Category Archives: war

No Snow Days for the Old Guard

Arlington National Cemetery noted this week it is witnessing its first snowfall of the year with a series of photos that show quiet stillness and dignified respect.

(Photos by: Elizabeth Fraser, U.S. Army/ Arlington National Cemetery)

The above memorial is the mast of the lost USS Maine (Battleship No. 10), sunk in 1898, an event that sparked the Spanish-American War. It was dedicated at the cemetery in 1915 after the warship was raised. 

Among the images were some of the Sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, who stand watch 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in any weather.

Drawn from volunteers of the Fort Myer-based 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard,” they are equipped with Vietnam-era M14 rifles rather than the more current M16 or M4 variants. Sergeants of the Guard carry one of four custom M17 9mm pistols, specially crafted for the unit by Sig Sauer. 

Basswood of the Pacific

Here we see the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Basswood (WAGL-388, later WLB-388) underway during World War II. Marianas Section, off Victor Wharf, Agana Heights, Guam, late 1945.

Library of Congress photo HAER GU-3-1.

Commissioned on 12 January 1944, Basswood was one of 39 180-foot Balsam-class seagoing buoy tenders built from 1942–1944, specifically being one of the 20 improved Class C (Iris) subvariants. She is fairly well armed to tend navigational aids, with her 3″/50 gun visible pointing over her stern while” Y-gun” depth charge throwers are clearly visible on her starboard side. If you look to her stack– under her mast with an SL1 radar system– you can see two 20mm Oerlikons mounted. Unseen are two Mousetrap ASW rocket systems as well as a QBE-3A sonar suite. Several former Warship Wednesday alumni from the same class got to use those weapons during the war.

Capable of a blistering 13-knots, Basswood would go on to have a long career in the Western Pacific, supporting nuclear weapons testing during Operations Greenhouse (1951), Castle (1954), and Redwing (1956). She also completed three deployments to Vietnam in 1967, 1971, and 1972, earning a trio of both Vietnam Service Medals and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medals.

The Coast Guard Cutter Basswood works a buoy as busy Vietnamese fishermen travel to open sea and their fishing grounds from Vung Tau harbor during her 1967 deployment. The cutter battled monsoon weather for a 30-day tour to establish and reservice sea aids-to-navigation dotting the 1,000-mile South Vietnamese coastline. USCG Historian’s Office photo

Decommissioned 4 September 1998 after 54 years of service, she was disposed of in 2000, eventually scrapped.

Remember Wake

With the surrender of American forces at Wake Island on 23 December 1941, this flag was captured by LCDR Taro Fukatsu of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Upon his return to Japan in the spring of 1943, he gave the flag to his mother before he was killed at sea on 25 October 1944, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

USMC photo

The flag was returned to the Marine Corps in 1956 and currently has a place of honor at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, on display in the institution’s WWII Gallery.

Strange Encounter

73 Years Ago Today: An American pilot in an Israeli-marked German plane made in Czechoslovakia went head-to-head with two Egyptian pilots behind the sticks of British-made fighters in one of the most curious dog fights in history.

“Strange Encounter” Israeli Messerschmitt Me-109 (Avia S-199) fighter piloted by the American ace Rudy Augarten vs an Egyptian Spitfire, Oct 1948, painted by Roy Grinnell (1995) https://www.roygrinnellart.com/workszoom/3108707/strange-encounter#/

Rudolph “Rudy” Augarten was born in Philadelphia in 1922 and flew for the USAAF during WWII, logging time in P-47s in Europe where he earned the DFC after shooting down two Messerschmitts with the 403rd Fighter Squadron. Notably, he also survived being shot down over Normandy where he was eventually captured and imprisoned by the Germans until he and another aviator escaped

Postwar, he threw in his lot flying for the IDF’s 101st Squadron in 1948, where he downed a total of three REAF Spitfire IXs as well as an REAF Dakota. Ironically, his plane for some of that combat was the Czech-built Avia S-199, which were assembled from surplus Messerschmitt BF-109G airframe mated to bomber engines (Junkers Jumo-211s) that resulted in an aircraft with horrible handling characteristics. Still, Rudy seemed to be able to make his work.

