Veteran of the Week: Ackley served in Red Horse in Vietnam
Published 4:56 pm Monday, April 20, 2015
By PHOEBE DONALD ROBINSON / Community Columnist
Charles William Ackley, known as Bill, served in Vietnam with the 554th Civil Engineering Red Horse Squadron, a U.S. Air Force construction squadron similar the Navy Seabees.
RED HORSE is the acronym for Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer. In 1964 Ackley enlisted at age 19 in the Air Force and was sent to technical school where he learned to drive heavy equipment from jeeps to bulldozers, tractor-trailers, end loaders, self-propelled scrapers, motor graders, cranes and UKEs which are used to tow aircraft.
Ackley could drive anything with wheels. After combat crash training at Forbes AFB, Kansas, Ackley flew to Vietnam where he helped build the Phan Rang Air Force Base.
“An outside contractor had already built the runways and control tower,” said Ackley. “We finished the base. One day my commanding officer asked me to make an emblem for our unit to identify it on our vehicles.
“He knew I had taken drafting in high school. I drew a red horse on a yellow bulldozer with a black M-16 rifle and then made a stencil using the three colors. I painted all the 554th equipment with my emblem. I did not know for 38 years after I left Vietnam that my Red Horse emblem was known all over the world as Chargin’ Charlie!
“I had a friend call me that he saw my Red Horse on a NASCAR in Las Vegas! I was stunned. I have since been in contact with Master Sergeant David Sommers, the 554th historian on Guam, who did not know I originally designed the emblem. Today there is a Red Horse Association (Rhassn.us), Facebook pages called Red Horse Country and Red Horse, All Units Past, Present and Future. There is a Red Horse pin, patch, T-shirt and 50th anniversary Red Horse hat. Through Facebook, I have been able to reconnect with so many Red Horse friends.”
Ackley was awarded the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Valor and the Air Force Longevity Service Award for his service.
Ackley has retired after working 35 years with AT&T, volunteer fire chief and EMT.
He and wife Linda live on Lay Lake in Shelby Shores.