Redhawk Squadron on Victory over Japan Day

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Terrence G. Popravak, Jr., USAF (Retired)
  • 142nd Wing/Historian's Office

In this story's primary image from the Second World War, a quartet of 35th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron* (35th PRS) Lockheed F-5E Lightning photo reconnaissance aircraft stand on the highest ground around at a rain-sodden airfield, probably the squadron’s “G” Flight based forward at Nanning in China, circa August, 1945. 

George Flight’s Lt. Arthur W. Clark wrote about the flooding at Nanning in his wartime memoir, Eyes of the Tiger – China 1944-1945 (self-published, 2015) on Tuesday, August 21, 1945:  “It’s quit raining for a day or so at least, but the waters haven’t receded yet.  A good part of the town is under water part way up the second floor.  There are planes and vehicles trapped in the base.  Most of the runway is navigable for boats only.  The place looks like Venice.”

The three-digit number on the dark band across the vertical tail of the nearest ship appears to be 819, which would be the number given to the squadron’s F-5E serial number 43-28914 (the former P-38J-15-LO s/n 43-28914 which was converted to an F-5E-2-LO photo recon aircraft).  The squadron gave its aircraft three-digit numbers in the 800-series between 800 and 826 and do not appear from squadron records to have been repeated for aircraft which were lost and then replaced.  The dark band across the tail is a late-war change to aircraft markings; prior to this the three-digit number was painted in back on the natural metal finish of the tail.

Of note, the four aircraft appear to have radio direction finders installed in the teardrop “footballs” just abaft the cockpits, likely a late-war modification to help in long-range navigation but not commonly seen on images of wartime F-5E aircraft.

The period between Imperial Japan’s unconditional surrender on August 15, 1945 and its formal surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) on September 2 (V-J Day in the United States) was one of change in disposition for the Redhawk squadron amidst an unstable situation in China as the Chinese nationalist and communist factions began to face off against one another – though the war with Japan was over, their fighting was just beginning. 

The unit had just deployed its “G” Flight to from Kunming to Nanning at the end of July, and in early August started a move forward from Chanyi to Luichow, sending an advanced echelon there when news of the Japanese surrender arrived.  “Morale zoomed upward now that the war was over…”

The last combat mission was flown on August 15, and three more operational photo recon missions in the week afterward.  Within a fortnight, new instructions were received and by August 30 the Luichow detachment returned to Chanyi and the three geographically-separate, forward-deployed flights (E, F and G) also commenced their return. 

Victory over Japan Day on September 2 was a day of movement as outlying personnel continued to return to Chanyi.  Lt. Clark remembered on that day “Japan’s signed surrender on September 2, 1945, and the end of the war gave us cause for much celebration, but the day found me and others grinding our teeth over what we felt was bureaucratic business as usual.”  To Lt. Clark’s chagrin, he found out that while the 35th PRS would soon be going home, he and three other officers were being transferred to the 21st PRS and would remain in China for closeout actions for US forces in China.  He wrote:  “So its off for more work in China.  And on my baby’s second birthday. …I’d thought I was going home.  It’s kind of tough).”

By September 6, 1945 all forward-deployed personnel had returned to Chanyi, the first time in a year in China that all Redhawks were together at one base.  The squadron’s strength report on 31 August 1945 showed a roster of 46 officers and 187 enlisted men present, with an aircraft complement of 14 Lockheed F-5E Photo Lightnings, one Beech C-45F Expeditor light utility aircraft and one North American B-25J Mitchell medium bomber.

For its part in the war against Imperial Japan in the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater of Operations, the squadron received credit for combat missions in six campaigns:  India-Burma, Apr 1942 – 28 Jan 1945; China Defensive, 4 Jul 1942 – 4 May 1945; New Guinea, 24 Jan 1943 – 31 Dec 1944; Western Pacific, 15 Jun 1944 – 2 Sep 1945; Central Burma, 29 Jan 1945 – 15 Jul 1945 and China Offensive, 5 May 1945 – 2 Sep 1945. 

The CBI effort cost the Redhawk squadron nine men, some in action, some in operational accidents, one postwar to disease - three of them are still Missing in Action:

Lt. Merlin R. Allen, (killed 16 Jul 1945)

Lt Hillie N. Asteriou (killed 13 Sep 1945)

Lt. Estal W. Behrens (killed 2 Feb 1945)

Lt. Merroll J. Berringer (missing 21 Nov 1944)

Lt. William W. Deen, III (killed 1 Sep 1945)

Lt. Phillip L. French (missing 31 Aug 1945)

Lt. Franklin J. McKinney (missing 5 Nov 1944)

F/O Stanley C. Price (died 26 Oct 1945)

Lt. Kenenth E. Shafer (killed 13 Nov 1944)


On this V-J Day 2023, let us remember the service and sacrifice of all who served in the Pacific War.  The echoes from the war continue to today with three Redhawks still missing.  There is the prospect that one of them may have finally been found by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, though this is yet to be confirmed.

*As a reference note, the lineage of the 35th PRS began on April 18, 1941, when the 123rd Observation Squadron was activated as the first military aviation unit of the Oregon National Guard.  After being ordered to active service on September 15, 1941, the squadron was redesignated as the 35th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron on August 11, 1943 and was deployed overseas as such.  After return from the CBI the squadron was inactivated in November 7, 1945.  On May 24, 1946, the squadron was redesignated as the 123rd Fighter Squadron and returned to the Oregon National Guard as part of the post-war buildup of the reserve air component.  Today’s 123rd Fighter Squadron retains the lineage and honors of the 35th PRS.

Author’s note:  Hand salute and special appreciation to Major General Arthur W. Clark, USAF (retired) who wrote and shared his 35th PRS China story with us.  General Clark was born in Seattle in 1922 and passed away on June 22, 2023 at the age of 100.  He and his family have been very kind in sharing about the 35th PRS era of Redhawk heritage.