Via World Machal: 

On October 16, 1948, one day into the first major Israeli offensive against the Egyptians, called Operation Yoav, Augarten’s turn had finally arrived. Egypt’s airbase at El Arish had been one of the sites of the previous day’s raid by Israel’s only fighter squadron, the 101st. Augarten was on a photo-reconnaissance mission to determine what targets the Air Force had destroyed, and what it still needed to finish off. Although his assignment was not very demanding, he was happy for the chance to fly at all. Rudy flew southward toward the coast. Suddenly, in the distance, he spotted two Spitfires flying in formation. Augarten could tell by their shape that they were not ME-109s, like the plane he was flying. He was too far away to make out their markings, but that didn’t really matter. Though the Israeli Air Force had several Spitfires in its arsenal, he knew immediately that the two Spits were Egyptian, because mechanical problems and fuel shortages limited the Israeli Air Force to using only a few planes in the air at any one time. When pilots in the air saw another plane, they could always be confident that it wasn’t one of their own.

Augarten carefully got into position behind the two Egyptians, hoping they wouldn’t detect his approach. Just then, fellow 101 pilot Leon Frankel, who was patrolling in the area, saw Augarten beginning to engage the Spits. Trying to come to Augarten’s aid, Frankel rolled his plane over and dove toward the combatants. But before he reached the scene, Augarten lined up one of the Spits in his gun sight, and fired a burst from the Me-109’s two 7.92 millimeter machine guns. Pieces of the Spitfire flew off as the bullets pierced its thin aluminum body. The Egyptian plane plummeted toward Israeli lines, leaving a trail of black smoke. The other Spit fled the battle scene. With no other enemy planes in sight, Frankel and Augarten fell into formation for the trip back to the base. A few days later Augarten got a treat that few fighter pilots ever receive. An army unit took him by jeep to see firsthand the wreckage of the plane he had downed. Smiling broadly, he posed for a photograph in front of what remained of the Spit. With that victory, Augarten had experienced the Czech version of the ME-109 at its best.

Rudy lived to a ripe old age of 78 and died in California in 2000.

What a Difference 50 Days Makes

Well, this press conference didn’t age well at all, and in record time.

25 June 2021: “President Biden Welcomes His Excellency Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and His Excellency Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, to the White House”

Don’t get me wrong, I am not gloating.

This is a terrible situation, quite accurately the Fall of Saigon of our generation. A total kick in the nuts.

U.S. Embassy evacs: Saigon, April 1975, and Kabul, August 2021, respectively

I have friends and family that were part of the one million Americans who served– often several deployments– in uniform in the (now-old) Afghan Republic over the past two decades and I did contractor work. One of those friends I visit every year in the Biloxi Veteran’s Cemetery and would much rather he still be here to see his daughter grow up. 

This week stings quite a bit and I really felt like everyone saw it coming for the past several years.

The following is the text of a joint statement released by the Department of State and Department of Defense on Afghanistan, 15 August: 

Begin text:

At present we are completing a series of steps to secure the Hamid Karzai International Airport to enable the safe departure of U.S. and allied personnel from Afghanistan via civilian and military flights.  Over the next 48 hours, we will have expanded our security presence to nearly 6,000 troops, with a mission focused solely on facilitating these efforts and will be taking over air traffic control. Tomorrow and over the coming days, we will be transferring out of the country thousands of American citizens who have been resident in Afghanistan, as well as locally employed staff of the U.S. mission in Kabul and their families and other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals. And we will accelerate the evacuation of thousands of Afghans eligible for U.S. Special Immigrant Visas, nearly 2,000 of whom have already arrived in the United States over the past two weeks. For all categories, Afghans who have cleared security screening will continue to be transferred directly to the United States. And we will find additional locations for those yet to be screened.

End text.

Manning the Oerlikon

Official caption: “Five steward’s mates stand at their battle stations, as a gun crew aboard a Coast Guard-manned frigate in the southwest Pacific.”

