55th Memorial  

Cathy (Fox) Melton
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~ Air Pulse Tribute ~
Capt. Beth Kelley, 55th Wing Public Affairs
(Sept. 2003)

At the height of the Cold War, Offutt was a busy place. From the role of Strategic Air Command over nuclear bomber and missile arsenals, to Offutt's 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing crews flying long range reconnaissance and surveillance missions in areas near unfriendly nations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, airmen of the day worked hard and long in the vigilant defense of the American people.

On Sept. 5 at the US Air Force Museum at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, members of the 55th SRW Association and other recon and support units, gathered in the museum's Memorial Gardens to dedicate and commission a monument to the men and women who served during the historic Cold War era.

The event, hosted by the 55th SRW Association and the U.S. Air Force Museum, was part of the 2003 Recon Rendezvous reunion. Attended by many former 55th unit members and commanders, to include the current commander, Brig. Gen. T.C. Jones, the reunion offered 55th veterans and current-day members a chance to celebrate the rich heritage of the Fightin' Fifty-Fifth.

"It is a real honor to command a wing with such an important and courageous past as the 55th," Jones said. "The path set by the previous members of the outfit, starting with the Pursuit Group in World War II to the Strat Wing during the Cold War years, is being followed by today's [55th] Wing engaged in the Middle East and other places around the globe. Our predecessors have certainly shown us the way to get the job done. I couldn't be prouder of how our men and women are executing their duty every day...just like the Fightin' Fifty-Fifth always has."

The Recon Rendezvous was spearheaded by 55th SRWA member John Kovacs who served as both the reunion chair and monument coordinator.

"He has put heart and soul into this event for well over three years," said Lt. Col. (Ret.) Max Moore, 55th SRWA secretary. "He is a 55th veteran RB-47 pilot who lives in Fairborn, Ohio. He also monitored the rehab of the RB-47H on display in the Cold War annex since it got to the Museum in the fall of 1998."

The newly-commissioned monument Kovacs helped create depicts a SAC shield on the front and the 55th SRW crest on the left. Beneath the emblems are a dedication statement, the dedication date, and a quote reminding everyone "that freedom is never really free."

On the back of the monument's vertical piece is a laser engraving of five aircraft types representative of those flown by the 55th during the Cold War: an RB-17, RB-29, RB-50, RB-47H and an RC-135.

The front face of the base of the monument contains an Honor Roll: the names of those 55th crewmembers who died in the line of duty during the Cold War. It is sheer irony that the list contains precisely 55.

The monument sits on a brick patio of 1,400 bricks. Over 500 of the bricks are engraved with the names of memorial fund donors and others to whom they are dedicated. One donor, a former SAC commander who wishes to remain anonymous, donated the largest sum, $5,555.55. Four marble benches will be placed in the corners of the patio, three representing the operational squadrons of the 55th SRW—the 338th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, the 343 SRS and the 38 SRS—and the fourth dedicated to the maintainers and support units.

The memorial area is in a separate part of the Memorial Gardens known as Recon Park, since other units have or will have monuments located there.

Another event at the 2003 Recon Rendezvous included an all day symposium on recon history, where Maj. Carl Misner, a current-day 55th Wing member, presented an overview of the 55th's role in the most current world conflicts, Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Attendees of the reunion also were able to tour an RC-135 on display from Offutt, had the opportunity to visit the U.S. Air Force museum and its new Cold War annex, and reconnect with 55th warriors of the past and present at a barbeque dinner after the monument dedication and during a formal banquet Saturday evening which concluded the four day event.

Retired Lt. Col. Gene Mutual, a former RB-47 aircraft commander of the 343rd Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron at Forbes Field in 1961, traveled to the reunion from Phelps, N.Y.

"I wanted to see a lot of old friends and meet other crews," Mutual said. "We were a very tight organization. Once a crew was together, you stayed together, unless someone died or retired."

The colorful history of the 55th Wing began Nov. 20, 1940, when the 55th Pursuit Group was constituted at Hamilton Field, Calif. The 55th Fighter Group, originating from the 55th Pursuit Group, was the genesis of what is today the largest and most diverse wing in the Air Force–the 55th Wing. The wing's motto, "Videmus Omnia–We See All," changed from the first slogan of the original 55th units: "Pursuit to Defend," as the mission changed from fighters to strategic reconnaissance.

From its inception, the 55th Wing has flown in every major conflict from World War II to present day. From North Africa to Greenland, England to Germany, Alaska to Japan, Greece to South America, Korea to Saudi Arabia, and Iraq to Afghanistan, the sun has never set on the Fightin' Fifty-Fifth.

Anyone interested in joining the 55th SRWA should contact the organization's president, Col. (Ret.) Bill Ernst at 292-1205, or visit the organization's Web site at www.55srwa.org.

Capt. Beth Kelley
55th Wing Public Affairs

Related Links:
55th SRWA
National Museum of the USAF

Cathy (Fox) Melton
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