Remembering Redhawk Fighter Pilots who sacrificed during the Forgotten Korean War

  • Published
  • By Terrence G. Popravak, Jr., Lt Col, USAF (Retired)
  • 142nd FW Public Affairs
The Korean War was the first conflict to see extensive employment of the Air National Guard (ANG) in combat service. Many ANG units were activated, in whole or in part, and served directly in Korea, or in many other locations in the United States and around the world during the Cold War.

Oregon ANG members were among those who answered the call to duty.

It was late in the second summer of the Korean War. The see-saw campaigns over the Korean peninsula had given way to what would eventually become a more static phase of the conflict. At the time, however, that was unclear.

The first tentative cease-fire negotiations began at Kaesong in July, 1951, but the fighting continued. It was then that United Nations air forces received some timely help from members of the Oregon Air National Guard.

Some 60 years ago, Mr. Gregory James and Mr. Ernest Wakehouse were members of the Oregon Air National Guard (Ore ANG) in the organization's F-51 Mustang era. They were among a group of Oregon Air Guard pilots who flew 100 combat missions in Korea.

In recent conversations they shared some recollections of their Korean War experience. "They sent nine of us," said Ernie Wakehouse. "Seven of us completed 100 missions. Orval Tandy became a Prisoner of War."

There were nine Ore ANG pilots of the 142nd Fighter Group (142FG) who flew combat in Korea. As for how these individuals were selected for duty in Korea, James recalled that most of the pilots in the 142FG's 123rd Fighter Squadron had been overseas in World War II.

"The 123rd first checked for bachelors without any combat experience in WWII," Wakehouse said. "But they needed more, so they checked for married men without combat in WWII. Two pilots, Dick Andrews and Jim Byers, had flown fighters in WWII but volunteered for duty in Korea."

Overall, James thought this prioritization in candidate selection was pretty fair.

During World War II both Wakehouse and James went through flight training and were trained to fly fighter planes. James flew the P-39 and P-40 in training, and was in a P-51 pilot replacement pool in Florida awaiting overseas duty when that war ended.

Wakehouse flew P-40 and P-51 fighters during the war, including ferry flights in the United States. He also flew in fighter combat training units, and was ready to go overseas when the war came to a close. He returned to civilian life, got into automobiles sales, and later signed up for the Oregon Air Guard. But as the Cold War developed, war came again.

"Korea was a rugged, hot war--the Forgotten War--they called it a police action, (but) the bullets in Korea were real," Wakehouse said.

As pilots were selected for Korea, they had a week or two of notice before departure for some refresher training at the USAF's gunnery school. James left for training two weeks ahead of Wakehouse, and first went to Nellis AFB, Nev. But the gunnery school was in the process of moving so he was sent to Luke AFB, Ariz.

Wakehouse on the other hand proceeded directly to Luke Field. Only Robert Daggett, who went to F-80 fighter jet training, was sent elsewhere.

The gunnery training at Luke lasted about a month, during the summer of 1951. They employed the Mustang's six .50-caliber machine guns in air-to-ground and air-to-air gunnery and conducted a lot of dogfighting. Wakehouse didn't think he really needed the dogfighting for what he was eventually assigned to do in Korea, which was mostly air-to-ground work. He also had previous air-to-air training during his time in the Ore ANG, having flown the F-51 since the summer of 1948. James also felt that the ANG pilots were ready, but the training at Luke would only help.

After completing the gunnery training, the pilots returned to Portland for a four- or five-day furlough, then flew to Sacramento to take a Military Air Transport Service (MATS) flight from Travis AFB to the Asian continent. Wakehouse had been to Sacramento the summer before, when the Ore ANG had ferried several F-51s to the naval base at Alameda.

Each guard unit equipped with the F-51 had to provide eight to ten Mustangs which were loaded aboard the Navy aircraft carrier Boxer and quickly sent to Asia during the first summer of the war. Later came the call for the same ANG units to send eight to ten F-51 pilots each to Korea to help the stretched active duty forces meet the burgeoning demand for aircrew and the lengthening operational requirements. The Ore ANG answered that call as well.

The pilots arrived in Tokyo, Japan, where they received their first theater indoctrination, some ground training, and paperwork. There was no operational flying in Japan prior to his going to Korea, recalled Wakehouse. When they got to Korea, first at Chinhae (also known as K-10), they performed a local check out in the F-51.

