The European Birthdays of the 142d Wing

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

The formal “birthday” of the 142d Wing dates back to July 15, 1943, when the unit was activated as the 371st Fighter Group at Richmond Army Air Base, Virginia.  There the group assembled and organized personnel and equipment and began the process of preparing for combat with the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane in World War II. 

Fast forward from activation date to one year later, July 15, 1944, and the group was in combat in the European Theater of Operations, flying from Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) A-6 just northeast of Sainte-Mère-Église, Normandy, the first French town liberated by Allied forces.  ALG A-6 was known as Beuzeville Airfield, also known as La Londe, and even as Sainte-Mère-Église, where initial elements of the 371st arrived on June 22.

Combat operations were heated and heavy at A-6 flying numerous missions from dawn to dusk.  As the group’s first birthday started on Saturday, July 15, it was much like any other day at war, in action again.  Twenty-six dive-bombing P-47’s, covered by another 13 P-47’s as escorts, a total of 39 Thunderbolts from all three fighter squadrons of the group, took off at 0926.  The show was led by Major Edmond A. “Buster” Goolsbee, Operations Officer of the 406th Fighter Squadron.  This mission also marked the 404th Fighter Squadron’s 100th of the war since the group began combat operations on April 12, 1944.

Due to the overcast weather, 8/10 stratus from 1,500 to 4,000 feet which forced the Thunderbolts to fly at low altitude, they were unable to find the primary target, didn’t have the gas to reach the secondary target, but improvised successfully and hit an alternate target at 1017.  Swooping in at low altitude and into a lot of light caliber (20mm) flak which damaged two P-47s, they rained down 50 x 500-lb bombs on a railroad marshaling yard at Dreux with good results (two bombs didn’t release due to stiffness in the manual bomb release mechanism during the dive). They managed 23 hits on railroad tracks, damaged 25 box cars and strafed and damaged a locomotive engine.  In addition to the bombs the fighters expended 1,544 rounds of .50-caliber machine gun ammunition in the attack.  The group made it back through the weather to A-6 by 1100 hours. 

A release from further operations for the day came through to the unit from higher headquarters in the morning.  Plans for a first anniversary celebration were implemented, taking advantage of local resources available.

On the green behind the group’s chateau headquarters, the enlisted troops gathered in a green field to participate in sport contests. There were baseball games, relay races, and a tug of war among the events.

At the far end of the field, the cooks in the group were busy preparing huge sections of beef “…slowly barbecuing over deep pit fires.”

Special Service provided some entertainment, including a reported first-rate show by comedian Eddie Hill and his troupe.  Normandy gave something else to the party in addition to the beef, with Calvados (an apple brandy specialty of the region) and apple cider to accompany the delicious BBQ.

It was at this party that the group’s Commander, Col. Bingham T. “Bing” Kleine, announced that the unit had “adopted” a young French farmgirl named Yvette Hamel. Yvette had been grievously wounded by German artillery at her family’s farm.  Army medical personnel administered life-saving first aid, then operated and stabilized her condition at a field hospital near Sainte-Mère-Église.  When the hospital had to move on as the front lines advanced, Col. Kleine agreed to take over convalescent care of Yvette and asked unit members to donate money to help her recuperation. The 405th Fighter Squadron history recorded the response: "As a result of his plea, the squadron raised more than $1,000.00 (over 50% of the group total) as a gift for the girl.”  Yvette was in good hands and spent several months with the group before she went to Paris for rehabilitation. For more on Yvette’s story, see "The French Farm Girl of the Flying Field," on the 142nd Fighter Wing website at:

There were also some news correspondents and newsreel men on hand to watch the festivities. The first anniversary revelry continued until nearly midnight.

The respite was brief – by the afternoon of July 16 the weather had cleared and missions were on again, a total of six for the day.  But at least the members of the group could feel satisfied in how they celebrated the group’s first birthday.  As the 406th Fighter Squadron’s history for July 1944 summed it up:  “The magnitude of all that had been achieved to make this possible within its span of one year can only be explained by the perseverance and energy of the personnel.”

Fast forward to a year later, July 15, 1945, 75 years ago, and the war in Europe was over.  The perseverance and energy of the 371st Fighter group’s personnel helped liberate Europe from Nazi domination.  The unit’s second anniversary found it stationed at ALG R-30 at Fürth/Industriehafen Airfield near Nuremberg in Bavaria, Germany. 

In the uncertain postwar environment, rumors abounded; the group would stay in Europe on occupation duty was one.  Since the war in the Pacific was still going on, a more popular rumor was that the group would redeploy to China via the US to help end the war with Imperial Japan. 

The group’s second anniversary celebration took place at the nearby Fürth Unterfürberg Sport-platz.  A track and field meet followed by a barbecue and a French-supported USO show rounded out the program.

The birthday celebration was a “huge success” with the group, all the attached units and even some local citizens taking part and/or observing.  Group members expressed the desire for more frequent field days.

As things turned out, the 371st Fighter Group did not go to the Pacific and was not retained for occupation duty in Europe.  After Victory over Japan Day (September 2, 1945 in the US, August 15 in other countries) the unit was ordered back to the US where it inactivated on November 10, 1945. 

Six months later, on May 24, 1946, as part of the postwar buildup of reserve forces in the air component of the National Guard, the 371st Fighter Group was redesignated as the 142d Fighter Group and allotted to Oregon.  The group retained the lineage and honors achieved by the 371st Fighter Group and serves today as the 142d Wing, the guardians of the greater Pacific Northwest. 

The 142d Wing has a proud history, part of which goes back to its first anniversaries celebrated while on overseas duty in Europe in World War II.  This year marks the 77th anniversary of the wing’s original activation as it continues to make history in service of community, state and nation living up to its motto: Semper Vigilans!