Note the gunner is missing his left shoe but doesn’t seem that affected by it, as there is a pile of 20mm brass in the gun tub. NARA 26-G-3797 https://catalog.archives.gov/id/513214

“On call to general quarters, these Coast Guardsmen man a 20mm AA gun. They are, left to right, James L. Wesley, standing with a clip of shells; L. S. Haywood, firing; William Watson, reporting to bridge by phone from his gun captain’s post; William Morton, loading a full clip, assisted by Odis Lane, facing camera across gun barrel.”

Besides their own vessels, the Coast Guard manned a myriad of ships on the Navy List to include LSTs, LCIs, and transports. Notably, of the 96 Tacoma-class patrol frigates built during the war, the USCG ran 75 (the balance had gone as Lend-Lease to Russia and Britain). Of those 75, most were detailed to convoy duty in the Atlantic but 18 that were built on the West Coast were dispatched in a squadron to the Pacific where they gave a good account of themselves in ASW patrols, landing Rangers and Marines on isolated atolls, and providing NGFS for invasion forces throughout the Philippine littoral.

103 years Ago: I will Hold

Via the National Museum of the Marine Corps:

On 19 July 1918, 1st Lt Clifton Cates, who would later become the 19th Commandant of the Marine Corps, sent this legendary message back to his command during the fighting at Soissons. At the time, his company, No. 79 of the Sixth Marines, was holding the line by its fingernails along with remnants of the regiment’s 2nd battalion, in the face of stiff German opposition. 

Cates, who was Commandant during Korea, would see his Marines involved in the mud once again, albeit 30 years apart. 

Lieutenant Colonel Ray Murray, commanding the 5th Marines, shows a captured percussion fired, black powder wall gun to Commandant of the Marine Corps General Clifton B. Cates, in Korea. From the Photograph Collection (COLL/3948), Marine Corps Archives & Special Collections

How Many Can You ID?

Check out this layout of Warsaw Pact and WWII Allied small arms captured by U.S. Marines of the 22nd MAU from Cuban stores of the Grenadan People’s Revolutionary Army in that briefly-Marxist British Commonwealth nation in October 1983:

Note the Marine in the top left corner in ERDL camo with a slung M16A1, M1 helmet, smoke grenade, and early PASGIT kevlar vest. Notably, the Army’s 82nd Airborne and Ranger units in the same op had kevlar helmets. DOD Photo 330-CFD-DN-ST-85-0202 by PH2 D. Wujcik, USN, via the National Archives. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/6395935

Give up?

Official caption: Seized weapons on display are: (clockwise from the back) Soviet-made 82 mm M-36 mortars, 5 Soviet 7.62 mm PK general-purpose machine guns, two Bren light machine guns, 7.62 mm ammunition, two AK-47 assault rifles, an RPG-2 portable rocket launcher, a 7.62 mm Mosin-Nagant rifle, a Czechoslovakian made Model-52 7.62 mm rifle and a US-made .45 cal. M-3A1 submarine gun

Warship Wednesday, June 30, 2021: Cleaning Up After the Queen

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
 
Warship Wednesday, June 30, 2021: Cleaning Up After the Queen
 
 
Here, in this grainy still from a 16mm camera, we see one of the last organized surrenders of Japanese forces, some 70 years ago today– 30 June 1951– on the island of Anatahan to a whaleboat sent ashore by the Abnaki class fleet tug USS Cocopa, whose hull number (ATF-101) can be seen on the boat. The group of Japanese had previously refused to believe World War II ended in 1945, but surrendered to LCDR James B. Johnson, after losing their queen. 
 
But we will get to that. 
 
The 27 hulls of the Abnaki-class were intended for far-reaching ocean operations with the follow-on tail of the fleet. Constructed during the war, they were large for tugs, stretching out 205-feet in length and weighing almost 1,600 tons when fully loaded. Capable of 16.5 knots, they could steam a whopping 15,000 miles at half that clip on a quartet of economical GM diesels. Fairly well-armed for tugs, they carried a 3″/50 DP main gun, two twin 40mm/60 Bofors, and two Oerlikons. 
 

