Veterans Day, 1944-style

Posted 11/8/2012   Updated 11/8/2012

by Terrence G. Popravak, Jr., Lt Col, USAF (Retired)
142nd FW Public Affairs

11/8/2012 – Portland Air National Guard Base, PORTLAND, Ore. — As we celebrate Veterans Day, let us remember the original members of the Oregon National Guard’s first aviation unit, the 123rd Observation Squadron, who remained in the unit all through its World War II existence, including the wartime overseas deployment to China.

Redesignated as the 35th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron (35PRS) before going overseas (and as the 123rd Fighter Squadron after the war), these Oregonians and many other American Airmen of the wartime 35PRS operated the F-5E Photo Lightning in the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater of operations.

On Nov. 11, 1944, the squadron’s George Flight, a small detachment of four aircraft and required personnel, was operational at the forward airfield of Yunnanyi, 130 miles west of Kunming near the Burma border.

On this day, known then as Armistice Day, 1st Lts. William W. Dean III (later MIA. then found) and Estal W. Behrens (later KIA) flew combat aerial reconnaissance missions.

Dean flew F-5E #806 on a two-hour 30-minute photo recon mission along a strip in between Bhamo, in the northern part of Burma, eastward across the border back into China at Manhsien.

Behrens flew F-5E #810 on a two-hour and 45 minute “Tri-Met” mission along a portion of the famed Burma Road from Wanling south to Lashio. The Trimetrogon configuration of two oblique right and left cameras and one vertical camera was used for aerial photo-mapping, a welcome capability in the poorly charted expanses of the CBI.

Both missions were flown over enemy occupied areas of Burma surrounding the northern part of the Burma Road, toward which Allied forces from India and China were approaching in the hard-fought Burma campaign of 1944.

Just a few days before, on Nov. 5, 1944, the squadron lost its first member in the war, when 1Lt Franklin H. McKinney was declared missing in action. Recently a report by the government of Thailand reported that his F-5E aircraft, #811 has been found in Ban Mae Gua, Sobprab Sub-District, Lampang Province in Thailand. This report has yet to be verified.

The service and sacrifice of the personnel in the 35PRS on Armistice Day, 1944, in China and Burma gives an inspiring example of service and sacrifice for us today. On many subsequent Armistice Days since WWII, and continuously since the early 1960s, men and women of the ORANG’s 123rd Fighter Squadron (nee 35PRS) and 142nd Fighter Wing have maintained Aerospace Control Alert, serving and sacrificing on what for many citizens is perhaps just another holiday.

But it’s not just any holiday. We should pause on Veterans Day to remember and honor our veterans and all their years of dedicated duty for our community, state and nation, whether overseas or stateside now, at war in 1944 or in peace today, ready to defend, 24/7.

35PRS Squadron History, November, 1944

Report of discovery of 1Lt McKinney crash site on Thai Aviation History website, accessed 7 November 2012 at:

“Service Personnel Not Recovered Following WWII, 2,064 U.S. Army Air Forces personnel with Last Name beginning with M,” Defense POW and MIA Office website, accessed 7 November 2012 at:

“The World War II Honor Roll, Franklin H. McKinney, 1Lt, USAAF,” American Battle Monuments Commission website, accessed 7 November 2012 at:

Adapted from original article at: