It ended on a Wednesday, 7 November 1945, at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.

Camp Kilmer, New Jersey (Wikipedia)

Camp Kilmer, New Jersey (Wikipedia)

After arriving at Camp Kilmer on 5 November 1945, the Army wasted little time in demobilizing the troops returning home. On 7 November 1945 the 35th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, the 35th PRS Redhawks, inactivated.

As a term of reference for a military unit, to inactivate means “To withdraw all personnel from an active unit and place the unit on the inactive list.” And so, the 35th PRS left the active roster and became a paper organization on the inactive roster.

Personnel withdrawn from the squadron went in all directions. They went back to civilian life, or were reassigned to another unit. Some may have opted to stay in the military and make a career of it. But as a unit, the 35th PRS had completed its wartime service in the greatest conflict known to man called World War II.

What thoughts went through the minds of squadron members on that day? For those serving in the unit since it started, what reflections on the war years did they have?

Redhawk Reflections

The 35th PRS was originally designated as the 123rd Observation Squadron and allotted to the National Guard on 30 July 1940. The National Guard then passed this numerical designator to the Oregon National Guard. Congress provided funds to activate the unit, and the 123rd came into existence on 18 April 1941 on a Friday evening at the Portland Armory in Portland, Oregon. In lineage terms, Activate means “To place a constituted unit on the active list and bring it into physical existence by assignment of personnel.”

A view of the Oregon National Guard Armory in 1953.  The Armory occupied an entire city block.  This view looks northwest at NW 10th at Couch.  (Courtesy Vintageportland.wordpress.com)

A view of the Oregon National Guard Armory in 1953. The Armory occupied an entire city block. This view looks northwest at NW 10th at Couch. (Courtesy Vintageportland.wordpress.com)

From that activation, the unit moved to Swan Island Municipal Airport in Portland and began to train. Little time passed by, however, before the call to duty came, and on 15 September 1941 the unit was ordered to active duty.

Officers and men of of Oregon's 123rd Observation Squadron assemble for a squadron photo at Swan island Municipal Airport, circa the time of their federalization, September, 1941.  The unit's first two aircraft are seen here, a BC-1A (left) and an O-46.  (Courtesy John L. Donis, via 142FW History Archives)

Officers and men of of Oregon’s 123rd Observation Squadron assemble for a squadron photo at Swan island Municipal Airport, circa the time of their federalization, September, 1941. The unit’s first two aircraft are seen here, a BC-1A (left) and an O-46. (Courtesy John L. Donis, via 142FW History Archives)

Ten days later, on 25 September, the unit left Oregon for Gray Field, at Fort Lewis, Washington, on what would be the first step on the torturous path to war. Along with the men came a BC-1A training aircraft and an O-46 observation plane. The squadron was soon introduced to the portly O-47 observation aircraft.

With the attack on Hawaii, the squadron was quickly pressed into operational service, conducting antisubmarine patrols off the Pacific Northwest coast from 8 December to 10 August 1942 in O-47 and O-49 (L-1) observation aircraft. It operated a detachment for this mission at Moon Island Airport, Hoquiam, Washington from 15 March 1942 into August 1942. The squadron received campaign credit for participation in the Antisubmarine, American Theater.

123d Observation squadron O-47s at Moon Island Airport, Hoquiam, Washington, in early 1942.  (Courtesy Oregon ANG)

123d Observation squadron O-47s at Moon Island Airport, Hoquiam, Washington, in early 1942. (Courtesy Oregon ANG)

During its time at Gray Field, the squadron was redesignated as the 123rd Observation Squadron (Light) on 13 January 1942. On 4 July 1942 the original designation was resumed. Perhaps the Army was changing aircraft so often during wartime that the light designation lost its meaning.

In 1943, the squadron’s mission changed. First, it moved to Ontario Army Airfield, California, on 16 March 1943. There it was redesignated as the 123rd Reconnaissance Squadron (Bombardment), and received B-25 and A-20/DB-7 twin engine bombers. This was probably a reflection of lessons painfully learned in the North Africa campaign when observation and reconnaissance aircraft faced opposition. The prewar observation type of aircraft and tactics were not effective or survivable on the modern battlefield that had developed.

