Happy 80th Birthday, 142nd Wing!

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. (ret.) Terrence Popravak, jr.
  • 142nd Wing/Historian's Office

July 15, 2023 marks the 80th birthday of Oregon’s 142nd Wing! Eight decades of outstanding service to community, state and nation began on a summer day at Richmond Army Air Base, Virginia, in 1943. This article will highlight some of the accomplishments of the organization through the years, with links to just some of the articles one can find on the unit’s website which help tell the 142nd Wing’s story.

The Beginning
It was on Thursday, July 15, 1943 when the 371st Fighter Group was activated, “…pursuant to the authority contained in General Order #52, Headquarters I Fighter Command, dated 12 June 1943.” On that day, an initial cadre of nine officers and 165 enlisted men were assigned to the new unit.

On September 22, the group obtained its first aircraft, a Vultee BT-13 Valiant trainer. The next day it received the first plane of many to follow for combat training in the aircraft they would fly in combat, the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. The number of personnel authorized for a USAAF fighter group was 149 officers and 728 enlisted men (authorized strength would grow to nearly 1,000 by 1945).

At least three combat veterans joined the group, veterans of the Eagle Squadrons of the Royal Air Force (RAF), Lt Col William J. “Diamond Jim” Daley, Jr., Maj Edwin D. “Jesse” Taylor and Capt Eric E. Doorly. These pilots brought valuable RAF wartime air combat experience into the organization which helped instill confidence in the group and its leaders.

The group initially trained at Richmond, and at the end of September moved to Camp Springs, Maryland (Joint Base Andrews today) for flying training, and from November began to send detachments for aerial gunnery training in rotations to Millville, NJ. For one of the group’s fighter squadrons, the 405th (today’s 190th Fighter Squadron of the Idaho Air National Guard), Christmas Day was busy with aerial gunnery training at Millville – with a war underway and D-Day in planning, little time could be spent of holiday festivities.

On February 14, 1944, the group began movement to the port of embarkation at New York. Although there were a few ground and air accidents and injuries during the training period in the US, not a single life was lost. All personnel were aboard by February 27 and the ship, RMS Mauretania, departed the next day. and crossed the Atlantic aboard Mauritania March 6, 1944 disembarked in Liverpool, England and entrained for Bisterne Hants, England.

The group commenced combat operations on April 12, 1944 and continued until Victory in Europe Day in May the following year. One of the highlights of its achievement was direct support for General George S. Patton Jr.’s Third Army in its breakout from Normandy and epic drive across France in the summer of 1944.

The group received credit for participation in six campaigns across NW Europe: the Air Offensive, Europe, Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe.

In addition, the group was recognized in the Belgian Army Order of the Day for achievements between June 6 and September 30, 1944. It was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation for action over Germany, March 15-21, 1945. The DUC, known now as the Presidential Unit Citation (PUC), is the highest-level of unit award.

Following the war, the 371st Fighter Group served on occupation duty in Germany and Austria before returning to the United States where it was inactivated at Camp Shanks, New York on November 10, 1945. But the group’s “inactivity” did not last long.

“We Remember Victory in Europe Day (VE-Day), 1945”

1940s - Getting established
As part of the lessons learned from World War II, plans for a more robust reserve component were implemented. This included a significant boost to the air component of the National Guard.

On May 24, 1946, Oregon’s first military aviation unit, the 123rd Observation Squadron, which was redesignated in 1943 as the 35th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron for service overseas, was redesignated back to the 123rd, made a fighter squadron and returned to the Oregon National Guard.

Along with it came something new to Oregon, a group-level air formation, to provide additional capacity for air operations beyond the basic fighter squadron. On the same day the 123rd Fighter Squadron came back home, the 371st Fighter Group was renumbered into National Guard 100-series numbers as the 142nd Fighter Group and allotted to Oregon.

These two units were then assigned for duty at the former Portland Army Air Base, at the Portland-Columbia Municipal Airport, today’s Portland International Airport (PDX). Thus began an association between the three which continues to this day.

