Reactivation of 354th Fighter Day Wing, a War Memorial

Reactivation of 354th Fighter Day Wing, a War Memorial (HM1XEH)

Location: Myrtle Beach, SC 29577 Horry County
Country: United States of America

N 33° 39.63', W 78° 55.682'

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Address byGeneral O.P. Weyland, United States Air ForceCommander, Tactical Air CommandatReactivation of 354th Fighter Day Wing CeremonyMyrtle Beach Air Force Base,Myrtle Beach, South CarolinaDecember 7, 1956

Governor Timmerman, Mayor Cameron, General Timblerlake, Colonel Gabreski, and honored guests -Just as today the 9th Air Force is recognized as the most powerful, mobile and versatile tactical air force in the world, during World War II it was the largest and most powerful combat force of its kind in the world. As a World War II commander of the XIX Tactical Air Command and of the 9th Air Force, I had ample opportunity to judge the fighting qualities of the assigned units, and considered the 354th Fighter Group of World War II fame to be the finest day-fighter outfit in existence.With the precipitous demobilization following the war, the 354th designation was lost to the Regular Air Force for some years, and many of our air leaders, including General Timberlake and Colonel Gabreski, felt our new fighter wing here at Myrtle Beach deserved to inherit the history, battle streamers and traditions of the old 354th.I would like to review briefly just a little of the history of this unit, that you may better appreciate the past combat record and proud traditions of
the fighter wing which is now to be based at Myrtle Beach.The 354th Group was originally activated November 15, 1942, in California, and less than a year later was sent to England as the first combat outfit to be equipped with the North American P-51 Mustang — the finest air to-air fighter of World War II. They were subsequently called the "Pioneer Mustang Group — and "pioneers" they were in many ways. From their original permanent Regular Air Force station in East Anglia, they moved to an advanced landing field in Kent, England, with tents for technical supplies, messes and living quarters. They were one of the first outfits to move on to the Normandy Beachhead area, and from there to the end of the war, they seldom stayed on an air strip more than two or three weeks as the XIX Tactical Air Command - Third Army team swept through France, Luxembourg and Germany. The 354th rapidly established a reputation and combat record for other fighter groups to shoot at. I visited the outfit frequently and know that the record established was not a matter of luck. They were an inspired group of professionals. Every mission was painstakingly planned. Following every combat mission, every action and reaction of the enemy air force was meticulously analyzed, and their own combat tactics modified accordingly. The results speak for themselves. The 354th flew 1,384 missions
of 18,334 sorties, during which 966 enemy planes were destroyed, and 701 of these were destroyed in air-to-air combat and 265 were destroyed on the ground. Additionally, the group performed many missions in support of General Patton's Third Army, and many enemy ground troops, tanks, vehicles and stores of supplies were destroyed. That combat was not without cost — 187 pilots and many aircraft of the 354th were lost in combat. Many paid the supreme sacrifice - some became prisoners of war and later returned safely.A good fighting outfit is made up of good airplanes, manned and maintained by good men, and led by good leaders. We are honored to have the World War II Group Commanders here today, and I would like to tell you just a little about these men, that you may sense a little better the character and traditions of the outfit they led so well. The original commander activated, organized and trained the 354th in this country and led it in combat in the early days when we escorted the heavy bombers to their military targets deep in Germany. The opposing German Air Force, in those days, was strong, cunning and tough - but so was the leader of the 354th. He was a regular officer, a professional, and trained the group carefully and skillfully. He led them himself and soon was an ace with six Germans to his credit. He always carried his attacks
through relentlessly and stubbornly, with the result his opponent would usually try to break off first. One day he met a German who was equally stubborn and didn't break off from the attack. There was a head on collision - two locked aircraft spun together down through the overcast. Both pilots, though critically injured, wound up in the same hospital and lived. That man is with us today. Being a regular, he returned to active service after getting out of prison camp, but his injuries finally forced his retirement for physical disability. He is a great officer and leader and a fine gentleman. I would like to introduce him to you - Colonel Kenneth R. Martin.
( adjacent marker )
Reactivation of 354th Fighter Day Wing

Address byGeneral O.P. Weyland, United States Air ForceCommander, Tactical Air CommandatReactivation of 354th Fighter Day Wing CeremonyMyrtle Beach Air Force Base,Myrtle Beach, South CarolinaDecember 7, 1956

