9th reunion honors squadron history, heritage

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jeff Patton
  • 9th Attack Squadron
The 9th Attack Squadron hosted a reunion at Holloman AFB last weekend to honor and celebrate the rich heritage of the Flying Knights and the 49th Operations Group. Veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War traveled to New Mexico from as far away as North Carolina to join in the festivities, which included MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft static displays, simulator rides, a traditional roll call, and a Luau with all the current Airmen and family members of the 9th ATKS.

Capt. Andrew Bogusky, 9th ATKS MQ-9 pilot, organized the event and planned a Luau-themed reunion to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which was all the more appropriate because the squadron was located in the Pacific theater for its first 15 years. The party had tiki torches, leis, Hawaiian shirts, and the squadron cooked a whole pig in the ground.

The event was made possible due to contributions from the Alamogordo VFW chapter and Dr. Mark Race, the 9th ATKS Honorary Squadron Commander.

"The 9th Fighter Squadron has such a rich heritage," said Jim Burrett, the 49th Wing Historian. Originally the 9th Pursuit Squadron, the unit was activated in January 1941 and deployed to Australia in February 1942, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Flying Knights flew P-40s, P-47s, and P-38s in the defense of Australia and in the liberation of New Guinea and the Philippines over the next three years earning the unit numerous awards and citations.

The top ace of World War II, Richard Bong, was a member of the 9th and compiled 40 kills. According to Burrett, "The 9th Fighter Squadron scored an impressive record in the Pacific during World War II, contributing 258 victories to the 49th Fighter Group's record of 687 enemy aircraft destroyed in aerial combat. Of the group's 43 Aces, the 9th Fighter Squadron claimed 14 of them."

Lt. Col. Ralph Easterling, who was in the 8th Fighter Squadron, flew with Bong and McGuire and told several stories to the younger generation of Knights. "You only become famous when all your peers are gone and can't claim you're a liar," he quipped.

The 9th remained in Japan after the war and deployed to Korea in September 1950, flying the F-80C Shooting Star. Col. Jesse Jacobs, from Las Cruces, N.M., flew 109 combat missions during the Korean conflict and has a record in his log book of flying the F-80 tail #49-853 displayed in Holloman's Heritage Park. Col. Jacobs shared a story about flying with Eddie Rickenbacker when he was 13 years old on Nov. 1, 1936, in Nashville, Tenn. That was Col. Jacobs second flight in an airplane.

The Flying Knights flew F-84s for a short time before moving from the Pacific theater to Europe in 1957, flying the F-100 Super Sabre and then transitioned to the F-105 Thunderchief in 1962. In 1968, the squadron converted to fly the F-4 Phantom and was awarded the Mackay Trophy in 1969 for a flawless deployment of 72 F-4D aircraft from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, to Holloman AFB without a single abort, completing 504 successful air-to-air refuelings on the 5,000-mile trip.

Mr. Ed DiBello, who flew with the 8th Fighter Squadron from 1970-1973 during the Vietnam War, told several stories from his time with the Knights, including a few occasions when he flew three combat sorties in one day.

In 1978, the squadron transitioned from flying F-4s to the F-15 Eagle until 1992, when portions of the squadron deployed in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The squadron was renamed the 9th Fighter Squadron and began the conversion to fly the F-117 Nighthawk. The squadron supported Operations Provide Comfort, Desert Thunder and Allied Force until the F-117 was retired and the squadron was de-activated in 2008.

At the reunion, Col. Ward Juedeman, the last commander of the F-117 squadron shared several pictures and stories from his time with the Knights.

The 9th Fighter Squadron was reactivated as the 9th Attack Squadron on Sept. 28, 2012 as the Air Force's MQ-9 Formal Training Unit, responsible for training new pilots and sensor operators to operate the MQ-9 Reaper. The reunion concluded that evening in the new 9th Heritage Room, part of the recently-renovated squadron building, where the veterans shared their stories as part of a monthly River Rats meeting.

According to Mr. Miles "Cowboy" Crowell, the Holloman Bong Aces River Rats Chairman, "it was an excellent heritage presentation on the history of 9th Flying Knights."

"As soon as I took command of the 9th, I've looked for opportunities to bring heritage back to the squadron," said Lt. Col. Jeff Patton, the 9th ATKS commander. The reunion weekend was a huge success that allowed veterans to tell their personal stories of past conflicts, while giving the younger generation a chance to showcase the current RPA community, and specifically, the MQ-9 Reaper and its capabilities.