Historian documents 509th, Whiteman AFB significance

  • Published
  • By Megan Blair
  • 509th Bomb Wing historian
Many of you may be unaware that the wing has a historian. Many Air Force wings have a historian who is responsible for documenting the achievements and challenges the unit met during the year and keeping vital, mission-related statistics.

This information is then compiled into the annual history for future research needs. The annual histories for my office date back to 1958. Air Force historians also deploy to 11 forward operating locations in the Area of Responsibility to capture the mission-related history of the units there.

I am also responsible for the wing and base archive that dates back to World War II. The archive is a treasure trove of information.

Here are some facts about the wing that I have discovered while cataloging the archive:
Our emblem, like many AF wings, features a pair of wings, except ours are displayed differently from the others. When the ancient Greeks approached a stranger, they raised their arms with the palms outward to show that they were carrying no weapons--a sign of peace. The 509th obtained special permission to display the wings in this configuration to show that it too, comes in peace.

In 1993, when the wing stood back up, the commander at the time sent a request to have the emblem changed. With the end of the Cold War, he felt that the mushroom cloud was an inappropriate symbol to display. The AF disapproved the request.
The headline for the base newspaper announcing the end of the WWII read, "The damn thing's over; Officially ends 6 p.m."

The July 1947 history of the 509th Bomb Group, then located at Roswell Army Air Field, N.M., features the statement: "The Office of Public Information was kept quite busy during the month answering inquiries on the "flying disc", which was reported to be in possession of the 509th Bomb Group. The object turned out to be a radar tracking balloon."

In the mid 1960s, 509ers pushed for the creation of a commemorative monument that would highlight the history of the wing and its commanders. At the time, the wing was scheduled to be inactivated so the commander along with the other 509ers, wanted a memorial honoring the wing's many contributions, keeping memories of the 509th alive. The wing ended up not inactivating, but instead received a new mission. The interesting historical fact is that the wing might have been saved because of the memorial. The wing's sergeant major was sent to the Pentagon to research the former commanders, but he was denied access so he decided to go up the chain. He ended up in the office of the AF Vice Chief of Staff, Gen. William H. Blanchard, who had been a commander of the 509th. He was also surprised to find out that the wing was inactivating. He called another former 509 commander, Gen. John D. Ryan to find out what was going on. The sergeant major heard Blanchard ask "Jack, who in the hell gave permission to inactivate the 509th?" Blanchard assured the sergeant major that they would get to the bottom of this. He returned to Pease Air Force Base, N.H., but without an official order the wing continued inactivation plans.

The monument was dedicated Dec. 17, 1965. Less than a month later, the wing received word that they would be staying at Pease AFB and fly B-52s and KC-135s. When the 509th moved from Pease AFB, the monument moved with them. It is now located in front of Base Ops.
The 509th has a long, distinguished history and I am proud to be your wing historian to make sure your contributions are added to this distinguished history.

On April 26 at 10 a.m. in the Base Theater, you have a chance to hear about the wing's history first hand from Mr. Leon Smith, a member of the 509th Composite Group. By the toss of a coin, Smith was chosen as backup to arm the bombs for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Following the war, he was part of Operation Crossroads. I hope you all will come out to hear about the beginnings of the 509th from one who was there.