09/11/17 — 75 years of being Fourth, but first

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75 years of being Fourth, but first

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 11, 2017 5:50 AM

Seymour Johnson Air Force Base's 4th Fighter Wing traces its roots back to the seven Americans who flew with the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain.

Fought from late June through October, 1940, RAF pilots went toe to toe with the German Luftwaffe in this pivotal World War II battle.

The base will commemorate the battle during its celebration of the 4th Fighter Wing's 75th anniversary, the U.S. Air Force's 70th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of the 911th Air Refueling Wing Friday and Saturday, Sept. 15-16.

The celebration also will include a gala, heritage aircraft static displays, a 50-year-old time capsule unveiling, a golf tournament and base tours.

American pilots Vernon Keough, Andy Mamedoff and Eugene Tobin of the No. 71 (Eagle) Squadron became the founding fathers of the 4th Fighter Wing.

When the Eagle Squadrons disbanded in 1942, the Army Air Corps wanted to spread the veteran pilots and aces across the service.

But the pilots refused, arguing they were a group, said Dr. Roy Heidicker, 4th Fighter Wing historian.

So the 71st Eagle Squadron became the 334th Fighter Squadron, the 121st became the 335th Fighter Squadron and the 133rd became the 336 Fighter Squadron.

All of the Eagle Squadron pilots were volunteers, as are today's 4th Fighter Wing pilots, continuing a long-standing tradition, Heidicker said.

The base has held a commemoration of the battle for several years, he said.

The events are open to invited guests and those on the base. It is not open to the general public.

The commemoration will be he held Friday, Sept. 15, and will include comments from Col. Christopher Sage, 4th Fighter Wing commander, Heidicker and Maj. Christopher Rugg, Royal Air Force exchange officer.

"It will be an exciting weekend," Heidicker said.

It will include the burning of seven donated pianos as well as the unveiling of the F-15E with the heritage paint job.

Each piano will be decorated by squadrons at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and judged by Sage and Rugg.

The piano burning is a RAF tradition. A sledgehammer is used to turn a big piano into a bunch of smaller ones, Heidicker said.

It is set on fire and the other pianos thrown into the fire.

A four-aircraft missing man flyover will take place at sunset before the piano burn.

A Spitfire, P-51, F-86 and F-4 also be on display.

Also on Friday, a time capsule from 1967 will be unearthed. It includes select items from 4th Fighter Wing members from 50 years ago.

The original ceremony for the creation of the time capsule was held Dec. 2, 1967, in front of the then Support Group headquarters.

Col. Paul C. Watson, 4th Fighter Wing commander in 1967, was the presiding officer. Other participants included then-Mayor Tom Robinson and Lawson Withers of Wachovia Bank (now Wells Fargo), and Lt. Gen. Joseph H. Moore, a former 4th Fighter Wing commander.

Also on base during the celebration weekend will be pilots who served in the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing during the Korean War.

The group held its reunion on the base in 2014.

The pilots had such a good time they decided to hold their 2017 reunion on base and decided to hold it during the anniversary celebration weekend.

Heidicker said that during the 2014 reunion, an airman was assigned to each of the Korean War veterans.

That provided an opportunity for the veterans to learn about today's Air Force while at the same time the airmen could learn more about the Air Force the veterans served in, he said.

The Saturday night gala will celebrate the heritage, achievements and history of the U.S. Air Force and the 4th Fighter Wing.

Various groups to include the USO World War II era singers will perform.

Items from the time capsule will be on display along with aircraft on display -- the F-15E with the new heritage paint, Spitfire, P-51, F-86 and F-4.

The dress code for the gala is semi-formal/mess dress for military and semi-formal for civilians.

An anniversary golf tournament will be held Saturday, Sept. 16, at Three Eagles Golf Course.

For more information or to sign up a four-member team, call 919- 722-0395.

The cost is $30 per person or $120 per team.

Check-in time will be 10 a.m. the day of the tournament.

Base tours will start on Friday, Sept. 15, and will make four stops:

* Celebrating Our Legacy will be located at Heritage Park where there will be static displays including the P-51 Mustang, F-86 Sabre, A-10 Thunderbolt II and F-4 Phantom. A 4th Operation Support Squadron representative will talk about the capability of each aircraft.

The base theater will also be open to visitors and displaying a loop of the 4th Fighter Wing heritage video, which is approximately 10 minutes in length.

* Celebrating Our Airmanship will be located at Heritage Hall. This stop allows members to socialize. Food and drinks will also be available.

* Celebrating Our Support will be located at Debden Park. It will include demonstrations showcase the capabilities and support of the 4th Fighter Wing: 4th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department; 4th Security Forces Squadron Military Working Dogs; 4th Logistics Readiness Squadron: 4th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal.

* Celebrating Our Operations will be located at the 372nd Training Squadron. There will be an F-15E Strike Eagle static display and the following stations: 4th Operation Support Squadron Weather Flight; 4th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron; Aircrew Flight Equipment; 333rd Fighter Squadron; 334th Fighter Squadron; 335th Fighter Squadron; and 336th Fighter Squadron.