"Chinhae was a hard-top surface field, with a long runway. At that time our forces were fighting roughly along the 38th parallel. It was a nice base, with good quarters," Wakehouse said.

Shortly thereafter, he flew on to Seoul City Airbase (also known as K-16) with a mesh steel runway which was not very long, and had smokestacks on each end, Wakehouse recalled. He flew combat missions in the F-51 with 1,850 rounds of .50-caliber machine gun ammunition, and carried four rockets and two general purpose bombs or two napalm bombs beneath the wings.

"Bring the engine up to 3,000 RPM, 61 inches manifold pressure and let off on the brakes," he said, remembering the short runway takeoffs.

Most of the Oregon pilots served in the 39th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (39FIS), known as the "Cobras,." The F-51 Mustang squadron was attached to the 18th Fighter Bomber Group (18FBG) from its parent 35th Fighter Interceptor Group.

Both James and Wakehouse flew in the 39th, but in different flights within the squadron. The 18FBG had four fighter squadrons during this time, including the 39FIS, the 12th and 67th Fighter Bomber Squadrons (FBS) and No. 2 Squadron, South African Air Force.

Aside from Daggett, who flew F-80s, Wakehouse said that Jim Byers was first assigned to the 39th but later transferred to the 12th FBS. In the 39FIS, James and Wakehouse flew a variety of combat missions, including close air support, interdiction and combat air patrol for search and rescue operations.

The Oregonians soon proved the capability the Air National Guard pilots.

"In Korea we had an operations officer by the name of Devol Brett. He was the only West Pointer to fly with us, and he flew a lot of missions with me," said Wakehouse.

"We all ended up in his squadron and he finished his 100 missions just like the rest of us. He always supported the National Guard from that point on, Wakehouse said. (Note: Devol Brett also flew combat in Vietnam, was ultimately promoted to the rank of lieutenant general, and retired in 1978.)

During this phase of the Korean War in late 1951, the ground situation was stabilizing, as air and naval operations proceeded apace. The peace talks at Kaesong broke down on Aug. 23, 1951 and with concern about another possible communist ground offensive, Far East Air Forces initiated "Operation Strangle" on August 18, 1951.

Strangle was an aerial interdiction campaign designed to hamper communist supply operations. The attacks against the railroad network in northern Korea drew a response from the communist air forces, which began their own offensive from Chinese bases into Korean airspace on Sept. 1.

In three weeks time, enemy MiG jet fighters made it hazardous for any United Nations air forces fighter-bombers such as the F-51 to operate in the area in the northwest part of Korea opposite the Chinese border known as "MiG Alley".

But there were plenty of railroad targets further south which were battered, and by October and November, the rail cuts outpaced the enemy's ability to repair them. This drew a more aggressive response from the MiGs, as well as increased numbers of anti-aircraft artillery along the enemy supply lines in this see-saw aerial interdiction battle. James and Wakehouse flew their 100 missions in this challenging environment.

For his first 20 combat missions Wakehouse flew out of Seoul City Airbase, and then the squadron moved to Hoengsong Airdrome (K-46), an airfield to the east near Wonju--which in his opinion was a bit better for flying with a mix of gravel and blacktop. He flew a total of 100 combat missions between 12 September and 16 December, 1951. On some days he flew two or three missions. On four or five days in this period he flew four missions, including three in the day and one at night. When he took off at dusk for a night mission, he dropped bombs only and didn't perform any strafing attacks.

James said the F-51 was the best aircraft for the mission and it performed great, though a hit in the engine could be a problem. He said he was hit twice during his 100 missions but it was nothing serious for the operations of the aircraft. He also thought that the aircraft maintainers did well in the rugged, hectic and demanding conditions in which they all worked.

"Our maintenance was good, once in a while there was a problem but they kept it up pretty good," James said.

Wakehouse also considered himself lucky, and was never hit in the radiator, a critical thing for the Mustang's liquid-cooled engine. If an F-51 took a hit in the radiator, it had about five minutes before the coolant was lost and the engine seized up.

"We lost a lot of buddies that would still be here if they flew the F-47. You could knock a whole cylinder off an F-47 and still fly," Wakehouse said.

