Professor Small Presents Monday, Feb. 12th at the Combat Air Museum in Topeka, KS

Professor Arron Small will be lecturing about the life and service of Wally Buford, a Kansas City Kansas native who, along with his fellow pilot, James McGovern, were the first Americans to die in combat in Vietnam on May 6, 1954. Buford and McGovern were flying for the Central Intelligence Agency’s Civil Air Transport, attempting to support the French forces who were close to losing control over Vietnam during the First Indochina War (Vietnam being a colony of France).

CAM Buford Press Release


     The Combat Air Museum in Topeka, Kansas, will honor the life of Kansan Wally Buford, killed in Vietnam 70 years ago, with a presentation and unveiling of a display at the Museum on Monday, February 12 at 12:10 p.m.

       Copilot Wally Buford and his pilot, James McGovern, were flying for the Central Intelligence Agency’s Civil Air Transport, dropping supplies to French forces attempting to maintain control over their colony, Vietnam, during the First Indochina War.  On May 6, 1954, McGovern and Buford were in a flight of six aircraft intending to resupply the surrounded and desperate French Army in the famous battle at Dien Bien Phu, North Vietnam. Two Viet Minh cannon shells struck their C-119’s left engine and horizontal stabilizer, leaving the aircraft extremely difficult to fly.  McGovern and Buford were able to fly the stricken aircraft away from the fight, but lost control at low altitude and died in the crash, the first Americans to die in combat in Vietnam. The French forces surrendered to the communist Viet Minh forces the very next day after the fatal flight. Their surrender brought an end to the French colonial rule in Indochina.

     Buford graduated from Wyandotte High School in 1943 and attended Kansas City Kansas Junior College.  He joined the U.S. Army, became a bomber pilot and flew missions over Europe during World War II.  After the war, he attended the University of Kansas and joined the Air Force Reserve unit at Olathe Naval Air Station but was recalled to combat flying during the Korean War where he was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery flying combat missions against the North Korean forces.

  1. Arron Small will speak about Wally Buford’s life and service.A fifth generation Kansan, J. Arron Small is a published author, a dealer in used and rare books, as well as a freelance writer and editor. He currently teaches in the English Department of Johnson County Community College. He earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Kansas State University, as well as a Master of Fine Arts from Purdue University.[1]

     The presentation will be held in conjunction with the bimonthly Combat Air Museum brown bag luncheon; visitors are asked to bring their own lunch, which will begin at 11:30 a.m.  Museum Chairman Gene Howerter will offer some opening comments at noon before introducing Mr. Small.  Admission to the Combat Air Museum will be free on the day of the presentation.

     The Combat Air Museum is located on Topeka Regional Airport at 7016 SE Forbes Avenue, Topeka, Kansas.  For more information, contact museum director Kevin Drewelow at 785.862.3303 or at

     Learn more about the Combat Air Museum at

[1] I was told to make my biography sound a little more interesting than English professor—apparently, that wasn’t quite “interesting” enough.

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