USS Abnaki (ATF-96) underway at Pearl Harbor, February 1952, showing the simple and effective layout of the class, which kept their WWII-era armament well into the 1950s. Cocopa surely emulated the above impression at Anatahan.

Named for Native American tribes, Cocopa carried the name of an Arizona tribe and was constructed by Charleston Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Charleston, S.C., commissioned 25 March 1944. 
 

Cocopas by Balduin Mollhausen, circa 1860. DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University

Her war history was largely skipped over by DANFS, with just 88 words dedicated it the period, but it was interesting if not the stuff of military legend, taking the tug from the Palmetto State to Shanghai with stops in the English Channel and brushes with German U-Boats while in two cross-Atlantic convoys. 
 
Via NARA
 
Amazingly, she did not earn a single battle star for her WWII service. 
 
Following a postwar overhaul at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, she was assigned to Alaskan waters, which at the time were still strewn in wartime wreckage and threats of mines. While operating out of Guam in 1951, she was dispatched to a far-off island to respond to the strange story of a group of Japanese holdouts that the war had forgotten. 
 

Anatahan

 
Located in the Northern Marianas, the natives there were removed by the Spanish in the 17th Century to turn the 8,300-acre volcanic island into a large coconut/copra plantation. This continued under the Germans, who picked up Spain’s remaining Pacific territories in 1899, and by the 1920s or so, the plantations had fallen into disrepair and, with the Japanese in charge, they stayed that way. 
 
 
Fast forward to June 1944 and U.S. air assets from the 15 carriers of VADM Marc A. Mitscher’s TF 58 found a Japanese convoy in the area, sailing from Tanapag to Japan.
 
 
Over the next three days, as a sideshow to the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” they had easy pickings, splashing the torpedo boat Otori, net layer Kokku Maru, transports Batavia Maru, Hinko Maru, Kamishima Maru, Imizu Maru, Nitcho Maru, Reikai Maru, and Tenryugawa Maru: the freighter Bokuyo Maru, Japanese Army cargo ships Fukoku Maru and Moji Maru, and the coaster Tsushima Maru.
 

Marianas Operation, 1944. Caption: Burning Japanese cargo ship that was attacked by USS LEXINGTON (CV-16) planes off Saipan, 14 June 1944. Description: Catalog #: 80-G-236902

In the aftermath, a group of some 31 Japanese soldiers and mariners including navy seamen, army privates, and four merchant ship captains, the survivors of several of the ships that were sunk, made it to the lush shores of Anatahan where they lived with a handful of locals who were leftovers from the old plantation days alongside Mr. Kikuichiro Higa, the Okinawan plantation manager, and one Japanese woman, Kazuko Higa, his common-law wife. The senior-most Japanese military member was Sgt. Junji Inoue. 
 
War came to the island when a Saipan-based B-29 Superfortress, T Square 42 (42-74248), from the 498th Bomb Group, 875th Squadron, 73rd Wing, crashed on 3 January 1945 on Anatahan, with no survivors. Meanwhile, the Japanese hid. 
 
On 10 May 1945, elements of the U.S. Army’s 24th Infantry Regiment, carried by the USS Marsh (DE-669), LCI(L)-1054 and LCI(L)-1082, landed on Anatahan and scouted around a bit, staying for a week. The Japanese continued to hide. 
 
In July 1945, the 6th Marine MP Battalion landed on the island and again the Japanese hid inland. They removed the 45 native Carolinians who remained in the village. Other Navy ships visited the island and, hailing the emperor’s remaining subjects there, urged them to surrender. 
 
After the war, in February 1946, a U.S. Army AGRS search party visited the island, located the crash site near the top of its 2,500 ft volcano, and recovered the remains of the crew. Still, the Japanese remained in hiding, despite messages to them that the war was over, including Japanese newspapers and magazines chronicling the peace, which were dismissed as a trick. 
 
As noted by the National Park Service, the Japanese eventually found the B-29, and their fortunes changed. 
 
