CAF American Combat Airman Hall of Fame
Mary E. Adair
In this part of the USA, we greet an October with what is usually slightly cooler, still dry and cloudless weather, and consequently schedule outdoor activities that won't bring on heat strokes. That is likely the reason that the CAF Air Show was scheduled the first weekend of this month. Originally, the CAF was homed in Pyote Texas where the base was nicknamed "Rattlesnake Moma" base by the airmen, and at one point was the holding field of the B-25 Enola Gay which delivered the swift inducement to make peace, thus beginning the end of WW II. Following its final military function in the early 60's as a radar installation, and its federal closing as a base, the field and a couple of hangars were used to house the first planes fated to become part of the CAF. Later, due to deteriorating landing strips and hangars, (sometimes used for scenes in Hollywood movies such as one with Kevin Costner) and the predominating area being utilized by the Texas Youth Commission, it was deemed wise to move to the Midland Odessa Airport area. That is now their "home" base for the Commemorative Air Force, (name changed from Confederate Air Force when certain groups began protesting such things as State capitol buildings flying their state flag that was an adaption of the southern Confederate Union of States flag flown when the civil war began) and the air show is well advertised and well attended.
Each year brings spectacular flying demonstrations such as dogfights between the planes that were used against each other in WW II, and stunts in bi-planes, or the 4 inches between wingtip jet craft teams from Army or Navy or Air Force. This year the Golden Knights are to be featured with their precision flights, and a great number of venerably aged WW II planes in flying and performing condition will again be on display. The CAF museum boasts the largest collection of aircraft "fusilage art" with not only pictures but salvaged sections of the planes sporting their nickname and sometimes a pin up girl, and slogans, and it draws visitors year round, but peak attendance is when the air show is being held.
Thus, a few complementary events like the black tie banquet and induction ceremonies of the American Combat Airman Hall of Fame, held the evening of October 2d, first day of this year's show. The prestigious event, set in nearby Midland Texas, is sponsored this year by the Heritage sponsor, Wildcat Squadron; Ace sponsor, Gordon Stevenson and Mr.and Mrs. George M. Hover; along with the Top Gun sponsors, Ranger Wing, Bonnie and Ray Kinney, Culpeper's Angels, Don Heyden Enterprises, Col. George Lodge, and also Mr. and Mrs. Hover.
After the presentation of colors by the Midland High School AFJROTC Detachment, including young women and men, the pledge of allegiance was led by CAF Col. Ollie Crawford. The POW/MIA Ceremony was conducted by Maj. Donald Speir, USAF (ret) followed by the invocation by CAF Col George Lodge. CAF Col. Bob Thompson, Chief of Staff, gave the welcome to the inductees and guests of the event. BGen. Paul W. Tibbets gave introductory remarks then he and Col. Thompson assisted other officers including CAF Col. Ken Fields (Master of Ceremonies), and CAF Col Ollie Crawford in the presentation of inductees. The recipients, some receiving the Hall of Fame honor posthumously, and some still living, have in common great courage, bravery, and ingenuity in battle.
The following is a brief historical account for each inductee or group of inductees honored this year:
Major George Preddy, USAAF
The highest scoring Mustang ace of WW II with 26.8 victories, George Preddy's life would end tragically on Christmas Day, 1944, when he, in his early 20's, was shot down by friendly fire. The small, slight North Carolinian, called by his commanding officer the "complete fighter pilot," Preddy served both in the Pacific in the earliest days of the war, and then flying out of England with the 352nd Fighter Group. He was credited with shooting down 6 German fighters on one mission. (Perhaps that led to him naming his plane, "Cripes A'Mighty" ... as his comrades might have conjectured that was the enemy's comment when seeing his plane in action.) Among his decorations, some awarded posthumously, were the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Col. Donald J. Blakeslee, USAF (ret)
Probably the finest fighter group commander in the ETO during WW II was Don Blakeslee. Leading the 4th Fighter Group and demanding teamwork and professionalism from all his pilots, Blakeslee transformed the outfit into the highest scoring fighter group in Europe. Blakeslee fought with the RAF, then the Eagle Squadron, and then the 4th Fighter Group, flying more than 500 combat missions and gaining 15.5 aerial victories. Among his many decorations are the Distinguished Service Cross with Clusters, Silver Star with Clusters, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with 7 Clusters, Air Medal with 7 Clusters and British Distinguished Flying Cross. (Portions of aerial victories came when more than one pilot was credited with a victory... i.e. 4 pilots, 1/4 point each.)
