Ken Lightle was born on June 10, 1936, in Washington. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on July 20, 1953, and served as an aircraft mechanic until leaving active duty on July 19, 1957. A1C Lightle served in the Air Force Reserve from July 20, 1957, until returning to active duty on February 14, 1958. He then served as an aircraft mechanic with the 55th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at McClellan AFB, California, from February 1958 to September 1960, followed by service as an aircraft mechanic with the 7310th Maintenance Squadron at Rhein-Main AB, West Germany, from September 1960 to October 1963. Sgt Lightle served as an aircraft maintenance technician with the 777th Troop Carrier Squadron at Pope AFB, North Carolina, from October 1963 to May 1966, and then with the 779th Troop Carrier Squadron at Pope from May to September 1966. His next assignment was as an aircraft maintenance technician with the 314th Tactical Control Wing at Nha Trang AB, South Vietnam, from September 1966 to May 1967, and then as an MC-130E Combat Talon I flight engineer with the 779th Tactical Airlift Squadron at Pope AFB from May 1967 to March 1968. Sgt Lightle's next assignment was as an MC-130E flight engineer with the 7th Air Control Squadron at Ramstein AB, West Germany, and then as an MC-130E flight engineer at Pope AFB, where he retired from the Air Force on March 1, 1974. During this time he served as the flight engineer aboard the MC-130E "Cherry One" during the Son Tay Raid, a clandestine mission to rescue American Prisoners of War in North Vietnam on November 21, 1970.
His Silver Star Citation reads:
Technical Sergeant Kenneth C. Lightle 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, Sergeant Lightle performed aircrew duties on the lead aircraft of the force penetrating deep into enemy territory in the attempted rescue effort. With complete disregard for his personal safety in the face of enemy fire, he skillfully performed his normal aircrew duties and other functions which involved many highly important and precisely timed activities. Sergeant Lightle's outstanding performance under harrowing circumstances contributed greatly to the success of the operation. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Sergeant Lightle has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.