But even this plan changed, as the USAAF determined it had other needs. After sending the squadron to Redmond Army Airfield, Oregon, on 20 August 1943 to participate in the Oregon Maneuver, the largest military exercises ever held in the Pacific Northwest, the Army belatedly informed the squadron of a new mission and designation as the 35th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, effective as of 11 August 1943.

Then unit participated in the Oregon maneuver, then embarked by train for its new station, Will Rogers Field, Oklahoma, by way of detour to Gainesville Army Airfield, Texas, where it arrived on 10 November 1943. There at Gainseville the unit began reorganization into a PRS and preparations for overseas service. The heavy aircraft were traded for fighter-type aircraft, including the P-39 Airacobra, perhaps for familiarization with liquid-cooled engine and fighter type aircraft operations. The unit retained use of one B-25 for a bit longer, and also apparently operated the Avro Anson twin-engine multi-role aircraft, designated as the AT-20 in USAAF service.

Officers and Men of the 35th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron pose for a unit picture at Will Rogers Field, Oklahoma in the spring of 1944, shortly before the unit began movement for service overseas.  (Courtesy of Mr. H. Allen Larsen. via Ms. Aileen Garra-Lim)

Officers and Men of the 35th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron pose for a unit picture at Will Rogers Field, Oklahoma in the spring of 1944, shortly before the unit began movement for service overseas. (Courtesy of Mr. H. Allen Larsen. via Ms. Aileen Garra-Lim)

The preparations for overseas movement continued at Will Rogers beginning on arrival there on 5 February 1944. Will Rogers was busy with training on the Lockheed Lighting, the photo recon variant of which the squadron was slated to operate. Operations at Will Rogers continued as well, until 10 April 1944 when the unit left for overseas service.

This web log writer will not recount the China service of the 35th PRS, documented in many posts on this web log. Suffice it to say that the unit performed combat operations with photo reconnaissance F-5 Lightning aircraft from 12 September 1944 into August, 1945. A B-25 Mitchell medium bomber was briefly used in the summer of 1945, and the squadron also had a C-45 in that timeframe. The 35th earned credit for participation in six more campaigns, including India-Burma; China Defensive; New Guinea; Western pacific; Central Burma and China Offensive.

A 35PRS F-5E Photo Lightning rests at Yunnanyi Airfield in China, circa late 1944 - early 1945 (Courtesy John Brasko, Jr.)

A 35PRS F-5E Photo Lightning rests at Yunnanyi Airfield in China, circa late 1944 – early 1945 (Courtesy John Brasko, Jr.)

The service was not without cost. During the war, three former members of the original 123rd Observation Squadron cadre were assigned to the 32nd Photo Recon Squadron, and subsequently lost when their ship, enroute to Italy, was sunk in the Mediterranean on 20 April 1944 by German aircraft.

The tragic loss of the Paul Hamilton and all souls aboard happened in a matter of seconds when the explosives and troop-laden vessel was struck by a German aerial torpedo on the evening of 20 April 1944 off the coast of North Africa.  (Source:  “SS Paul Hamilton” entry on Wikipedia)

The tragic loss of the Paul Hamilton and all souls aboard happened in a matter of seconds when the explosives and troop-laden vessel was struck by a German aerial torpedo on the evening of 20 April 1944 off the coast of North Africa. (Source: “SS Paul Hamilton” entry on Wikipedia)

In China operations, another five men were lost, all pilots of F-5 aircraft, including three on combat photo recon missions.

