Tuesday, February 21, 2012

TOP STORY >> 314th celebrates 70 years of flying airlift

314th Airlift Wing historian

On March 2, 1942, the 314th Troop Carrier Group was activated at Drew Field, Fla. For the next 70 years, the 314th designation has been synonymous with airlift.

Many of the current squadrons at Little Rock Air Force Base share a common heritage with the 314th Airlift Wing.

The 48th Aerial Squadron and the 62nd AS are the wing’s current flying squadrons, but the 50th AS, 53rd AS and 61st AS all served notably while in the 314th.

Wherever this unit has traveled, its maintainers and support personnel have paved the way for success through unrivaled professionalism.

Over the years, this wing has been directly involved in many of the most noteworthy airlift missions of modern warfare. During World War II, the 314th flew in every major airlift and airdrop mission in the European theater of operations.


During the D-Day operation, paratroops that leapt from our planes made the heroic defense of Hill 30 east of the Merderet River.

Those paratroops fought off a much larger enemy force for two days, protecting the Allied landings at Utah Beach. Many historians have credited the tenacious stand on Hill 30 as a major factor in the overall success of the American landings in Normandy. General James H. Gavin, the “Jumpin’ General” himself, parachuted from a 314th C-47 onto the fields of Normandy.

There is a common phrase, “a bridge too far.” It was a comment made by British paratroop commander Gen. Frederick Browning before Operation Market Garden in September 1944.

That mission required paratroops to drop near and hold six separate bridge crossing for the advancing tank column. Browning liked his chances, but pointed to the last bridge on the map saying, “…but I think we might be going a bridge too far.”

That last bridge crossing was across the Rhine River at Arnhem, Holland. Browning tasked the British 1st Airborne Division and Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade to capture and hold the Rhine crossing. Those units fought heroically, but the advancing tank column failed to reach Arnhem.

The paratrooper’s courage in the face of insurmountable odds was legendary. It was the crews and aircraft from the 314th that dropped those units outside Arnhem.

Although still active after the war, the 314th lived a somewhat shadowy existence. The unit survived mostly on paper and no one was exactly sure where “the box” containing the 314th’s paperwork was stored. Nonetheless, the 314th reappeared, flying out of Panama and the Caribbean Command from 1946-1948.

Berlin Airlift

In 1948, aircraft and crews from the 314th participated in airlift’s greatest success – the Berlin Airlift. Incidentally, the red lightning flash adorned C-54s of one of the current flying squadrons, the 48th AS, became the iconic symbol of the Berlin Airlift.

During the Korean War, the 314th participated in all 10 named campaigns, expanding on their impressive airlift accomplishments. Flying C-119 “Boxcars,” crews from the 314th conducted airdrop missions to surrounded US forces at the Chosin Reservoir.

Chosin was where Gen. Oliver P. Smith reportedly said, “Retreat, hell! We’re not retreating; we’re just advancing in a different direction!”

A large portion of the supplies he needed to get out of Chosin were dropped by the 314th. When Smith’s escape route was cut-off at Kotori, the 314th came to the rescue dropping seven Treadway Bridge sections into a narrow mountain pass.

Many of those trapped soldiers and Marines would have perished were it not for an accurate drop of those bridge sections.

In 1957, crews from the 314th flew the first operational non-training mission in the C-130 Hercules. That mission was an airland operation to bring the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky., to Little Rock AFB during the Little Rock Central High School desegregation crisis.

With fixed bayonets, the paratroops, famed for their World War II stand at Bastogne, protected the nine black students integrating Central High and escorted them to their classes.

Vietnam War

Perhaps the greatest accomplishments occurred during the Vietnam War. The 314th AW spent five years, from 1966-1971, stationed in Southeast Asia. During that time C-130 crews from this wing performed heroically at Khe Sanh, Kham Duc, and An Loc just to name a few.

During a seven month stretch in Vietnam, crews from the 314th earned two Air Force Crosses, eight Silver Stars, and 30 Distinguished Flying Crosses.

The wing was awarded the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Combat “V” device for their actions in Vietnam. From 1966 to 1968 the 314th also flew the Bob Hope Christmas troop around Southeast Asia.

Since 1971, the 314th has been stationed at Little Rock AFB and served most of that time as the base host-unit.

The dedicated airmen of this unit built a world-renown C-130 training center and still participated in operations to Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. Airmen continue to deploy in support of Operation Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.

On March 16, the 314th AW will celebrate 70 years of continuous airlift operations by hosting an airlifter’s ball. To focus on the brotherhood of airlifters at Little Rock AFB, one of the world’s premier airlifters, (Ret.) Col. Gail Halvorsen, will visit the base.

Halvorsen is better known as the Candy Bomber from the Berlin Airlift. Despite what patch service members may wear, if they’re at Little Rock, they’re in a brotherhood of airlifters that dates back to the early days of World War II.

The base event on March 16 will celebrate the shared heritage that’s the foundation of combat airlift.