The group’s first postwar aircraft included the ubiquitous North American P-51D Mustang, the primary aircraft assigned in 1947, as well as several support types such as the North American AT-6 Texan, Douglas C-47 Skytrain and Douglas A-26 Invader.

In addition to the flying side of the house, the new group also had the 1810th Engineer Aviation Company and the 142nd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron.

As the unit recruited to rebuild and increased the number of personnel, it began to demonstrate its designed operational capability. The group’s summer training encampment was cancelled in 1948 due to the flooding of Portland Airport by the mighty Columbia River that year. Another event transpired in 1950 which ensured no return to normalcy anytime soon - the Korean War.

“What’s in a Number Anyway? The Origins of the 142nd Fighter Wing”

The Korean War had great impact on the 142nd Fighter Group. Beginning in 1950, the group gave support in waves of requirements levied upon it. It provided several of its Mustang fighter aircraft to active duty units fighting in Korea, then some fighter pilots to augment those combat units in Korea. It mobilized group and squadron resources for assignment to various locations ranging from home station to Illinois to Alaska, and some individual mobilizations to other places in the U.S., over to Europe as well as the Far East.

It was during the Korean War mobilization that the 123rd Fighter Squadron first entered the jet age, briefly operating the North American F-86 Sabre. After mobilization, the squadron reverted to the Mustang and then back to the Sabre in 1953.

Change came again in 1955 as the unit was given night, all-weather interceptor duties in the two-seat Lockheed F-94B. The unit converted to the Northrop F-89 Scorpion in 1957 and in 1958 began its air defense alert mission which endures today.

“They Waived Everything but Goodbye: Oregon Air National Guard in the Korean War”

Aerospace technical developments and the Vietnam War resulted in the Department of Defense 1965 decision to close Portland Air Force Base. As a result, the 142nd converted to the supersonic Convair F-102 Delta Dagger fighter-interceptor in 1966.

With the F-102, the unit demonstrated such capability that it was awarded the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award and was selected to participate in the USAF’s Worldwide Aerial Gunnery Meet, William Tell 1970.

““Cool Ride II” – The Oregon Air National Guard’s Alaska Deployment of 1969”

In the aftermath of the Vietnam war, the 142nd became part of the Total force concept, which saw a greater reliance on the capabilities in the reserve forces of the United States.

As active duty air defense forces continued a drawdown, even the dedicated Aerospace Defense Command was dismantled and the mission passed to the Tactical Air Command in 1979. The ANG assumed greater responsibilities for the nation’s air defense needs.

In the twilight of ADC, the 142nd Fighter Group continued its competitive capability after it converted to the two-place McDonnell Douglas F-101B Voodoo fighter-interceptor in 1971.

In the F-101, the group earned top rankings in the ADC Weapons Load Competition and later in the year at William Tell 1976 where the unit place number one in the F-101 category and garnered Top Gun aircrew award.

“Oregon Air National Guard Recruiting: 1973 through 1977”

In 1981, the group converted to the McDonnell Douglas F-4C Phantom II. It sponsored the establishment of an aircrew replacement training squadron at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Oregon, which served as the schoolhouse to train aircrews for the strategic air defense mission in the F-4 as performed by ANG fighter-interceptor groups.

In 1988, the group’s 114th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron converted from the F-4C to the F-16A Air Defense Fighter variant and continued to serve as the ANG’s air defense fighter schoolhouse.

In response to continued active duty air defense reductions, the 142nd also stationed an alert detachment at Kingsley to replace active duty units previously serving there (Operating Location Air Defense (OLAD)).

More success followed with accolades achieved in William Tell competitions in the decade. And in the Phantom, the unit expanded from a sole air defense mission focus to add an air superiority mission capability. As such it began participation in Red Flag exercises at Nellis AFB, Nevada, and even hosted large composite force employment training exercises such as Beaver Hunt 1988.