(Author's note: The Republic P-47/F-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bomber had an air-cooled engine - requests for the propeller-driven F-47 by commanders in Korea were disapproved by HQ USAF for various reasons).

Still, the Mustang fighter-bombers performed well in the air-to-ground role, the pilots said. Wakehouse recalled one air-to-air encounter with the enemy, flying a jet fighter.

"I was dive bombing a railroad track up in MiG Alley and all at once I saw some red balls come across the top of my engine," he said. "And they were so close that I could hear them 'boomp, boomp, boomp'. I thought, 'What was that? How come those are coming horizontal?'"

Wakehouse said flak normally comes up from the ground, so taking evasive action, he dumped his bombs, looked off to his right side, and saw the MiG-15 with a big red star on the side.

"He made a pass on me," Wakehouse said. "(He) must have aimed for the cockpit, and just missed me by a couple of feet. I couldn't believe it. I looked over there and saw this MiG and he was just a little bit ahead of me. All this happened in five or six seconds, if I could have thought quick enough I would have kicked a little right rudder, got behind him and shot him down, but he took me for such a surprise. He had speed brakes out, he obviously overran me, and he tucked his speed brakes in then went straight up out of sight," Wakehouse said.

As for the ordnance employed in the air-to-ground missions, Wakehouse said they could either fire the rockets individually or all at once.

"It was not a very accurate weapon," Wakehouse said. "The .50-caliber machine guns--three in each win--could be sighted to converge at 800, 1,000 or 1,500 feet in front of the aircraft. Napalm was a fearsome weapon. (I) didn't feel great about using I,t but it was war."

James agreed.

"It (napalm) was awful, and we had to make sure we put it in the right place," said, James, who stressed that the most challenging aspect of weapons employment was getting the ordnance on the target.

"There were lots of misses. And lots of hits too," he said. "We blew up railroads, convoys, worked with the front line troops."

As an example of the weapons delivery challenge, the space between the rails of the enemy railroad tracks was 56-inches, and only a direct hit was effective against such a narrow target. Standard ordnance used by a fighter-bomber against the railroad tracks was a pair of 500-lb bombs - about one-fourth of the total sorties obtained rail cuts, which was an improvement over WWII success rates against similar targets.

Wakehouse started out-flying the number four and number two wingman positions in a four-ship flight formation. Then after 30 missions, he became a flight leader. As he gained more combat experience, he took turns leading the whole squadron, and even the whole group.

James recalled an occasion when his flight was scrambled for a long seven-and-a-half-hour mission in support of a search and rescue operation for two B-29 bombers that were shot down and crashed into the Yellow Sea.

The Mustangs flew low and high cover in the area, and James recalled there were some British ships out there. This was probably the disastrous mission to Namsi on Oct. 23, 1951, also known as "Black Friday," in which communist MiG-15 jet fighters inflicted painful losses on the 307th Bomb Wing during its attack against Namsi Airfield in North Korea.

Of the 26 crewmen aboard these two bombers, five were rescued by friendly forces, including the Australian frigate HMAS Murchison and 3rd Air Rescue Squadron SA-16 "Dumbo" aircraft.

Wakehouse was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1952 for a notable mission he flew on Nov. 18, 1951. Excerpts from the citation reveal what a close fight this air war could be.

Wakehouse, then a first lieutenant, "...led a flight of four F-51 fighter planes to Sondong-ni in close support of a United Nations push," said the citation. "The flight annihilated 100 enemy troops, enabling a ROK force to take without opposition a hill which was the target of their advance. After the furious air attack, an unarmed T-6 spotter plane flew over the scene, counting the bodies of Wakehouse's 40 victims and 60 killed by the remainder of the four-plane flight," the citation continued.

Unfortunately, one Oregon Air Guardsman, 1st Lt. Orval Tandy, was brought down by enemy ground fire on his 57th mission on Sept. 5, 1951. He was captured by Chinese Communist Forces who marched him for four days to his first prisoner of war camp and he spent the rest of the war in a harsh environment.

Medical care was non-existent in the camps. No letters from home made it in or out of the camp in his first year, but back at home in Camas, Wash., Mrs. Tandy with her three small boys knew her husband was alive because of a picture that surfaced in a French communist newspaper. He eventually received seven or eight letters from home during his two years in confinement, and sent six out, badly cut up by censors.