Continued -
When Colonel Martin was listed as MIA, the senior squadron commander stepped up as group commander. This man had previously fought against the Japanese and had become an ace in the Far East. Being a "tiger" he didn't rest on his laurels, but had volunteered for a second combat tour in Europe. He was a great fighter and air leader and ably carried on "Sleeper" Martin's traditions. One escort mission which he led deep inside Germany exemplifies his character. The 354th which he was leading had protected the heavies over the target. A relief fighter would be lost over enemy territory for lack of fuel. Shortly after the 354th reluctantly broke off escort, the fighters closed in on the heavy bomber formation and the heavies yelled for help. This 354th Commander, as the leader and most experienced pilot, had conserved his fuel a little better than the other flight members. He ordered the main fighter group on home to save it, and then turned around to rescue the heavy bombers. Single-handedly, he disrupted the German fighter attack, shooting down five aircraft. Having saved the American bombers, he then headed back and glided to a landing on the English coast with empty fuel tanks. He didn't have much to say about the mission, but Flying Fortress crews did. They said, "It was a case of one, lone American taking on the entire Luftwaffe. This "one man air force" was subsequently awarded America's highest decoration for valor the Congressional Medal of Honor, and I think you will agree it was highly deserved. May I present Brigadier General Jim Howard.
Over his bitter protests, Jim Howard was moved up to higher staff duty with the 9th Fighter Command Headquarter. Colonel George Bickell, squadron commander and one of the old original hands in the 359th, moved up to replace Howard as group commander.
The 354th was on the continent, moving from one new advanced landing strip to another. Their combat skill became uncanny - they seemed to know what the Germans were going to do before the Germans knew it. It seemed as though they could smell them - I should know.
One day I was stooging around by myself in a P-51 when I heard RIPSAW Control announce a bogey in the area. I armed my guns, put on more power and started taking on altitude thinking maybe the old man might get himself an enemy airplane. All of a sudden I found myself boxed in by a bunch of 354th Mustangs: apparently I was the bogey. I think George Bickell was a little disgusted with me, but led the 354th through to the end and probably bailed me out of trouble more than once. Proved in combat, a ace with victories, he is now in Headquarters, United States Air Force, and champing at the bit to get another combat command. I'd like to present to you: George Bickell.
I think that will give you an insight into the traditions and spirt of the old 354th. It affords me amount of satisfaction, therefore, to read General Orders officially reactivating the 354th:
HeadquartersTactical Air CommandUnited States Air ForceLangley Air Force Base, VirginiaGeneral orders Number 59 - 15 October 1956

II. Assignment of Units. 1. The following units, having been assigned Tactical Air Command by Department of the Air Force letter AFOMO 225k, 28 September 1956, are further assigned to the Ninth Air Force and will be activated on or about 18 November 1956 at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Unit
Headquarters 354th Fighter-Day Wing
Headquarters 354th Fighter-Day Group
353rd Fighter-Day Squadron
355th Fighter-Day Squadron
356th Fighter-Day Squadron
Headquarters 354th Air Base Group
354th Air Police Squadron
354th Communications Squadron
354th Food Service Squadron
354th Installations Squadron
Headquarters 354th Maintenance and Supply Group
354th Field Maintenance Squadron
354th Supply Squadron
354th Transportation Squadron
354th Tactical Hospital
2. Authority: Air Force Regulation 20-27 and letter AFOMO 225K, 28 September 1956, Department of the Air Force.
( adjacent marker )
Reactivation of 354th Fighter Day Wing

Address byGeneral O.P. Weyland, United States Air ForceCommander, Tactical Air CommandatReactivation of 354th Fighter Day Wing CeremonyMyrtle Beach Air Force Base,Myrtle Beach, South CarolinaDecember 7, 1956

Continued -
Ladies and Gentleman, history is again repeating itself as far as Myrtle Beach is concerned. Some of you from the community may remember when construction started at this base back in 1941, and I know most of you are familiar with the "new look" the base has taken on since it has been reopened under TAC and the 9th Air Force. Tactical Air Command is proud to regain a "proven" station along with a "proven" unit. The wing here at Myrtle Beach is to operate one of the latest supersonic series of aircraft that the Air Force has in operation today — the F-100D. These are fast, powerful aircraft and make some noise — but this noise is significant as the sound of progress and the sound of peace. We who hear these aircraft are fortunate — we live in a land of safety and plenty. These aircraft represent not only protection for our homes but for our very way of life. It is a comforting thought to remember.I feel this aircraft deserves a little special recognition being the first supersonic aircraft and the first of the "Century Series" in the Air Force. Aircraft like these don't just happen they are the result of long foresight of Air Force planners and the skilled ability of aviation and industrial research engineers and manufacturers. North American may well be proud of its accomplishments and Pratt and Whitney can be equally proud of the J-57 engine with which the F-100 is powered. Both are a tribute to American technology and ingenuity.We are about to mix these ingredients — a unit with an outstanding record, an outstanding airplane, a fine air base, a community that has displayed outstanding cooperation and hospitality to the officers and airmen selected to man this unit, and, most important, military leadership of outstanding quality, for Colonel Grabreski, new commander of the 354th, is one of the best known of the old professional fighter hands. He was an outstanding ace in World War II and became a jet ace while under me during the Korean War. With these ingredients, we can't go wrong.Gabby, I congratulate you on this magnificent command and wish you success in your task ahead. I know you'll get full support from this wonderful community. Thank you.
( photo caption )
Colonel Francis S. Gabreski (right)receives the official wing flag of the 354th Fighter Day Wing from General Otto P. Weyland (left).
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Date Added Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017 at 9:02am PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)17S E 692115 N 3726439
Decimal Degrees33.66050000, -78.92803333
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 33° 39.63', W 78° 55.682'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds33° 39' 37.8" N, 78° 55' 40.92" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)803, 843
Which side of the road?Marker is on the right when traveling North
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 514-598 Farrow Pkwy, Myrtle Beach SC 29577, US
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