Madera County Historical Society
The crew of the “City of Madera” flew this plane in combat in Vietnam. When it was shot down, the pilots continued their airstrikes in a plane named for another Valley town, the “City of Tulare,” which was also shot down.
Hugh Magee was a Navy pilot who flew A4C Skyhawks in combat over North Vietnam. Magee was attached to Lemoore Naval Air Station’s Attack Squadron 146, better known as the “Blue Diamonds.”
When the Blue Diamonds were sent to Vietnam in 1965, they named their planes after towns that were near Lemoore. In that way, they maintained a connection to the Valley as they flew in the flak-filled skies of North Vietnam.
Lt. Magee and his fellow pilot, Lt. Bill Rezek named their plane “City of Madera,” and took turns flying the aircraft into combat. After dozens of bombing missions over enemy territory, the odds finally caught up with the “City of Madera,” and it was hit by anti-aircraft fire in May of 1966. Magee, who was flying the plane, barely made it back to his carrier.
By the end of that summer, Magee received orders to return to Lemoore, but before he came home he had some more combat missions to fly. However, they weren’t in the “City of Madera.” While it was being repaired, Magee switched to a Skyhawk that carried the name of another Valley town — the “City of Tulare.”
Today, the “City of Tulare” lies in the soft mud at the bottom of the Gulf of Tonkin, and this is its story.
On June 25, 1966, about a month after the “City of Madera” was hit, Magee took to the skies in the “City of Tulare” It was his 119th strike mission. On the way to his target, Magee received word that a U.S. plane had been shot down in the vicinity of Vinh, about 60 miles away, and that the pilot and navigator had ejected and were in the water. “The City of Tulare” and 3 other planes went to help.
When Magee reached the water, he could see one survivor and a large, greenish dye marker some distance away. There was no sign of the second pilot.
Enemy mortars on the beach were firing at the downed pilots, so Magee took aim and dropped his bombs at the guns. After unloading his bombs, Magee made a hard turn and had no sooner done so than he felt a “horrendous thump and explosion right beneath the cockpit.”
At that moment, Magee’s rudder pedals went limp, and a thick black smoke began to fill the cockpit. He felt a warm, burning sensation in his right hand and stomach; he knew he was in trouble, and so did his wingmen.
“You’re on fire on the port side below the cockpit, Hugh,” came the voice of his fellow pilot. “Get it out over the water. You’re burning forward of the intake and the lower left hand portion of the cockpit.”
By that time, the smoke was so thick Magee couldn’t even see the instrument panel. He was in a slight dive at a speed of about 330 knots and was concerned that the fire would torch his fuel tank and explode in flight. He heard a voice say, “Get out now, Hugh,” and he did.
The canopy left cleanly, and Hugh felt a wild, tumbling sensation as he ejected. “Up was down, and down was up. He says it felt as if he was on the inside of a clothes dryer. The next thing he knew, he was descending toward the water under his parachute.
As Magee felt his feet hit the water, he hit the “quick-release” mechanism, which freed him from his chute. He plunged about 15 feet into the water, and his “Mae West” life preserver inflated. Within a moment or two he was bobbing on the surface.
Of the three pilots who went into the water on that mission, two were rescued. One of these was Hugh Magee.
After a period of convalescence, Magee came back to the USS Ranger to take to the hostile skies again before going home. Although each mission was filled with danger, Lt. Magee had no more moments of stark terror as he had on the “City of Madera” and the “City of Tulare.” By summer’s end, he was back in the San Joaquin Valley and soon was invited to be a guest of honor at a Madera City Council dinner along with fellow pilot, Lt. Bill Rezek.
Lt. Hugh Magee is now a retired Navy Commander living in the San Diego area. Unfortunately, Lt. Rezek died more than 20 years ago.
We want to thank CDR Magee for bringing us up to date on the “City of Madera” and the “City of Tulare.” We also want to salute him and all the other members of our military who gave so unselfishly of themselves so that we could live in freedom.