Monday, January 9, 2017

Navy aviator dodged death three times in storied career

Capt. Austin Lindsey was smiling even though he was severely injured in Vietnam in 1965.  Courtesy Lindsey family


Austin Monroe Lindsey was in the words of his minister “a true American hero.”

Lindsey, though, despite serving in the Navy for 23 years, was just as apt to describe himself as a servant of God, said the Rev. Jane Stanley of The Nourishing Place in Gulfport.

He served the church, and through it, the low-income community surrounding it on Tennessee Street in Gulfport.

“He cooked for us for a number of years,” she said. “We serve a hot breakfast every morning before and after church and he was our chef for probably six or seven years and then he became a helper of the chef.

“He would show up early on Sunday mornings and help get everything prepared. Picked up the parking lot if necessary, swept the kitchen if necessary. He did what it took to be a good steward of the facility.”

And he a was great advertisement.

“He was a real evangelist,” she said. “He told people about how loving our church is and invited people to come and be with us.”

The church has a back porch where people in need can come for free food, clothing and household items.

“He’d take his pickup truck and go help unload garages and houses and bring the things back to the church,” she said. “He was busy everyday serving his God by serving the community.”

Cheating death

But before he became a servant of The Nourishing Place, he served his country as a Navy aviator, narrowly avoiding death three times.

His daughter Gwen Lindsey shared his first-hand accounts of those harrowing flights.

“In his Navy career as a fighter pilot, Austin holds a rare record of having had three potentially deadly aircraft accidents, the first while flying an F4-A and performing a night landing on an airstrip in Florida,” she wrote on the Reimann Family Funeral Homes Page.

His description:

“My nose wheel simply collapsed and I slid 3,000-4,000 feet down the runway trailing flames,” Austin Lindsey wrote. “The centerline tank ruptured during the slide and a small amount of residual fuel sparked off. After the aircraft came to a stop, my naval flight officer (back seater) and I simply climbed down and waited for a ride. The fire had gone out on its own.”

The next two flights were in Vietnam. As a member of Fighter Squadron VF-1, the “Black Aces,” he was trying to land on the USS Independence, when a hydraulic pump failed and his landing gear wouldn’t lower.

“The ship diverted me to Da Nang for a night landing,” he wrote. “I activated my emergency air system to lower the landing gear, but only the left main and the nose wheel came down. So now I was faced with a one wheel up landing. I flew out over the water and dumped my ordinance, returned to Da Nang and asked for landing. It so happened that they had an emergency arresting gear rigged 300 feet from the overrun and wire. I burned my fuel to a low state, made the approach, caught the wire and slid out on two landing gear and an empty bomb rack. My NFO and I opened our canopies as if we did this stuff every day. Everything was cool and there was no fire.”

The closest call

On his last combat mission, his aircraft was hit by enemy fire over Laos on Oct. 25, 1965. This was how he described it in 2012, when he was 82.

“We dropped our WWII 250 pound, fragmentation bombs over the Ho Chi Minh trail and as we were climbing out my aircraft was hit and decided not to cooperate any longer,” he wrote. “The cockpits began filling with smoke so my NFO jettisoned his canopy. With it gone, suction pulled flames out from under his seat, so he ejected.

“Now it gets heavy. The flames came around me and burned my face and hands. I pulled my seat’s face curtain to eject but nothing happened. I then pulled the seat’s secondary firing handle without results. I next pulled the canopy jettison handle but it wouldn’t move.

“I was not too functional at this time and I thought about the end. But, the canopy left and the seat operated normally, my chute opened and I could see the trees getting closer — and down I went into the foliage. My chute caught up in the top of a tree and my feet landed on a limb next to the main trunk. I disconnected from my chute and sat down on the limb.

“I was 80 feet up. I clearly remember the thought, as I looked down, ‘this is no time to screw up.’ I disconnected and dropped my seat survival pack to the ground, put my gloves on over my burns and skinned down the tree. The limb I had sat on was the lowest limb on the tree. An hour or so later the Air Force sent two helos. The helicopter pilots called the area we were in, ‘the land of the 100 foot trees.’ We were plucked out of the jungle and taken to a refurbished WWII Japanese hospital. We returned to flight duty the next January.”

He received several commendations including two Distinguished Flying Crosses, the second as a Gold Star to the first and an Air Medal for six strikes in July-October 1965, and a Navy Commendation Medal with a Gold Star and a Combat V, and a Joint Service Commendation, Gwen Lindsey wrote.

Retirement

After he retired from the Navy, he returned to Gulfport, where he had graduated from high school. After that graduation, he served in the Merchant Marines for two years, then earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Tulane. He married Shirley Thompson Lowe in New Orleans and raised two daughters, Gwen Christin Lindsey and Diane Robin Lindsey Keith.

He took up photography and post card collecting. Some of his photos can be found at Triplett-Day Drug Co. and the Port City Cafe in downtown Gulfport.

He will be buried with military honors at 11 a.m. Monday at the Biloxi National Cemetery.

Read more about his life here and here.

Read more here: http://www.sunherald.com

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