The Oregon Air National Guard and the Korean War: Remembering the Call to Active Duty, 1951

  • Published
  • By CMSgt Gene Thomas, OreANG (Retired)
  • 142FW/HO Volunteer
In commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the armistice that halted hostilities in Korea, we remember the Oregon Air Guardsmen who served the nation during that conflict. When the Oregon Air National Guard (OreANG) was called to active duty for 21 months in 1951, many of the 142d Fighter Group's personnel remained here at Portland, OR, and the USAF called all the shots concerning who stayed and who was transferred out to join another unit.

This highlight of history concerns just 12 airmen of the OreANG who were called to federal service in the USAF in the timeframe between February and May, 1951. This story shows where they were assigned or transferred to, and is representative of similar experiences of other OreANG airmen during the Korean War.

Of these 12 airmen called to active duty, two stayed at Portland; Wilbur Eichelberg and Wally Bothum, both in Aircraft Maintenance. The remaining ten transferred to other units at other USAF bases, the Territory of Alaska, and overseas to England.

Of the ten transferred elsewhere, three were deployed overseas; Ralph Odegard and Tom Loper were sent to RAF Shepherds Grove in the United Kingdom as part of the first deployment of the F-86 Sabre fighter jet to Europe in those tense days of the Cold War.

Bud Opitz was transferred to the Territory of Alaska and saw air defense radar duty on the Alaskan coast opposite the Soviet Union.

The remaining seven airmen involved in this story are: Oscar Bloom, Jack Cronise, Ken Powers, Gene Thomas (all were in Aircraft Maintenance), Glenn Wright (in Transportation), Bernie Verbout (assigned to Administration), and Ed Rognle (in Base Supply).

The USAF bases to where these seven OreANG airmen were given permanent change of station (PCS) were: Geiger AFB (often called Geiger Field), Larson AFB, and McChord AFB, in Washington State; Hamilton AFB (often referred to as Hamilton Field), CA; Great Falls, MT; St. Paul, MN ANG Base; and Sheppard AFB, TX.

All transferee's who are mentioned in this article returned to Portland safely when released from active duty. Some were later hired full-time with the OreANG. None ever served in the present 142d Fighter Wing since it was designated as a wing-level organization.

On July 17, 2013, Mr. Tom Loper and Mr. Ralph Odegard were given a personal tour in the OreANG aircraft maintenance hangar; it was the first time they had seen the Oregon Air National Guard in 62 years.

The airmen of the OreANG who were "called to active duty" in 1951 were successful in many ways. The transfer of an OreANG Base Supply warehouse supervisor, SSgt Ed Rognle, helped the Minnesota ANG Base Supply Squadron to establish their Base Supply Warehouse, as they then had no one qualified at that supervisor level. The transfer of MSgt Jack Cronise to Sheppard AFB (one of the largest installations in the Air Force) filled Sheppard's maintenance superintendent vacancy. This writer believes both were hand-picked because of their expertise. These were excellent compliments showing the talents of Oregon airmen.

All twelve is this article gave their very best for 21 months of active duty during the Korean Conflict. It's possible that the 142d Fighter Group in 1951 and 1952 greased the skids for the present 142d Fighter Wing's success today. It was a "job well done" by all those called to active duty in 1951. Ever so proud.