A 35th PRS F-5E Photo Lightning, squadron number 801, burns after a takeoff mishap at Chanyi Airfield on 9 November 1944. Capt. James K. Kerr blew a tire on the takeoff roll, swerved off the strip and his ship caught fire.  He survived but incurred second degree burns that required hospitalization.  (Courtesy 142FW History Archives)

A 35th PRS F-5E Photo Lightning, squadron number 801, burns after a takeoff mishap at Chanyi Airfield on 9 November 1944. Capt. James K. Kerr blew a tire on the takeoff roll, swerved off the strip and his ship caught fire. He survived but incurred second degree burns that required hospitalization. (Courtesy 142FW History Archives)

Even the early postwar period came with cost, as aircraft accidents cost the lives of two more pilots, while another one passed away aboard ship on the way home.

From its humble start as a National Guard observation squadron, the Redhawks were shaped into a photo recon combat unit that proudly became part of General Chennault’s 14th Air Force Flying Tigers in China in the last year of the war, earning many accolades for their outstanding photo recon work.

Into the Next Era

These achievements might have been forgotten, but on 24 May 1946, a little more than six months after inactivation, the 35th PRS was given a new mission. The 35th PRS was redesignated as the 123rd Fighter Squadron and allotted again to the National Guard, which returned it to Oregon. It carried with it the lineage and honors earned by the 123rd/35th in the Second World War.  It was joined in Portland by the former 371st Fighter Group, a P-47 unit that fought in Europe during WWII, now redesignated as the 142nd Fighter Group and allotted to Oregon at the same time to serve as the 123rd’s parent group.  With plans for a larger reserve component to avoid the mobilization difficulties and shortages of combat units experienced early in World War II, the National Guard’s air component, soon to become the Air National Guard, was being built up, and Oregon was part of the plan.

Three North American F-51D Mustang fighters rest beside an Oregon example of the type in this post-1948 view at Portland Air Base. The trio of Mustangs could be either replacement aircraft for the OreANG or transients enroute to another destination. The Mustang was the 142nd Fighter Group’s primary aircraft assigned after World War II and on into the Korean War era, found in squadron-level strength in the 123rd Fighter Squadron. The group also had a small utility flight composed of other support aircraft types in small numbers. The Caretaker role was essential to keeping all of the OreANG’s aircraft operational as well as handling transient aircraft. (Courtesy 142nd Fighter Wing History Archives)

Three North American F-51D Mustang fighters rest beside an Oregon example of the type in this post-1948 view at Portland Air Base. The trio of Mustangs could be either replacement aircraft for the OreANG or transients enroute to another destination. The Mustang was the 142nd Fighter Group’s primary aircraft assigned after World War II and on into the Korean War era, found in squadron-level strength in the 123rd Fighter Squadron. The group also had a small utility flight composed of other support aircraft types in small numbers. (Courtesy 142nd Fighter Wing History Archives)

Good thing it was then, as the 123rd Fighter Squadron still flies today, providing the only dedicated air defense and airspace control alert fighter planes for the greater Pacific Northwest with the F-15 Eagle fighter jet, as well as expeditionary air superiority as seen in a recent deployment to Europe. In this uncertain and chaotic world, the Redhawks have a purposeful mission in a key part of the United States, also supporting our Canadian friends to the north. So on this 70th anniversary of the squadron’s WWII-era activation, we render a hand salute to the Redhawks of the Oregon Air National Guard! Keep ‘em flying!

Col. Richard W. Wedan, 142nd Fighter Wing commander, takes off on his 'Fini Flight' from the Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore., in his F-15 Eagle, Feb. 7, 2015. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. John Hughel, 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs/Released)

Col. Richard W. Wedan, 142nd Fighter Wing commander, takes off on his ‘Fini Flight’ from the Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore., in his F-15 Eagle, Feb. 7, 2015. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. John Hughel, 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs/Released)

References

Maurer, Maurer, editor. World War II Combat Squadrons of the United States Air Force (aka Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, World War II), USAF Historical Division, Department of the Air Force, Smithmark Publishers/Platimum Press edition, Woodbury, NY, 1992.

123rd Observation Squadron/35th Photo Recon Squadron official histories

Camp Kilmer, Wikipedia entry, and picture, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_Kilmer

Old Portland Armory, picture, at:  https://vintageportland.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/oregon-national-guard-armory-1953/

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