Brig. Gen. Robin Olds, USAF (ret)
A bit of a maverick, Robin Olds became a triple ace in two wars, flying more than 100 combat missions in WW II and more than 150 combat missions during the Vietnam war. As a 22-year-old fighter pilot, he shot down two German fighters on his very first combat mission. As a 44-year-old Colonel, Olds shot down 4 MIG jet fighters over North Vietnam. Known as a "pilot's pilot," Olds finished his career with 17 confirmed victories. His military decorations and awards include the Air Force Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with 5 Oak Leaf Clusters and Air Medal with 39 Oak Leaf Clusters. (Not a typo... 39 Oak Leaf Clusters.)
Col. Richard E. Cole, USAF (ret)
As a young lieutenant, not long out of flight school, Dick Cole found himself sitting next to Jimmy Doolittle in a B-25 Mitchell bomber preparing to take off from an American aircraft carrier for a bombing mission over Tokyo. Cole, whom Doolittle characterized as a skilled pilot who enjoyed the confidence of his crew, would continue to fight WW II in the China-Burma-India Theater. Cole's decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Medal with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star, Air Force Commendation Medal, and Chinese Army, Navy, Air Corps Medals, Class A, 1st Grade.
Commander Ted Crosby, USN (ret)
An "ace in a day," Ted Crosby flew Hellcats as a part of VF-17 and VF-18, two of the Navy's most distinguished fighter squadrons. While flying a combat air patrol during the invasion of Okinawa, in April of 1945, Crosby and his division leader were vectored toward more than 20 enemy airplanes, most of them kamikazes whose targets were the vast American fleet deployed around the island. Crosby and his division accounted for more than half the incoming raiders. Crosby's decorations include the Navy Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters and Air Medal with 7 Oak Leaf Clusters.
Captain Paul Stevens, USN (ret)
As a young NavCad in 1940, Paul Stevens could not foresee then that he would see action throughout America's involvement in WW II. At the controls of what others would regard as lumbering patrol planes, Stephens would fly and fight the Japanese with an aggressiveness that was noteworthy. He is credited with having engaged and shot down 6 Japanese airplanes, including an airplane carrying Admiral Seigo Yamagata. For his lengthy service in the Pacific and for the daring and resourcefulness he displayed, he received the Navy Cross, 2 Silver Stars, 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and several Air Medals.
Lt. Col. John Wallace Fields, USAF
The battleships were still smoking in Pearl Harbor when Fields arrived in Hawaii on December 16, 1941, in a new B-17E. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for action against a Japanese cruiser and again for the evcacuation of Philippine President Manuel Quezon. Fields participated in the Battle of the Coral Sea bombing troop transports and against Japanese targets at Rabaul and the Solomon Islands, flying a total of 55 combat missions. Discharged in 1945 as a Major, he was recalled to active duty as a Lt. Colonel in 1951 during the Korean War, serving in England as Deputy Base Commander at RAF Mildenhall. Decorations include: Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, Presidential Unit Citation with 5 Oak Leaf Clusters and the World War II Victory Medal.
95th Bomb Group
"First over Berlin" is how the 95th Bomb Group is best remembered. In a war in which the concept of strategic long range bombing would be tested on a huge scale, all the men who flew B-17s, B-24s, and B-29s through hostile skies can all take pride in what they accomplished. The men who crewed the B-17s of the 95th were, however, the first to attack the German capitol. For that effort, and for two other equally gallant efforts, the 95th Bomb Group received a Distinguished Unit Citation, the only 8th Air Force Bomb Group to be so recognized.
The Flyboys of Chichi Jima -- Dick Woelhof, Grady York, Marve Mershon, Warren Earl Vaughn, Jimmy Dye, Floyd Hall, Glenn Frazier and Warren Hindenlang.
Ordinary names, ordinary young men, like the thousands and thousands who served their country as pilots and aircrew in the Pacific during World War II. Yet these men were fated to become a part of the darkest side of war, for they were murdered and then eaten by Japanese officers and soldiers on the island of Chichi Jima in 1945. This incident, so hideous that it borders on the unimaginable, illustrates the fanaticism that infected the Japanese military during the war and the horror of war.
Following the ceremonies of induction, as is usual with most meetings in this part of the country, Colors were retired, afterwhich all shared a moment of silence in reverent respect of those fallen in service to our country, then joined in singing "God Bless America."