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Distinguished honors: Historian speaks of 509th Legacy

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Unknown to me at the time, my journey into the annals of the 509th Bomb Wing legacy began in mid-1991. I was leaving Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, for my new assignment as the historian for the 351st Strategic Missile Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. I was no stranger to the base, or wing, as I'd been assigned there in the mid-1980s and was looking forward to returning. I had taken 30 days of leave enroute to Whiteman. Then one day, an official Air Force letter arrived at my leave address informing me that I was being reassigned as the historian for the new B-2 Spirit unit, the 509th at Whiteman.

Any Air Force historian worth their salt knew the history of the legendary 509th. The atomic bombs loomed large in the wing's annals, of course, but I had other reasons for being awestruck. The recent roster of historians assigned to the wing read like a "who's who" list of the best historians in Strategic Air Command (SAC). I arrived wondering if I could ever live up to that tradition; however, the task of standing up a new wing kept me busy and distracted me from pondering my place in that lineup.

One of the first things I normally did when I arrived at a new unit was write an extensive unclassified history of that unit, and the 509th was no exception. I would learn everything from the unit's World War II past to its current operations. It was a 'quick' way to become the expert on the wing's past.

Shortly after I began my research into the 509th's storied past, I was amazed at the wing's accomplishments. There was so much more than the atomic bomb missions; The 509th also helped pioneer air refueling. The wing played a key role in 1947's infamous Roswell incident. The wing also formed the backbone of SAC when the command began flexing its muscle to protect America and its allies. The 509th was also one of 30 units to test and adopt the now-standard wing organization. The wing flew B-52 Stratofortress missions in Vietnam. The list goes on and on. At the time I was researching and writing that history, the 509th was programmed to be the first B-2 unit, which, of course, evolved into being the only B-2 unit.

I'd like to think that I made an entry into 509th history within a few short months of my assignment to Whiteman. Upon my arrival at the base, I immediately became a member of Detachment 509, overseer of all things B-2 at Whiteman. Yet it didn't take long for the manpower folks to inform me that I'd be the only member of the 509th until the wing returned to active service, slated for 1993. They explained that someone had to be assigned to the wing; otherwise, the Air Force would have to inactivate the 509th until the time grew nearer to stand it up and then activate it again. Since I was the only person on base who was assured a permanent position in the wing when that happened, I became the only member of the wing until it stood up in 1993. In the process, this saved the Air Force from some rather extensive paperwork.

This connection between the 509th and me continued for nine years. In that time, I re-established a link to my own past when, in addition to my historian duties, I became the curator and tour guide for Whiteman's Minuteman Missile Museum, also known as Oscar-01. That connection lasted for five years when I turned the site and my other 509th responsibilities over upon my retirement after 24 years of service.

I last updated the previously-mentioned unclassified history in 1999. The words I wrote in that preface still apply to me to this day: "During my 21-year tenure as an Air Force historian, I have had the privilege of associating with numerous units bearing proud and distinguished histories. However, few of those organizations' accomplishments compare with those of the famous 509th Bomb Wing. ...the 509th has truly been a pioneer unit in every sense of the word. It was indeed an honor for me to write this history of the 509th. I only hope that I have done this proud unit justice in the following pages."

I also believe that the 509th Composite Group's World War II battle cry rings true for today's version of the wing: "There's none finer than a 509'er!"