Farewell to a 4th Fighter Group Patriot

  • Published
  • By Dr. Roy Heidicker
  • 4 Fighter Wing Historian
Only a day after our nation celebrated our independence, another celebration was held at Arlington National Cemetery. This celebration was the interment of the ashes of retired 1st Lt. Frank Speer. Many people in the 4th Fighter Wing and the Goldsboro community will remember Speer from his visit here last October. Speer served as a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot in the 334th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Group, during World War II. He destroyed six German planes before being shot down by anti-aircraft fire when strafing a Luftwaffe airfield. Speer spent 11 grueling months as a prisoner-of-war, losing 70 pounds from his already lean frame in the process.

During his visit last October he spoke at the 4th Operations Group, the Wayne County Museum and Wayne Community College. He appeared on local radio and television and was featured in a front page article in the News Argus. Speer visited his old squadron and spoke to Airmen at every opportunity. In addition to his service, he also wrote four books about the 4th Fighter Group. Many of us had the rare privilege of meeting him and hearing his wonderful talks.

Speers talks were filled with his amazing stories. My personal favorite was how he confounded his German guards by confusing their prisoner count. Knowing him, it makes perfect sense that he would find a way to torment his captors. His talks proved that the spirit of "Fourth But First" that distinguishes our wing today began many years ago during World War II.

When we learned Speer passed away in March, the 4th Fighter Wing decided to honor him with a flyover. This past weekend my wife, Judine, and I joined the Speer family for dinner and conversation.

Four months elapsed since Speers passing, so despite the sadness, this week served as an opportunity to celebrate his life. He had five children, about a dozen grandchildren and well over a dozen great-grandchildren. This marvelous family and many of his friends gathered in Washington, D.C., to remember him and say goodbye.

Tuesday morning began at the Old Post Chapel at Fort Myer, adjacent to Arlington. After the service, Speer's ashes were placed in a casket/caisson pulled by eight magnificent horses. He was in the Army Air Corps, so the Army Honor Guard and Band performed the ceremony. The march to the columbarium weaved through the majestic grounds of Arlington. When the destination was reached, family and friends gathered round to turn their gaze towards the horizon over the Pentagon.

There in the distance were four F-15E Strike Eagles in perfect formation, heading directly for us. As they reached the caisson, a single aircraft went vertical in a brilliant demonstration of the missing man maneuver. As we all marveled at this spectacular sight I thought, "This is for you Frank." I was grateful to our wing for honoring this good man. In fact, many of the family and friends there asked me to pass on their thanks and appreciation to our wing.

Thank you to the 4th Fighter Wing, our leadership and everyone who helped make this happen. A special thanks to the aircrews that did the flyover. Thank you to the maintainers, schedulers, those who filled out complicated forms and all who took part in creating this event. Your hard work and dedication honored Frank Speer, a man truly worthy of that honor. Your efforts also brought joy and comfort to his family and friends.

The 4th Fighter Wing will forever honor the memory of Frank Speer. Speer was given the best our Army and our Air Force have to give July 5, 2011. Speer's family and friends will always be grateful the 4th Fighter Wing saluted Frank with a flyover worthy of a great patriot and outstanding fighter pilot. This year we got to celebrate the best of America two days in a row.