Boredom and dysentery in the camps took their toll on the prisoners, and Tandy went from 170 pounds down to 128, but fortunately, he survived. He was in the last group of prisoners returned after the armistice, exactly two years to the day and within an hour of the time of day at which he was shot down. He continued to serve on active duty until retirement as a lieutenant colonel in 1972, completing a 30-year career.

All together, Oregon's fighter pilots flew a total of 1,051 combat sorties in the Korean War, claimed one enemy aircraft destroyed and two more damaged. They dropped 1,056 bombs, fired 3,715 rockets, dropped 456 napalm bombs and expended 1,194,000 rounds of .50-caliber machine gun ammunition during their combat tours. Their contributions to the war effort in Operation Strangle helped forestall a communist offensive planned for the late summer of 1951 and ensured the enemy only had supplies for a static war situation.

Ironically and sadly, two of the Oregon pilots who flew combat in Korea, both World War II veterans, were lost in separate aircraft accidents after the war. Capt. Taylor White, Jr., was lost in an F-51 accident on a routine training mission from Portland on May 5, 1952, not long after surviving 100 combat missions in Korea. His Korean combat tour lasted from June 10, 1951 to December 10, 1951 and he received Distinguished Flying Cross for "courage displayed in attacking antiaircraft batteries in Singosan, Korea."

On June 25, 1956, Capt. Wallace Parks, who completed 101 combat missions; the extra mission "for good luck", was lost in an F-94B mishap at Gowen Field, Idaho, during the 142nd Fighter Group's summer training encampment.

At the time of his Korean War service, Wakehouse was 29 years old. He received a temporary captain's rank, but was returned to first lieutenant after he left Korea. Once he returned to the United States, he went through the ground school for the F-86 Sabre fighter jet. He had already qualified on the T-33 jet trainer, and was ready to make the transition into the jet age. But when the Ore ANG told him he would have to sign on for a five-year commitment in order to fly the F-86, Wakehouse decided to retire from the Air Guard and returned to civilian life and his automobile dealership. James also returned to civilian life after the war to focus on raising his family.

When asked if flying in combat in Korea was worth it, James said, "(It was) a great, great, great feeling. There were 17 countries in Korea helping against the communists. It was all rice paddies then."

Wakehouse visited Korea for the first time since the war, by special invitation by the South Korean government in 1995. They paid for the trip, as well as his stay at the best hotel in Seoul, he said. They also escorted him to the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) to see Panmunjom, and North Korea beyond. Seeing how South Korea had developed since the war made him feel real good, he said. In 2010, President Lee of the Republic of Korea sent him an invitation to visit Korea once more.

James has not yet returned to Korea, but said he would like to someday.

Wakehouse and James, the last two Oregon ANG pilots who flew combat missions in Korea were reunited in April 2011 at the 70th anniversary commemoration of the Oregon Air National Guard. The two reminisced their war experiences, and caught up on things.

The two beamed with pride as they observed the modern organization they helped build, through their service in "forgotten war".

This story is dedicated to the brave members of the Oregon Air National Guard who participated in the Korean War:

Capt Albert Arthur
Capt Taylor White, Jr.
1Lt Richard Andrews
1Lt James Byers
1Lt Robert Daggett
1Lt Gregory James
1Lt Wallace Parks
1Lt Orval Tandy
1Lt Ernest Wakehouse


Brett, Devol, Lieutenant General, Official Biography, accessed 23 July 2012 at: http: //

Endicott, Judy G., Editor, "The USAF in Korea, Campaigns, Units and Stations, 1950 - 1953," Air Force History and Museums Program, 2001

Futrell, Robert F., The United States Air Force in Korea, 1950 - 1953, Revised Edition, Office of Air Force History, Washington D.C. , 1983.

Hellis, Lori, Editor, "Oregon Air National Guard, 1941 - 1991, A Commemorative History," Taylor Publishing, 1990

James, Gregory, telephone interviews, Sep 2011 and April 2012

"Korean War Aircraft Loss Database," Defense Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Office (DPMO) website, accessed 28 April, 2012 at:
http: //

Wakehouse, Ernest, interviews, 2 December 2010 (by telephone) and 6 July 2011 (in person)