In 1986, aircrew and groundcrew of the group joined in Operation Creek Klaxon, which was a multi-ANG unit alert detachment of F-4D Phantom II jets at Ramstein Air Base, West Germany, to cover a USAFE air defense alert requirement while Ramstein’s 86th Tactical Fighter Wing converted from the F-4E Phantom II to the General Dynamics F-16C.

“Redhawks Hit the Mark at William Tell 1984”

With the end of the Cold War, active duty air defense units drew down completely as the mission transitioned completely over to the ANG. With it came newer airplanes, and in 1989 the 142nd converted to the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle. The unit switched alert detachment sites and stationed a detachment of F-15s up at McChord AFB, Washington for a few years before defense cuts eliminated that requirement.

With the end of the Cold War also came an expeditionary air forces requirement, and deployments of non-flying elements of the group began, e.g., civil engineers to Macedonia, medical to Belize and many more Curacao, Denmark, Germany, Kuwait, Spain and the United Kingdom.
The fighter jets deployed too, to Panama for counterdrug operations, to Iceland for NATO air defense, and to Turkey for USAFE Northern No Fly Zone operations over northern Iraq (Operation Northern Watch, 1998), and CENTAF Southern No-Fly Zone operations over southern Iraq (Operation Southern Watch, 2000).

All the while the group, redesignated as a fighter wing in 1995, continued to provide an air defense alert capability for the greater Pacific Northwest.

“Redhawks over Iraq”

When the attacks of 9/11/2001 took place, the wing responded quickly to bring as many aircraft as possible up to readiness status. It even intercepted a suspicious airliner approaching the west coast from Asia. And so began defense of the homeland operation in Operation Noble Eagle.

As part of the response, the wing stood up an F-15 alert detachment at McChord AFB, WA which lasted into mid-2002.
The wing responded to natural disasters near and far, from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2004) to floods in Vernonia, Oregon (2007), demonstrating its ongoing commitment of service to the community and the nation.

Periodically since that time the wing has been called upon to provide alert mission capability at various locations around the United States. Other opportunities arose as well, as with air defense coverage of Olympic events in Salt Lake City (2002) and in Vancouver, Canada (2010).
Conversion from the older F-15A to the newer F-15C Eagle fighter took place in 2007. In accomplishing this and the other achievements of this time, the wing maintained home station Aerospace Control Alert (ACA) response capability.

“The 142nd Fighter Wing Remembers 9/11”

In the most recent decade, the wing provided its core air defense alert at home station as well as meeting expeditionary requirements for flying and non-flying capabilities. Numerous individual and non-flying unit mobilizations supported taskings in Southwest Asia for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

In 2011, an updated variant of the F-15C, the Golden Eagle, came into service as well with improved avionics centered on a new Advanced Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. F-15 Eagles deployed in Theater Support Packages (TSP) to Romania (2015) and to Bulgaria (2018) as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

In 2020 the wing was redesignated from the 142nd Fighter Wing to the 142nd Wing in order to better represent the unit’s total mission capability. This was due to the wing gaining the theater battle management capabilities of the 116th Air Control Squadron and battlefield airmen capabilities with the 123rd Weather Flight and 125th Special Tactics Squadron.

“The 142nd Fighter Wing celebrates 30 years of flying F-15 Eagles”

In the wing’s 80th year, the air defense alert mission endures, as do expeditionary air requirements for fighter and “Battlefield Airmen” capabilities. The wing’s standards of excellence enable it to accomplish its assigned missions, and to look to the future with determination and assurance.

Conversion from the venerable F-15C to the brand new F-15EX Eagle II is anticipated to begin perhaps as early as the end of this year, or by early 2024. The enhanced capabilities of this new aircraft will ensure superior air defense and air superiority capabilities based at Portland ANG Base for years to come.

As we mark the 80th birthday of the 142nd Wing, we look back on 80 years of achievement in service to community, state and nation. On the cusp of receiving a new airframe, the wing’s steadfast service will readily stretch to the century mark and beyond, upholding the tradition of outstanding performance of duty. So, Happy 80th Birthday, 142nd Wing!

“80 Years of Oregon Air National Guard Veterans and Veterans Days”