer. He has left behind
a history of an era that no one else has written about and that sorely needed to be documented. He has
done a marvelous job of telling the story of airlift in Europe, Africa and the Near East during the 1950's.
All of us that were involved in that era owe Chuck a debt of gratitude for telling that story and telling it so
have all lost a good friend. May God Bless him.
Same here, never met, but corresponded by email during many years and got to share his memories on aviation
by reading his books.
My sympathies to relatives and loved ones.
Ruud 'Rudi' Leeuw
http://www.RuudLeeuw.com Aviation History and
personally. However, have gotten to know him via our C-119 common experiences and ongoing communications
and consider him a dear friend. My prayers are with you. If you can tell him I miss our internet
dialoque. May God bless him.
My Departure Message
for my Favorite Uncle
In Radio Operator speak, That means: <CQ> <CQ> <
CQ >; Calling all stations
To you, Charles L. Lunsford was a husband, father, brother, cousin, uncle, grandfather, and friend
. To me, he was my "favorite Uncle", my friend, and my partner
in witty banter. When I saw Uncle Chuck last Friday, he
completed what was normally my punch-line when I told the Nurse I
was his "favorite Nephew", by saying that I was his "only nephew". <wave of hand> Don't
bother me with details kid. If he had a gaggle of nephews, I am
certain I still would have been his favorite, and even if it wasn't true... he would have made me believe it was.
Chuck tried to teach me Morse once. He started by sending me messages
imbedded in e-mails . Being that I too am in possession of the
Lunsford "impatient" gene, I cheated and wrote a little computer
program that would translate his dots and dashes into words as the e-mails came in. With it, I could respond in english text within seconds, and my program would
create the dots and dashes for me and email my cryptic message back.
At first, he was impressed with how quickly I had learned the Morse alphabet. It only took him a day to figure out I had cheated. "Very clever favorite Nephew" he said. That might have been the first time he coined the "favorite nephew"
In all my years and travels, I have never met a soul or a story teller
that was Chuck's equal. Chuck always had a story or a joke to tell. If Chuck couldn't make you laugh, you were either not there, or you were not
paying attention. He was an inspiration to me in more ways than I can
articulate. I have always wanted to be able to tell stories like he
could. That skill has been the cornerstone of my professional
career; I am
still trying to follow his example today.
From my favorite uncle, I learned:
to love open-wheel Indy Cars;
deep rooted fascination of the Air Racers and their machines of the 30s and 40s;
"never send faster than you can receive", which translates into a wealth of sound advice; and,
the importance of a really good joke.
As I write this and reflect on my favorite Uncle, the first image that comes to mind is that crooked grin he always
had; especially after completing one of his tales, and that little
twinkle in his right eye. That is signature
Chuck. Sound bites from his stories and jokes rush at me like
With that John Wayne/Pilot -like swagger he had: "Come this way Mr.
<In his best Navaho accent>: "I had no ta-rubble making da
payments, just da late chah-ges... ",
<In a bad Hispanic accent> "I can breath, you can breath, CheekanBreath" (said like Chicken Breath)
I am certain each of you have similar sound bites
echoing. This is his legacy, and our permanent personal
I do not have any first-hand accounts, but I suspect Chuck may have had a tendency to be a practical joker and a
prankster. I suspect this because I think he would be very good at it,
and I think he had the potential to be a very good trouble maker. Nah,
not my favorite Uncle...I bet he only used his super-powers for good...
I am certain that today as we speak, St. Peter is driving the new car
Chuck sold him before he crossed through the pearly gates.
Jim Johnson, one of Chucks Air Force buddies said it best in an email on Sept 21: "Someone up there must need a good key man".
I imagine that right now, Chuck is holding court as only he could. He
is reunited with his friends and family and is regaling them with a never-ending list of stories. Perhaps he and Father Remegius (AKA "Mr. Smilie") are talking about that trip
over the Alps in 1957. Perhaps he has finally met Mr.
Marseille. If you listen closely, I'm certain you can hear the
laughter ringing down from heaven.
