The future of military aviation, and its heroic past, came together Friday morning at Vance Air Force Base.

Eight members of the World War II-era 8th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron joined members of the 8th Flying Training Squadron based at Vance for a ceremony remembering the sacrifices of members of the 8th PRS.

Following the memorial ceremony, memorabilia from the 8th PRS was accepted officially by the 8th FTS.

“Thank you, thank you for what you did,” said Lt. Col. Neil Woods, commander of the 8th Flying Training Squadron. “We honor you. I am extremely proud to be able to take those symbols of our heritage and keep them in the 8th Flying Training Squadron for as long as the 8th exists. It is our joy.”

Retired Col. Harold Moffat, speaking on behalf of the 8th Photo Recon survivors, said the occasion had both a sad and joyous side. Sadly, he said, the number of 8th Photo Recon survivors has dwindled to the point the group will no longer be able to hold reunions.

“The joyous side of the house is the 8th Flying Training Squadron has kind of taken us to their bosom,” he said.

Friday’s ceremony, Moffat said, was the result of retired Lt. Col. Dick Shipway’s dream of a place to house all the 8th Photo Recon Squadron’s official insignia and memorabilia. Shipway died earlier this year.

“We are deeply indebted to the 8th Flying Training Squadron for their acceptance and honoring of the banners and the memorabilia that represent the life and the honor of 8th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron,” Moffat said.

Members of the 8th FTS wear a patch similar to that sported by 8th Photo Recon Squadron members, featuring an American Indian with a camera around his neck and carrying a hatchet, standing behind an 8-ball.

“That makes us proud every time we see the little Indian on your coat of arms, we know that is part of our heritage also,” Moffat said.

The 8th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron was the first recon squadron to leave the United States after the outbreak of World War II. The 8th PRS was formed at March Field, Calif., on Feb. 1, 1942, with three officers and 28 enlisted men, and shipped out to Australia shortly thereafter.

The unit flew unarmed and lightly armored Lockheed F-4 Lightnings (a version of the P-38 in which the guns were replaced by cameras), and provided vital intelligence information to the 5th Army Air Corps. The unit gave the Army Air Corps its only aerial reconnaissance of the southwest Pacific during the early stages of the war.

The 8th PRS played a role in such noted operations as the battles of the Coral Sea and Bismarck Sea.

Woods cited three reasons why honoring the accomplishments of the 8th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron is important.

First, he said, the lessons learned in World War II are applicable today.

“The things that we learned from that time, we need to go back and review once in awhile, just to make sure that we’re doing things right today,” Woods said.

Second, Woods said, the stories passed down by combat veterans such as the surviving members of the 8th Photo Recon Squadron, are important for today’s young airmen to hear. Those stories flowed freely Thursday evening at the Vance Club during a dinner in honor of the 8th Photo Recon Squadron.

“As we train airmen here, we need to remind them of those heroes, heroes like you who went before us and inspired us to go out and continue doing what we’re doing today,” Woods said.

Finally, Woods said, there is the constant need for people to be reminded of the cost of freedom.

“The sacrifices these guys made, in the air and on the battlefield in places like Okinawa and the Philippines, New Guinea, all throughout the Pacific and the guys who fought in Europe, reminded us that as a nation we cannot stand unless we are willing to fight,” he said. “I’m afraid that a lot of Americans nowadays don’t get that. And even we who wear the uniform need to be reminded.”

The ceremony featured the reading of the names of all deceased members of the 8th Photo Recon Squadron. Twenty-eight of the names were accompanied by the ringing of a bell, designating an airman who died in combat.

“Listen, listen to each name as it is read, let it remind you of an airman who died so that we might live,” Woods said.

The event concluded with a “missing man” fly-by of T-6A Texan II aircraft piloted by 8th Flying Training Squadron instructors, and the playing of “Taps.”

React to this story:


Recommended for you