4FW History: It is all around you!

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. David Moeller
  • 335th Fighter Squadron commander
September 18, we will celebrate the Air Force's birthday. While this is a time to reflect on the institutional heritage and customs of our service, it is also important to note the rich history of the 4th Fighter Wing that is memorialized at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base with aircraft displays, historic street names and buildings named in honor of fallen warriors.

When entering the main gate, there is a sign stating Seymour Johnson is "Home of the RAF Eagle Squadrons." During World War II, the British Royal Air Force placed 245 American volunteers into three squadrons--Squadrons 71, 121, and 133. These squadrons became known as the Eagle Squadrons as a tribute to the American heritage of the volunteers. The first of these squadrons was formed Sept. 19, 1941. The squadrons flew out of RAF Debden in eastern England. Today, Debden Park on-base is named after this airfield. During World War II, the Eagle Squadrons flew British-made Supermarine Spitfire aircraft. The Spitfire aircraft on display outside Heritage Hall is an exact replica of the aircraft flown by the Eagle Squadrons.

Sept. 12, 1942, the Eagle Squadrons were re-numbered, respectively, the 334th, 335th, and the 336th Fighter Squadron. These squadrons were assigned to the 4th Fighter Group on the same day and would ultimately form the nucleus of the 4th Fighter Wing. The squadrons also traded the Spitfire for the US-made P-51 Mustang. A Mustang is on display in the new 4th Mission Support Group headquarters. With these aircraft, the 4th FG escorted bombers over Germany and destroyed a significant number of Nazi aircraft. By war's end, the 4th FG was credited with 1,016 enemy aircraft destroyed- more than any other unit in World War II. Eighty-one 4th FG Airmen became aces - with at least five confirmed kills each. The 4th Fighter Group participated in the vast majority of European battles--to include the Normandy invasion, the Battle of the Bulge and the assault on Berlin.

On Aug. 15, 1947, the 4th Fighter Group was reorganized into the 4th Fighter Wing and transitioned to flying F-86 Sabres similar to the one on display outside Wing Headquarters. In November 1950, the 4th FW was the first Air Force unit committed to the Korean War. The 4th FW destroyed 502 enemy MiG aircraft (54 percent of the total during the Korean War) with the 335th FS accounting for 218 kills and gaining the reputation as the "World's Leading MiG Killers."

After the Korean War, the FW eventually transitioned to the F-105 "Thud" and the F-4 "Phantom," both of which are on display outside Wing Headquarters. During the Vietnam War, the 4FW squadrons flew more than 8,000 combat missions in the F-4. After transitioning to the F-15E "Strike Eagle," the 4FW was one of the first units to deploy to Saudi Arabia for Operation DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM against Iraq. The Donnie R. Holland F-15E Mission Training Center is used by all 4FW aircrew for training and is named after one of the aircrew killed flying combat sorties during DESERT STORM. Since transitioning to the F-15E, the 4FW has deployed all over the world to meet combatant commander objectives.

In addition to honoring the aircraft flown, several streets honor the accomplishments of Airmen assigned to the 4FW. Jabara Street is named after Colonel James Jabara, America's first jet ace--credited with one and a half kills in WWII, Colonel Jabara recorded 15 aerial victories in the F-86 while assigned to the 334th and 335th Fighter Squadrons. Vermont Garrison Street is named after Colonel Vermont Garrison, one of only seven Americans to achieve ace status in two wars. He recorded seven kills as a member of the 336th FS in WWII and added ten more kills as a member of the 335th FS in Korea. A true warrior, he subsequently flew more than 100 missions in Vietnam. Blakeslee Boulevard is named for perhaps the most famous 4FW Airman--Colonel Don Blakeslee. Blakeslee was a member of the Eagle Squadrons, first Commander of the 4th Fighter Group, and flew more combat missions and hours (500 sorties/1200 hours) over Germany than any other American fighter pilot. By the end of WWII, he was a "triple ace," credited with 15.5 kills.

As we celebrate the Air Force birthday in September, it is important to reflect on the tremendous accomplishments of the 4FW and the Airman assigned to Seymour Johnson AFB. As you travel around base, pause to reflect on the rich history and heritage of our Wing. It is a history filled with "firsts," "bests," and outstanding performance.