After Chuck passed away, I was deeply worried that my image/memory of Chuck would fade. I was searching for photographs that had that trademark Lunsford smirk, and that
"John Wayne doesn't have anything on me" stance he had. I wanted
to make a hundred copies so that I would never forget any of those memories. However, the most wonderful thing happened this week while I was getting
re-acquainted with my long-lost cousin Larry (the guy that jumps out of perfectly flyable airplanes; don't hold
that against him, he's OK)... I saw it... that smirk, the crooked grin, that stance, and that twinkle right there
on my cousin’s face. There's a little bit of my favorite Uncle
in there... and that makes me happy.
Larry told me this week that he had once jumped out of a helicopter. I
asked if it was on fire. He tilted his head and looked at me in that
Chuck Lunsford way and said "Well, No". I expected him to say "Yes!".
My next question was going to be "how bad did the fire get before you
Chuck would have liked that.
There's a little of Chuck in all of us. And that makes me happy
<AR> End transmission, Out.
P.S. That little voice in your head is Chuck reminding you that "they
only say OVER AND OUT in the movies".
I will miss his friendship and his invisible guidance so generously provided. Chuck has been and always will be my
inspiration of love to his fellow man. The essay below is one of my favorites, it is with honour I reproduce it
here. It has echoes of a better time, it has echoes of the Chuck we all knew and will always remember him by.
Au revoir, Mr. Marseille.
Air Traffic Control in International Morse Code
Fresh out of Airborne Radio School, I arrived in France in July of 1956, assigned to the 12th Troop Carrier
Squadron, 60th Troop Carrier Wing (Medium), based at Dreux Air Base in Normandy. The primary mission of the wing,
equipped with shiny new C-119G aircraft, was combat cargo. Except in England, European air traffic control was
primitive. In North Africa and the Middle East, even radio navigation was mostly nonexistent, with only a few radio
compass stations from the early 1930s. There were two Flight Information Regions (FIR) that had no voice
high-frequency capability -Basra in Iraq and Marseille in France. A few others had limited voice, but because we
couldn't count on it, we frequently worked those regions in Morse code.
High-frequency (HF) radio transmissions don't move along a line of sight but rather follow the curve of the earth
and bounce off the ionosphere. They can be transmitted for very long distances, but every receiver on that
frequency, however remote, can send or receive. It' s a giant party line.
Visualize a situation in which, say, 20 aircraft are flying in the FIRs of Rome, Athens, Cairo, Tunis, Lod
(Israel), Casablanca, and Algiers, along with Ankara and Istanbul, the two stations in Turkey, all using the same
frequency. If you know anything at all about citizens' band radio, the word "chaos" will come to mind.
But it wasn't chaotic because we adhered to a mostly outdated principle called radio discipline: Know what you have
to say, say it, and GET OFF THE AIR!
My relationship with the FIR controller, Mr. Marseille, began on my initial training flight en route to Athens. I
was flying with an experienced radio operator who was to expose me to the real world of airborne radio operation
and check me out.
Approaching southern France, the Paris controller handed us off to Marseille, and I listened as the trainer made
contact in Morse code.
Marseille's call sign was FNM. He answered on the fourth call. He was using an automatic telegraph key, known as a
"bug," and transmitted faster than I could read. The trainer sent our position report and the estimated time of
arrival over Marseille using the international system of "Q" signals, which meant it wasn't necessary for the
communicating parties to speak the same language. For 3 years, I carried an inch-thick book of Q signals everywhere
until it was in tatters.
Wow, I thought as I
listened to the traffic. This is
real radio operating. Then the trainer told me he wanted me
to make the next transmission to Marseille. Although I acted in what I. thought was a confident, devil-may-care
manner as I changed seats with him, I knew I would blank out, forget the code and end up as an Air Policeman,
forced to wear one of those funny white hats.
My trainer told me to write out what I was supposed to send. Then I listened to Marseille work other aircraft and
tried to make some sense of it. I got a word or a Q signal here and there, but not enough to read his work on that
bug. More thoughts of grounding: They would send me to the motor pool to do oil changes.