Early in September 1946, Kazuko and Kikuichiro Higa were crossing the steaming 2,500-foot volcanic crater atop the island when they stumbled upon the wreckage of an American B-29.  Parachutes found in the aircraft yielded nylon for clothing and cord that was carefully unraveled, then rewoven into fishing lines. Using stone hammers, the men chopped away the duralumin plates and beneath them found aluminum, which was eventually formed into cooking utensils, razors, harpoons, fishhooks, spears, and knives. Wire from the springs in the machine guns was twisted into shark hooks. Oxygen tanks were modified for use as water catchments. Engine bolts were fashioned into chisels and other cutting and drilling tools. Plexiglass and strips of rubber were made into pairs of underwater goggles. Everything that could be carried away from this great prize was taken and zealously guarded.  When one man discovered a method for making a new implement, the less inventive of the group made copies. One man designed a model sailing vessel from duralumin and copper wire from the aircraft. Another produced several banjo-like samisens, traditional Japanese three-stringed instruments.
 
It also provided instruments of death: A pair of 45 caliber automatic pistols. The weapons were seized by two of Kazuko’s suitors. For the remaining months of their lives, the two reigned as kings of the island.
 
Soon, Kikuichiro was killed, as were no less than three other survivors, in a series of feuds over crab fishing and Kazuko, who became something of the Queen of Anatahan.  
 
In June 1950, LCDR James Johnson, Deputy Civil Administrator on Saipan, began to wage a hearts and minds campaign to get the Japanese on Anatahan to lay down their arms and go home. This included regular delivery of care packages under a white flag, amounting to letters from the soldiers’ relatives and Japanese authorities, Tokyo newspapers, magazines, food supplies, Japanese beer, and cigarettes.” 
 
This brought about the “surrender” of Queen of Anatahan, who was eager to leave her subjects behind. 
 

Kazuko Higa, the lone woman on Anatahan, the day of her surrender, June 1950. (N-1993.02). http://libweb.hawaii.edu/digicoll/ttp/ttp_htms/1993.html

 
Johnson kept up his efforts to get the last of the marooned Japanese off the island for eight months. After dropping leaflets promising the 18 men who were left would be returned to their families, a white flag appeared and our tug sailed from Guam, complete with a platoon of armed Marines and a LIFE journalist, Michael Rougier.
 
By Rougier, via the LIFE Archives: 
 
I found these two videos in the National Archives of the event and uploaded them to YT. They are silent but moving. 
 
 

Junji Inoue, the day of his surrender at Anatahan, June 1951. (N-1993.05). Inoue reads a document urging his compatriots to surrender. Scene aboard M.V. Cocopa, Anatahan, June 1951. Inoue’s personal implements. Note fiber zoris, coconut husk hat, knives fashioned from B-29 wreckage. (N-1993.07)

 
Once the men arrived in Guam, they were hospitalized for a week then flown to Japan. 
 

From the Aug. 1951 All Hands

 
The Lord of the Flies tale of shipwrecked soldiers and sailors fighting over a single queen while surviving on coconut wine and crabs was turned into several books and at least one internationally popular film, Josef von Sternberg’s Anatahan (1953).
 
 

Meanwhile, back to our ship!

 
With the war in Korea increasingly drawing in naval assets after the entrance of Chinese volunteers by the hundreds of thousands, USS Cocopa (ATF-101) was soon off to combat. Deployed to the region in the summer and fall of 1953, she was key in saving the Canadian Tribal-class destroyer HMCS Huron (G24), which had grounded while in range of Nork shore batteries. The mighty tug took the damaged Canuck, stern-first, to Sasebo. 
 
Cocopa did receive a battle star for Korea. 
 

USS Cocopa (ATF-101) moored pier side, date, and location unknown. Note The tug’s engineers have managed to paint their battle efficiency “E” on their ship’s tiny smokestack. NHHC

 
By 1954, she was supporting Operation Castle, a series of atomic tests at Bikini Atoll.
 
Then came numerous trips to Vietnam, deploying there five times between 1963 and 1972, earning five stars for her service in Southeast Asia. One of the most interesting taskings during her time there was as a “Yankee Station Special Surveillance Unit” to deceive and jam Soviet Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) and Electrical Intelligence (ELINT) trawlers that were monitoring American operations in the Gulf of Tonkin.
 

