A series of severe blizzards descended on the Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah between December 13 and 21. Deep snow and drifts as high as 10 feet blanketed 16,000 square miles and blocked roads, stranding hundreds of people and threatening thousands of cattle and sheep with starvation.
On December 15, Raymond Nakai, chairman of the Navajo tribal council, requested aid from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Sixth Army, unable to bring immediate relief without an airlift, contacted the Sixth Air Force Reserve Region at Hamilton AFB, California. The next day, the 452d Military Airlift Wing from March AFB, California, initiated Operation Haylift II under the direction of Col. Merle E. Larson.
From December 16 to 19, eight of the wing’s C–119s dropped 80 tons of hay in 16 sorties in the snowbound region, while detachments of the Western Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Center rescued stranded Indians and delivered food, clothing, blankets, and medicine aboard helicopters and HC–130, HU–16, and HC–97 planes. Missions were flown from Luke AFB near Phoenix and at Window Rock, Chinle, and Winslow, Arizona.
On December 20, the Sixth Air Force Reserve Region called upon Air Force reserve units across the country and an armada of C–119s, C–124s, C–97s, C–47s, and C–54s delivered hay, snow vehicles, food, medicine, clothing, and other relief supplies to the snowbound area until roads reopened just after Christmas.
Air Force Reserve C–119s dropped bales of hay while flying as low as 30 feet and at speeds as slow as 140 mph over stranded livestock, delivering 858 tons in 161 sorties by December 27. Indian spotters accompanied the haylift flights to guide the planes to places of greatest need. C–124s moved snow plows, snow weasels, and snow buggies to Arizona via Albuquerque. C–141s from the 60th and 63d Military Airlift Wings at Travis AFB and Norton AFB delivered helicopter fuel to the staging areas, while local tactical fighter groups sent C–54s to help with cargo deliveries.
The Western Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service transported 1,361 passengers and dropped almost 350 tons of food, blankets, clothing, and medical supplies between December 16 and 29. The Air Force Special Weapons Center at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, sent C–54s, C–47s, and other aircraft to assist.
Most airlift activities ended when major roads reopened on December 27, but the operation continued for two more weeks. Operation Haylift II saved many lives and limited livestock losses on the reservations to about five percent.
I was in one of those air planes from Luke Air Force base in Arizona bushing hay out of the plane. A great experience.