I needed a cigarette, but before I could light one, the trainer tapped my arm and pointed to the big radio compass
needle which indicated we were passing Marseille. I was out of time. With the unlit cigarette dangling from my
mouth, I hunched over the key.
I guess all those months of code school had some impact because I found my fingers tapping out what 1 wanted to
send. Marseille replied, telling me to go ahead, and I even understood him. The Morse character for "Go ahead" is
the single letter "K," which isn't a big deal, but
at the time it seemed like great progress. I sent the position report, remembering to note the time for the
log, and ended with "AR" (end transmission).
By God, I did it! I thought. I was so excited I forgot to listen to the reply and had to
ask him to repeat it. He did, and still I couldn't read it. I was about to send another repeat request when the
trainer pushed my hand away, sent "R" (roger, for "understand"), and then the letters "TU" (thank you). After a
short pause, Marseille answered with two dits on his key – a radio operator's "you're welcome."
Not sure of what I should do next, I just sat there. The engineer, sitting on the floor because there was nowhere
else for him to sit with an extra crewmember on the flight deck, lit my cigarette. He and the trainer had their
poker faces on, but then the smiles came and they shook my hand and pounded me on the back. I could only grin
stupidly with relief.
I stayed in the radio chair and sent the next report over the FIR boundary, slower this time, and copied
Marseille's reply without having to ask him to repeat. Following the trainer's example, I sent him a TU. After a
long pause, Marseille replied with two dits. Much later, I found out that Mr. Marseille reserved those two dits for
a select few. In my case, knowing I was a student, I'm sure he thought about it before deciding to throw me a
morsel. I guess he thought I was barely smart enough to develop into a real radio operator.
Several weeks later, I was a newly checked-out operator, new wings on my cap, flying through the Marseille FIR
without a trainer. Mr. Marseille was on duty. At the end of my last position report, I sent him a TU, and after a
short pause, he sent back two dits. As time went by and I became more proficient, he came to know my "fist," a
radio operator's unique individual style, and I his. I could communicate on a level acceptable to him, and as my
speed went up, I seldom had to ask him to repeat.
I began to wonder about him – who he was and how he got so good. I could hear him working other traffic, mostly
civil aircraft, and marveled at his speed. When he was on the air, he was in absolute command. He was a stickler
for proper radio procedure and etiquette, and God help the operator who wasn't ready when he called. When he got
angry, his speed would go up and up until nobody could read him. That, of course, made him even angrier, and he
would just go off the air for about 20 minutes and wouldn't answer anybody. He got mad at me a time or two, but
mostly we got along. He recognized me when I flew through his domain. There was a quality of "welcome" in his reply
to my call-up that wasn't there for just anybody. He would occasionally ask me to relay to other aircraft he wasn't
able to reach, and I flattered myself that he was asking me because I had become such a polished radio operator.
More likely he knew our aircraft had the most powerful transmitter in the air.
I had been flying about a year now, and I felt my skill and proficiency were at their peak. I thought I was a Morse
code whiz, and I could work Marseille like nobody's business. But all this expertise was hampered by the old manual
Morse key that was screwed down to the radio desk. Couldn’t get any faster with that. What I needed, considering my
fantastic proficiency level, was some way to improve my speed. Man, if I had a bug – an automatic telegraph key
like Mr. Marseille – I'd be right up there. I would be the Worlds Greatest Living Radio Operator if I had a bug.
Attempts to find one in Paris were unsuccessful, so I wrote to my father in Santa Fe, whose boss was a ham radio
operator. They found me a bug, and it soon arrived.
The guys in radio maintenance were kind enough to make me an oscillator with a little speaker so I could practice
with my new toy. A standard key is pressed down against a spring, and the length of time one holds it down
determines whether the signal is a dot or a dash. One has to have good rhythm to make the hand do what the brain is
thinking. An automatic key has a long rod with a weight that bounces against a spring, sending the dots very fast.
Pressed the opposite way against a regular spring, it sends dashes. One doesn't pound up and down on a bug –
one caresses it from side to side. A
really fast operator can get that weight bouncing so fast it chirps like a cricket – hence the name
I practiced diligently, and my speed began to climb and I could send very fast with my bug. I was ready, I thought.
