Remembering the OreANG's Caretakers

  • Published
  • By CMSgt Gene Thomas (ret.) with Lt. Col. Terrence Popravak, jr. (ret.)
  • 142nd Fighter Wing History Office
When the Air National Guard (ANG) resumed its normal peacetime role after World War II, lessons learned from both prewar and wartime experience resulted in a buildup of capacity with ANG unit structure across the United States.  One of these improvements was the addition of the Caretakers, a cadre of full-time personnel whose role was to take care of the day-to-day requirements in aircraft maintenance and support equipment, parachutes, supply, transportation, administrative/personnel, electrical/electronics and security.  This Veterans Day, we remember the Caretaker veterans and their role in the Oregon Air National Guard (OreANG) in the early postwar period.

Back in the 1970's, OreANG aircraft maintenance legend and historian Mr. Jack Cronise asked Major General Gordon L. Doolittle, then OreANG Commander, for an input on the organization's history in the 1946-47 timeframe. General Doolittle, himself a combat veteran of WWII, a fighter pilot with three and a half aerial victories, spoke of the early recruiting for the OreANG after World War II, when the OreANG was built from scratch after the war as an entirely new outfit, but benefitted from the experience of many World War II veterans. 

The Oregon National Guard's first aviation unit was the 123rd Observation Squadron, activated in April, 1941.  Most of the 123rd Observation Squadron's original members were transferred out to help form new air units and subsequently served tours of military service during the war in a variety of units in the US, Europe, North Africa, China-Burma-India and South Pacific.  Some of them returned to Oregon and helped to establish the Oregon Air National Guard after the war.  On the other hand, after World War II, many veterans who served in World War II with no prior association with the OreANG joined the organization and some of them became the initial Caretakers for the newly-established 142nd Fighter Group at Portland Army Air Base.

For example, the general remembered the following men, who were all aircraft maintenance Caretakers (Mr. Jack Cronise was reportedly the first Caretaker hired), who worked on P-51 Mustangs fighters, C-47 transports, T-6 trainers, and A-26 Invader attack bombers at first after the war - all were there later for the OreANG transition into jets:

Neil Buley was in the European Theatre of Operations for 36 months during World War II, starting out as a crew chief on F-5 Photo Reconnaissance aircraft in the 14th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron of the 7th Photo Reconnaissance Group in Eighth Air Force, and advancing to line chief in charge of the unit's flight line maintenance.  One of his F-5 Photo Lightning's was reportedly the first US aircraft to photograph Berlin. 

Wyeth Barnum worked during the war at the Burtonwood Air Depot in England for 48 months performing maintenance and repairs on numerous heavy bombers of the European Theater of Operations such as the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator as well as medium bombers. 

Lester Emery flew as an aircrew member on North Atlantic anti-submarine patrol aircraft for 60 months during the war. 

John Lyons was a flight engineer/gunner in North American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers of the 488th Bomb Squadron, assigned to the 340th Bomb Group (Medium).  He flew 67 combat missions over Sicily, Italy and France in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations.

Floyd (Pappy) Lovell served for 20 months in the South Pacific Area in the Pacific Theater on the island of New Caledonia as a crew chief on bomber aircraft belonging to the "Jungle Air Force," otherwise known as Thirteenth  Air Force. 

These men performed a mission essential role for the OreANG as aircraft maintenance Caretakers, ensured the assigned aircraft were ready to fly as required, and established the regular presence of Oregon Air National Guard personnel at Portland ANG Base. 

There were other Caretakers too, in addition to these aircraft maintainers.  Some of the full time Caretaker veterans were specialists in various shops: John Barden (Army, saw combat) was Admin/Personnel; Lloyd Buckley (Navy) was Sheetmetal/Machine shop; John Stockdale was Operations; Marvin Brant (Navy, saw combat) was Electric/Electronics; Dale Evens (Navy) was Parachute; Bud Snavely (Army, saw combat) and Dick Finch were in Transportation whilst Jim Schoonmaker was in Supply.

It wasn't until the 1960's that the Caretakers were accepted into the real "Civil Service" as full time employees), when they were given 55% of their past years of civil service (non-competitive time) to the real civil service competitive system.  That was when they were called "Air Technicians," and most of them were still young enough to earn civil service retirements.

But until that time in the 1960's the Caretakers worked with no retirement; they mostly just loved their jobs and loved what they were doing.  Most of all they loved not being nation-wide civil service competitive, meaning, one joined the OreANG then applied for a full-time position at the base, whereas for nation-wide civil service one could put applications in to any place in the civil service unit.

On this Veterans Day, we salute all veterans, and remember the Caretakers, those veterans named and unnamed, who played a key role in helping the OreANG get a firm footing in the early postwar years.  We owe them a debt of gratitude, for the prior military service as well as for serving so well in the Oregon Air National Guard.