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182nd Fighter Squadron recalls legacy

A recruiting billboard sits in front of the Texas Air National Guard hanger encourages folks in and around Kelly Air Force Base to the TANG. (Texas Military Forces Photo

A recruiting billboard sits in front of the Texas Air National Guard hanger encourages folks in and around Kelly Air Force Base to the TANG. (Texas Military Forces Photo

A vintage P-47 Thunderbolt and an F-16 Fighting Falcon perform a heritage flight together over San Antonio Oct. 11 as part of the 182nd Fighter Squadron's 60th anniversary celebration. The squadron, which belongs to the Texas Air National Guard 149th Fighter Wing, traces its heritage to the 396th Fighter Squadron, which flew P-47s in combat during World War II. For the Oct. 11 flight, Robbie Vajdos, of Louise, Texas, flew the P-47 from the Lone Star Flight Museum, in Galveston, Texas. Lt. Col. John Kane of the 182nd FS piloted the F-16. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Mike Arellano)

A vintage P-47 Thunderbolt and an F-16 Fighting Falcon perform a heritage flight together over San Antonio Oct. 11 as part of the 182nd Fighter Squadron's 60th anniversary celebration. The squadron, which belongs to the Texas Air National Guard 149th Fighter Wing, traces its heritage to the 396th Fighter Squadron, which flew P-47s in combat during World War II. For the Oct. 11 flight, Robbie Vajdos, of Louise, Texas, flew the P-47 from the Lone Star Flight Museum, in Galveston, Texas. Lt. Col. John Kane of the 182nd FS piloted the F-16. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Mike Arellano)

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- The 149th Fighter Wing hosted the 60th anniversary celebration of the 182nd Fighter Squadron with events in San Antonio Oct. 11, 12 and 13.

Almost 200 former members of the squadron, some of whom joined during the 1940s, attended the events, which included a welcome ceremony, base tours, a golf tournament, and a social hour and banquet.

Among the distinguished guests who participated in the celebration were retired Lt. Gen. Daniel James II, former director of the Air National Guard who was a pilot with the 182nd FS; Maj. Gen. Henry "Hank" Morrow, commander of the 1st Air Force, commander of the Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region, and a former commander of the 149th FW; and Maj. Gen. Allen Dehnert, current commander of the Texas Air National Guard.

At the banquet, held in the 149FW's hangar on Lackland Air Force Base and hosted by Col. John Nichols, wing commander, the generals joined with former squadron members and other guests in swapping stories about their experiences in the unit. The pilots who belonged to the unit in its earlier years took the opportunity to expound its history.

The squadron's roots reach back to combat action in the skies over France during World War II as the 396th Fighter Squadron in the Army Air Corps. The 396th FS was twice awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre and recognized with the Distinguished Unit Citation for action over Mons, France, on Sept. 3, 1944. The squadron was deactivated Aug. 20, 1946, and was designated the 182nd FS the very next day. But it wasn't until
October 1947, coinciding with the birth of the U.S. Air Force, that the 182nd FS "stood up" as an Air National Guard unit.

Retired Col. John C. Wright claims to be both the youngest member of the Texas National Guard and one of the first members of the Texas Air National Guard.

"I enlisted in the Texas National Guard while in high school," Colonel Wright said. "I was only 15, but I told them I was 17." At the time he joined the Texas Guard, there was no Air Guard, but he remembers being in a formation right after it was established.

"They asked us if we wanted to join the Air National Guard, and if we did, to step forward," he recalled. "Another guy, J.T. Lewis, and I stepped forward, but I stepped forward just before him."

Colonel Wright served four and a half years as an enlisted man, then transferred to the Air Force to attend fighter pilot school to fly F-84s. During the Korean War, he was reassigned to the 182nd Fighter Squadron, which by that time had traded in its World War II era P-51s for jet aircraft to engage the enemy. During his Air Force and Air National Guard career, the veteran said he piloted 26 aircraft in all.

"I flew 28 and a half years, and I enjoyed every minute of it," said Colonel Wright.
Retired Col. Richard Lay joined the 182nd in 1956 and commanded the unit for five and a half years before he left it in 1969. As he stood in the hangar Oct. 13, he recalled when the structure was dedicated. At that time, of course, the National Guard area was part of Kelly Air Force Base.

"We originally had just shacks on Kelly," said Colonel Lay. "We had no flying until they built the hangar."

When the 182nd returned from the Korean War, it went back to P-51s, which it operated out of Brooks Air Force Base. The southeast San Antonio installation couldn't accommodate jet aircraft, so the squadron moved to Kelly and construction began on the hangar, which is still in full use.

"I remember the day we christened this place," said Colonel Lay. "We had [legendary pilot] Steve Canyon, The Four Freshman [singers] and the acrobatic team from the Denver Air National Guard. It was a big weekend."

In the years the squadron had the F-80, it stood daylight alert. Two aircraft stood ready for takeoff on a moment's notice if any unidentified aircraft was detected in the region.

Former 1st Lt. Mike Spaight said he remembered scrambling once to find what looked like a P-38 flying 5,000 feet above him. It turned out to be a false alarm; the pilot hadn't filed a flight plan.

Lieutenant Spaight belonged to the 182nd only from 1956 through 1958, but he had flown combat missions over Korea, where he met the father of Col. Jack Presley, another 182nd fighter pilot, who retired as vice commander of the 149th FW only last year.

Retired Col. Charles Quist, who led the 149th FW during the early and mid 1970s, began his military career in 1942, joining the Army National Guard right out of high school.

"They kept me in after Pearl Harbor," he said, recounting also that he went into pilot training in 1942 and graduated in 1943. He counts 63 different aircraft that he
flew before retiring in July 1976.

One of his proudest memories was the 182nd coming in second in the Air Force-wide William Tell air-to-air fighter competition one year.

One of the people around at the time was Lt. Col. Frank Trojcak, a 27-year member of the 149th Fighter Wing who retired in 1986. The aircraft he piloted during his service included not only the squadron's primary fighters -- F-84, F-86, F-102, F-100, F-4 and
F-16 - but also the C-47, C-54 and C-131 cargo aircraft, T-29 and T-33 trainers, and a U3A Cessna utility aircraft.

Colonel Trojcak recalled the ultimately successful effort to obtain the F-16 aircraft for the 182nd FS. Until the mid 1980s, the Air Guard usually received aircraft from the Air Force that had seen better days. This time, the 182nd was one of the first Air National
Guard units to receive a front-line, state-of-the-art fighter.

"I adopted the slogan 'Made in Texas by Texans' and said 'Made in Texas and should be flown by Texans,'" said Colonel Trojcak, referring to the fact that the F-16 was manufactured in Fort Worth. He also said he suggested the code "SA" for the tail of the San Antonio unit's F-16s after another Texas unit had already claimed "TX."

"Besides being around and working with good people, I made a lot of friends and did a lot of flying," Colonel Trojcak reflected.

Before wrapping up the evening, Lt. Col. John Kane invited former squadron members to sign an Air Force anniversary flag, noting the 60 years of history it represented. The wing commander also offered a few words.

"We started with the 'greatest generation,' and today we're faced with the 'latest generation,'" said Colonel Nichols. "Toast the 'greatest' and congratulate 'the latest.'

"I promise you we will uphold the history you've given us," he continued. "If we don't carry on the legacy, we won't have it to pass on...."