On Oct. 20, 2012, the U.S. 61 bypass in Muscatine (from the intersection with Grandview Avenue on the south end to the intersection with Iowa 38 on the north end) was officially named the Douglas King Memorial Expressway in honor of Charles Douglas "Doug" King, a Muscatine native who was killed during the Vietnam War while attempting to rescue a downed pilot.
King graduated from the Muscatine High School in 1964. He was a 20-year-old student attending Iowa State University when he volunteered to join the U.S. Air Force in 1966, at the height of the Vietnam War.
Following graduation from basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, King was selected for special training as a pararescueman. The mission of the United States Air Force (USAF) pararescueman is to recover downed and injured aircrew members in austere and nonpermissive environments.
Following graduation from jump school and special warfare training, King was assigned to the 40th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron, stationed at the Nakhon Penom Air Base in Thailand.
On Christmas Eve 1968, reports were received that a F105D aircraft piloted by USAF Major Charles R. Brownlee had been shot down over the enemy-held territory of Laos, between the city of Ban Phaphilang and the Ban Karai Pass. The report indicated that Brownlee successfully ejected from his plane and landed safely on the ground. Two HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopters were immediately dispatched to the scene. Upon arrival, they spotted Brownlee's parachute hanging from a tree. Numerous attempts were made to contact Brownlee by radio, but he failed to respond. Finally, with darkness closing, the helicopters were forced to return to base.
The following day, on Christmas, King volunteered to accompany an air crew on a dangerous helicopter mission to rescue the downed pilot. He volunteered despite having orders in hand to depart from Laos and return to the United States.
The helicopter located the pilot, believed to be dead by then. Suspecting an ambush, the helicopter pilot hovered out of range of ground fire and above the pilot while smaller aircraft flew over the area trying to attract fire. The enemy did not respond and the trap was set.
Not wanting to leave a downed pilot, King volunteered to be lowered by a rescue hoist to attempt a rescue. His commander reluctantly agreed. King was lowered 100 feet into the jungle to the ground. Once on the ground, King radioed the helicopter that the pilot was "inert" and appeared to be lifeless. Still, King freed Brownlee from his parachute, secured him to the rescue device and dragged him to a point near the hovering helicopter.
Suddenly, enemy soldiers swarmed over both men and began firing. King immediately radioed that he was under fire, had been hit and directed the helicopter to pull away. Brownlee had already been secured to the hoist, but King had not yet secured himself to the cable. When the helicopter pulled away, the hoist line snagged in a tree and broke, dropping King and Brownlee about 10 feet to the ground. By then, the rescue helicopter had been severely damaged by ground fire and had no choice but to evacuate. When the helicopter was able to return to the site, Brownlee and King could not be located. Subsequent searches were made, but neither could be located and both were listed as "Missing in Action."
When the last American troops left Southeast Asia in 1975, some 2,500 Americans were unaccounted for. Over 10,000 reports have been received by the U.S. government since 1975 that build a strong case for belief that hundreds of these "unaccounted for" Americans are still alive and in captivity. "Unaccounted for" is a term that should apply to numbers, not men. Nearly 600 men were left behind in Laos, and the U.S. government did not negotiate their release.
For many years following the incident, the King family of Muscatine anxiously awaited word that Doug was still alive and was a prisoner of war. This word never came. On Dec. 5, 1978, King was officially declared "Killed in Action." However, since his body was not located, the family held out hope that Doug might be found.
No news surfaced about King or Brownlee until February 1986, when a Laotian refugee came to the United States and reported that he had witnessed King's capture, and watched as he was taken away in a truck. The refugee's story matched most of the details of King's loss incident. Less clear were the details of Brownlee's fate.
In 1993, U.S. officials were allowed into the Central Army Museum in Hanoi, where personal items from American casualties were kept. They found an identification card with Charles Douglas King's name, service number and date of birth. A North Vietnamese witness was found who stated "a pilot was pulling up another pilot to the helicopter when the cable broke. Both pilots died."
During the period they were listed as "Missing in Action, Charles R. Brownlee was promoted to the rank of Colonel and Charles D. King to Chief Master Sergeant. For his earlier rescue missions, King was award the nation's highest awards, including the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with one oak leaf cluster and Purple Heart. And for his heroism in his final rescue attempt, King was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, which is the nation's second highest award next to the Medal of Honor.
King has also been honored for his heroism and sacrifice by the USAF by having a dormitory named after him as "King Manor" at Andrews AFB in Maryland; another building as "King Dormitory" at March AFB in California; an entire wing of the Building 1856 at Hickman AFB in Hawaii, renamed "King Hall"'; a street at Scott AFB in Illinois changed from First Street to "King Street," and a Freedom Tree named after him at Offutt AFB in Nebraska. In his hometown of Muscatine, he was awarded a certificate by the Muscatine Rotary Club.