The Oregon Air National Guard and the Korean War

  • Published
  • By By Lt Col Terrence G. Popravak, Jr., USAF (Ret)
  • 142nd Wing / Public Affairs

Seventy years ago, on June 25, 1950, the Democratic People‘s Republic of Korea (North Korea) invaded the Republic of Korea (South Korea) in a blatant display of aggression, drawing the United States into a war to ensure the freedom of South Korea.  As the sharp conflict escalated and worldwide tensions arose, the United States mobilized its reserve forces in the first nationwide wartime test of the capability of the Air National Guard (ANG).

Virtually the entire Oregon Air National Guard was impacted by the war in successive waves, in 1950 sending some of its F-51 Mustang fighter planes to Korea and mobilizing the 1810th Engineer Aviation Company.  For more details, see the article “They Waived Everything but Goodbye,”

The year 1951 saw increased mobilizations, essentially the entire 142d Fighter Group, with nine fighter pilots augmenting active duty units flying combat in Korea, like Captain James Byers, pictured here. Byers flew two combat tours in WWII as a P-38 Lightning fighter pilot, with two aerial victories and was awarded the Silver Star. In addition, he also completed a 100-mission combat tour in the F-51 in Korea.  The nine Oregon pilots flew over 1,000 combat sorties – one was shot down and became a Prisoner of War.  For more on the Oregon ANG’s fighter pilots in the Korean War, click here.

Many other Oregon Air Guardsmen were mobilized and scattered hither and yonder across the US and overseas, augmenting other USAF units.  Examples of such are described in “The OreANG and the Korean War:  remembering the Call to Active Duty, 1951,”

Some of Oregon’s air units stayed intact.  The 123rd Fighter Squadron, infused with active duty personnel and new jet aircraft, remained at Portland for Northwest air defense.  The 142nd Fighter Group headquarters deployed to O’Hare Field, Illinois to run air defense operations in the upper Midwest.  The 142d Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron deployed to Alaska to help establish a radar network on the Alaskan coast opposite the Soviet Union. 

The Korean War, which lasted for over three years, was a huge test of the Guard’s capability.  Over 45,000 Air Guardsmen, some 80% of the ANG force, were called to Federal duty between October 1950 and April 1951.  This included 22 of 27 ANG wings and 67 of 84 flying squadrons.  The Oregon Air Guard mustered about 900 personnel in 1950, and most were mobilized along with the sole flying squadron at the time, the 123rd Fighter Squadron.  Living memory indicates three men remained at Portland in ANG status as caretakers.  All in all, the Air National Guard, including the Oregon ANG, answered the call, passed the test, and proved the ANG to be an effective reserve component, ready to serve state and nation.