Thomas Eckhart was born on February 26, 1938, in Cincinnati, Ohio. He enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Air Force for Navigator Training on September 6, 1961, and was commissioned a 2d Lt and awarded his Navigator wings at James Connally AFB, Texas, on July 23, 1962. His first assignment was as a C-123 Provider and then C-130 Hercules navigator at Pope AFB, North Carolina, from September 1962 to March 1968, during which time he served with the 464th and 778th Troop Carrier Wings, and the 347th, 776th, 778th, and 779th Troop Carrier Squadrons. Lt Eckhart deployed to South Vietnam in 1963, and to the Dominican Republic in 1965. His next assignment was as an MC-130E Combat Talon I navigator with the 7th Special Operations Squadron at Ramstein AB, West Germany, from April 1968 to June 1972, and during this time he served as navigator aboard the MC-130E "Cherry One" on the Son Tay Raid, a clandestine mission to rescue American Prisoners of War in North Vietnam on November 21, 1970. Lt Col Eckhart served as a C-130 and KC-97 Stratotanker Flight Examiner with Headquarters 9th Air Force at Shaw AFB, South Carolina, from June 1972 to June 1975, followed by service as Chief of the Navigation Performance Division with Headquarters 22nd Air Force at Travis AFB, California, from July 1975 until his retirement from the Air Force on October 1, 1983.
His Silver Star Citation reads:
Captain Thomas K. Eckhart distinguished himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force during the Prisoner of War Search and Rescue Operation at Son Tay, North Vietnam, on 21 November 1970. On that date, Captain Eckhart participated as a Navigator in a combat flight which led the force into Son Tay. Through accurate and timely navigation, flares were delivered exactly on target and the force was able to land at the Son Tay prison camp without incident. The enemy forces were completely surprised and the mission was successfully completed. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Captain Eckhart has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.