USS Cocopa (ATF-101) underway,1969, still with her 3-inch gun but with her Bofors and Oerlikons removed. L45-54.04.01

Decommissioned, 30 September 1978, she would go on to continue her service in more North American waters. 

Viva Armada!

 
Sold under the Security Assistance Program to Mexico, 30 September 1978, Cocopa was commissioned into the Republic of Mexico Navy as ARM Jose Maria Mata (ARE-03) until 1993, then as ARM Seri with the same hull number. 
 
She is still on active duty, based in Tampico. 
 

ARM Seri ARE03 Tampico Mexico 2016 via ShipSpotter IMO 7342691

Check out this video of her underway in 2017, looking good for her age. 
 
 

Epilogue 

 
Of Cocopa’s 26 Abenaki-class sisters, they have been very lucky with two exceptions– USS Wateree (ATF-117) was sunk during a typhoon, 9 October 1945 with a loss of eight crew members; and USS Sarsi (ATF-111) met her fate during Typhoon Karen in 1952 at the hands of a drifting naval mine off the coast of Korea. The rest lived to a ripe old age with the U.S. Navy, eventually being retired by Uncle Sam in the 1960s and 70s. While the last of her class in U.S. service, USS Papago (ATF-160), was disposed of in 1997, many were transferred overseas– such as Cocopa, who continues to serve alongside classmates ARM Yaqui (ex-Abnaki) and ARM Otomi (ex-USS Molala ATF-106)
 
 
As for Anatahan, it is uninhabited these days but is still home to one very testy queen. Home to a stratovolcano that consists of the largest known caldera in the Northern Mariana Islands, it blew its top in 2003, producing a cloud that was seen 600 miles away and burying the island in ash. 
 
Specs:  
Displacement 1,205 t.(lt) 1,675 t.(fl)
Length 205′
Beam 38′ 6″
Draft 15′ 5″ (lim)
Propulsion: (As-Built) four Busch-Sulzer (mod 12-278) Diesel-electric engines, single propeller 3,000shp
Ship’s Service Generators: two Diesel-drive 100Kw 120V/240V D.C., one Diesel-drive 200Kw 120V/240 D.C.
Modernized: (the 1960s) four Alco Diesel engines driving four General Electric generators and three General Motors 3-268A auxiliary services engines
Speed 16.5 kts.
Radar: SPS-5
Complement 5 Officers, 80 Enlisted
Armament (as completed)
one single 3″/50 dual-purpose gun mount
two twin 40mm AA gun mounts
two single 20mm AA gun mounts
 
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MIG Alley

70 Years Ago Today.

Air Guard in MIG Alley by William S. Phillips, via the U.S. Air Force National Guard’s Heritage Collection

MIG Alley, North Korea — June 26, 1951 — During the Korean War over 45,000 Air Guardsmen, in 22 wings and other units, were called into active Federal service. The 136th Fighter-Bomber Wing, Texas ANG, was among the first Air National Guard units to be called. Flying the F-84E Thunderjet, the Texas Guardsmen moved to Japan in May 1951 and, shortly thereafter, became the first Air Guardsmen to enter combat in the Korean War. During the winter and spring of 1951, the Chinese Communist Air Force mounted a major air offensive against the United Nations air forces. The major contested area were the skies over northwestern Korea known as MIG Alley.

The U.S. Air Force retaliated by mounting a counteroffensive aimed at destroying the enemy’s aircraft and bases. In June 1951 the 136th’s 182d Fighter-Bomber Squadron was given the mission of protecting B-29 flights on bombing missions over North Korea.

On June 26, 1951, the pilots of the 182d were escorting four B-29s to an enemy airfield near Yongyu when five MIG-15s attacked the American bombers. Although relatively new to combat, the pilots of the 182d turned back the veteran MIG pilots. During the ensuing dogfight, 1st Lt. Arthur E. Oligher, assisted by Captain Harry Underwood, shot down a MIG-15–the first Air Guard jet kill. The Air National Guard went on to make an impressive combat flying record.

Today’s 182d Tactical Fighter Squadron, Texas Air National Guard continues to add to its impressive flying record.

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