Spirit 03 was an AC-130 Specte Gunship that was shot down during the Gulf War on January 31, 1991, killing all 14 crewmembers onboard.
On January 29, 1991, over 2000 Iraqi troops under the direction of Saddam Hussein streamed into the Saudi Arabian city of Khafji
in an attempt to draw American, British, and Saudi forces into a costly urban battle which would tie up Coalition troops until the Iraqi
military had time to reorganize and get themselves back in the fight.
Just days before Khafji fell, American surveillance jets had detected large columns of mechanized Iraqi units pouring through Kuwait’s
border in a mad dash towards the city. Though the warning was passed on, Coalition commanders were far more focused
on the aerial campaign, which had seen the virtual annihilation of the Iraqi Air Force.
Thus, Khafji fell… but it wouldn’t be long until Saudi forces scrambled to action, barreling towards their seized city to drive
the occupiers out. American and British aerial units were soon called into the fight, and in record time, engines were turning and burning
at airbases within reach of Khafji while ground crew rushed around arming jets for the impending fight.
Among the aerial order of battle was a group of US Air Force AC-130H Spectre gunships — converted C-130 tactical transport aircraft
that were armed to the teeth with a pair of 20 mm M61Vulcan rotary cannons, an L60 Bofors 40 mm cannon, and a 105 mm M102 howitzer.
These Spectres, based out of Florida, were eager to be turned loose, planning on adding any Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles they caught
around Khafji to their kill tallies.
On the 29th, Iraqi mechanized units moved towards the city under the cover of night, repeatedly engaging Saudi elements
set up to screen inbound enemy ground forces coming in from Kuwait. The Spectres were already in the air, racing towards the fight and
running through checklists in preparation for the destruction they were about to dish out on Saddam’s armored column.
Within minutes of appearing on station, the AC-130s leapt into action, tearing into the Iraqi column with impunity. What the enemy forces
had failed to realize was that Spectres — living up to their name — operated exclusively at night so that they were harder to visually identify
and track, and the gunners aboard these aircraft were incredibly comfortable with that. Spectres began flying race track patterns in the sky,
banking their left wing tip towards the ground as their cannons opened up.
Despite the AC-130s inflicting casualty after casualty, the resilient Iraqi invasion force continued to advance to Khafji and managed to briefly
take over and lay claim to the city. American and Saudi ground combat units, including Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces, and Marine artillery
and infantry elements responded in kind, and launched a blistering offensive against the Iraqis as night turned to day and the AC-130s
returned to base to rearm, refuel and wait for nightfall to resume hunting.
On January 30th, Spirit 03, one of the AC-130s, was loaded for bear and launched with the intent of providing Marine forces with heavy-duty
close air support. Spirit 03 arrived on station and started hacking away at targets. In the hours around dawn on the 31st, the AC-130s
were recalled to base when radios lit up with numerous calls for fire support from the beleaguered Marines on the ground.
An Iraqi rocket battery needed to be dealt with quickly. The crew of Spirit 03 took charge of the situation immediately,
judging that they had enough fuel and ammunition left for a few more passes. Not quite out of the combat zone,
the aircraft turned around and pointed its nose towards its new target. It was then that all hell broke loose.
A lone shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missile arced towards the AC-130, detonated and brought down the aircraft.
There were no survivors.
In the months and years that followed, the loss of Spirit 03 was investigated and then quickly hushed up. Some indicated
that the official report blamed the crew for knowingly putting themselves in danger by continuing to fly in daylight,
allowing themselves to be targeted. Others knew that the story was vastly different—that the 14 men aboard the AC-130 knew
that they were the only ones in the area able to provide the kind of fire support the Marines needed,
and so paid the ultimate sacrifice while trying to aid their brothers in arms.
MAJ Paul J Weaver
CAPT Thomas Clifford Bland
CAPT Arthur Galvan
CAPT William D Grimm
CAPT Dixon L Walters
Senior Master Sergeant Paul G Buege
Senior Master Sergeant James Blaine May
Technical Sergeant Robert K Hodges
Technical Sergeant John L Oelschlager
Staff Sergeant John Blessinger
Staff Sergeant Tim R Harrison
Staff Sergeant Damon V Kanuha
Staff Sergeant Mark J Schmauss
Sergeant Barry M Clark
On the 27th anniversary of the day his father’s plane was shot down — killing the entire crew — Destin resident Brian Buege shared this recollection on Facebook, recounting how he learned the news as an 11-year-old boy and its impact on him then and now. Stationed at Hurlburt Field, Senior Master Sgt. Paul G. Buege was one of 14 crew members who died on Jan. 31, 1991. The family was living in Mary Esther at the time. Buege was survived by his wife, Theresa, son, Brian and daughter, Kristie. A memorial honoring those who died in the Spirit 03 crash is in Navarre Park.
This day 27 years ago I was sitting in chemistry class in middle school. Just about (9 a.m.) my guidance counselor entered the classroom and pulled my teacher to the side and was whispering in his ear, and he looks straight at me. Immediately my stomach turned because usually when they need you in the office they just call you on the intercom, or send a student aid, so for the counselor to come must have meant I was in big trouble. She told me to gather my things and to come with her. I wasn’t coming back to class. As we headed to the office she walked in front of me with her head held down, and I ask, “Am I in trouble or something?” She didn’t even answer. I walk in the office and I immediately see my mother and her best friend sitting in the office. My mother had no makeup and barely looked as if she brushed her hair. For her to be like that something was definitely wrong, but I didn’t know what. She asked me to sit on her lap and I was like, “Sit in your lap, are you crazy?? I am a big boy now,” but respecting her wishes I took a seat on her leg and what came next seemed like a blur.
I just remember her saying go get everything out of your locker, I don’t know if you will be coming back, and I ask why and she starts to fight back tears while saying, your dad’s plane was shot down and they don’t know where they are. I sobbed for a minute but at that age, I always believed everything can be fixed and it was going to be all right. While walking to my locker I kept thinking of what she said, and I couldn’t convince myself it was true until I got home. I saw the blue military-issued vehicle, my grandparents, friends of my dad and mom, and other family members, I opened the front door and everyone turned with tears and somber faces and that is when it kicked in. This is real. For weeks, it was constant calls of condolences, then it got to the point that the press were calling pretending to be family from Louisiana or friends of my dad from high school, just to see if they could get some information for a story. It got so bad the military ordered that we were not to answer the phone anymore and everything would need to go to an answering machine. Weeks turned to months, and finally on March 6th, the night of my parents 20th anniversary, at around 9 p.m. the doorbell rang and I knew what it was, and I knew it wasn’t good. But I felt if I didn’t come out of my room it wasn’t really happening, but when I heard my mothers screams, “NO NO NO,” and her passing out, and my sister storming out the back door, I knew right then, my life was never going to be the same again. And I was right.
The grief of losing my father wasn’t something that I was able to process easily. I wasn’t the same little kid I was before. I was different, happiness was a rarity, and I still deal with it today. I talk to him a lot, because if I do, then I won’t forget his voice. As years go by and I reach personal milestones that should be something I am happy about, but its actually the opposite, because he isn’t here to celebrate it with me.Today, 27 years after my life changed forever, I remember my dad and his fellow 13 crew members. They were ordinary men who did extraordinary things. Many in their early 30s, my dad the same age I am today. These men had a lot of life left to live, but rather took the oath to protect this country even if it meant they lose their life. Sadly, I feel like wars have gone on for so long now, people are numb to it. ...You hear an actor dies of an overdose and its all over the news, but when it comes to another soldier who has died, its almost barely mentioned. Let us never forget that their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. For some it’s everything.