Ready for Mr. Marseille.
During preflight for a mission to Athens, I disconnected the leads from the standard key and hooked up my bug. When
we reached the Paris-Marseille FIR boundary, I listened to Marseille for several minutes before Paris handed us
off, took a deep breath, and blasted off with my new bug: "Marseille, this is Air Force 3-8145, over." He ignored
me. A short time later, I called again. Could he read my fist on the bug? After another pause, he told me to go
I sent our position report as fast as I could make that bug go, probably about 45 words per minute, and ended with
a BT (break) and a K (go ahead). I could have been Artur Rubinstein ending a Beethoven concerto, waiting for the
applause to begin.
The elation was fleeting. Mr. Marseille came blasting back on his bug at what must have been a hundred words a
minute. I couldn't copy.
I asked him to repeat, along with the Q signal to send slower. He slowed – to about 75 words a minute. I still
didn't get it all. Once more I asked for a repeat and a slowdown. This time he replied very, very slowly; maybe 5
words a minute. Humiliated, I copied his acknowledgment and his instructions to report passing Marseille and to
I was about to send my usual R (copied) and my usual TU when he sent, in plain English, "Go back to the radio
school, 38145. Marseille out."
I had violated the first rule of Morse/carrier wave transmission: Never send faster than you can receive because that is the speed at which the
reply will come. Mr. Marseille had put me very securely in my place. We both knew who was the amateur and who
was the professional.
Crushed, I disconnected my bug and used the standard key for the next call over Marseille. He answered in the
normal way, slowing his speed to match mine. At the end I sent TU and, after what seemed like an overly long pause,
he replied with dit-dit. He and I never referred to the incident again, but I think a kind of mutual respect came
out of it. He knew it was me who had made a try at him. Who knows? Maybe he was flattered.
As time went by, I became a standboard check operator, and when I took a new student through Marseille FIR, I would
make the first call and then turn the key over to the student. I think Mr. Marseille, who made it quite clear he
didn't suffer inept radio operators, was just a little easier on my students because he knew they were with me. But
no dit-dits for them. On departing the FIR, I would take the key and send FNM TU and back would come my two
My last flight through Marseille was in the spring of 1959. I had no student this trip and was flying alone on
return from Tripoli. I knew it would be my last flight this way. I listened ahead, hoping Mr. Marseille would be on
duty. But it was someone else – just another fist.
Crossing the boundary, I opened my key and called Marseille. The operator replied with a crisp go-ahead and I sent
him our track, altitude, and estimated time of arrival over Marseille, and waited for his reply. There was a rather
long pause, unusual for any of the operators at Marseille. I was about to ask if he copied when I recognized Mr.
Marseille's fist telling me he copied and to report over the beacon. Happily, I sent him a TU and got my two
I was elated. I listened as he scolded some other aircraft for being late on his call and missing his arrival time.
Twice he asked me to relay. Did he do it to make me feel good?
Eventually, the time came for the last call leaving the Marseille FIR. I sent the report, and he acknowledged,
ending with "Marseille out."
I knew it was a violation of radio procedure, but risking his wrath, I sent "M. [Monsieur] Marseille TU for working
my flight. Leaving for USA 6/29 will miss you, go ahead." Normally, he would have given me hell for cluttering the
air with unnecessary chatter, but he replied, "M. Air Force, good luck from M. Marseille." I sent "Goodbye TU." He
replied with two evenly spaced dits, then in plain language: " Au revoir."
It was a tear-jerker.
I think he was in the radio room, heard my fist and decided to work my flight. If he did, it was an honor for
Au revoir, Mr. Marseille. You were the best. ....
Terrific, moving story! ", Walter Boyne
Great story nicely written, TOTALLY engrossing." Dan McDowell, DOT
departure leaves a great hole in my life that will never be filled, apologies for arriving too late to meet you
once more. Sayonara and Aur revoir my dearest friend, Jameas van Etten, London, England