Dedication of Air Commando Room

On 11 October the Air Commando Room at the Eglin Armament Museum was dedicated and B/Gen Norton Schwartz, 16 AF Commander, who gave a memorable dedication speech. His speech is as follows:


Today, as we celebrate the US Air Force's 50th Anniversary Year, we open a room dedicated to the thousands of Air Commandos--past, present, future--dominant in spirit, tenacious in battle, individualistic by nature--The "Quiet Professionals." This Air Commando Room will be your treasure chest. Walk through and you will find our past and our legacy.

Before I talk about the room and that legacy, let me acknowledge the hard work that made this room possible. To the Air Commando and Spectre Associations, General Manor and Aderholt, Mel Bean (Spectre), Charlie Jones (ACA), and Bill Johnson (ACA). All of you have a lot to be proud of today.

To Russ Sneddon, the Museum Director and his staff, particularly Cathy Claussen and all the "Behind the Scenes" People at Hurlburt and Eglin who assisted the Project--this was a true Hurlburt-Eglin-ACA-Spectre Team effort. There are two people, in particular, I must mention. Clay Mccutchan from the History Office at AFSOC Headquarters and Tom Brewer of the 16 SOW. Clay and Tom were the driving force behind this Project and today culminate four years of hard work. Clay and Tom--Job Well Done!

The Room we will dedicate today is about history. In today's fast-paced information age, we're so busy leaning forward and keeping up with the mass media that we often fail to reflect on our past. That's why this museum and this room are so important. And not because of the exhibits and hardware inside, or some dates on a wall, or pictures that hang, but because of the people all these things represent.

This room documents the priceless legacy of many Air Commandos--the freedom that many lives and hard sacrifice purchased for us. A museum is more than just collections--a museum contains the most precious possessions of a free people.

They extend for posterity our heroes and their stories--men like Colonels Philip Cochran and John Alsion, men like Generals Manor and Aderholt, and men like our five medal of honor recipients from the Vietnam War--all of whom have their stories displayed inside--Major Bernard Fisher, Lieutenant Colonels Joe Jackson and William Jones, Captain James Fleming, and Sergeant John Levitow. and Sergeant John Levitow.

The official history of the First Air Commandos is very limited. Probably because they adopted the ethic, "To hell with the paperwork, go out and fight!" But we do know that from the very beginning , men like Colonels Cochran and Alison showed their ingenuity--one of the traits of a true special operator. Cochran and Alison are our founding fathers, if you will--the George Washingtons of today's Air Force Special Operations Forces.

Using an array of aircraft from the L1 and L5 with their enlisted pilots, to the C-47 transport, to P-47 and P-51 fighters, and B-25 bombers. They built a self-sufficient, composite fighting force to support British Orde Wingate and the Chindits against the Japanese in China and Burma.

From those pioneers began a rich history that is unique in our Air Force and US military history--the history of the Air Commando,

Let me continue with an abbreviated storyline through our history...a history many of you here today scribed in the history books with your own sweat, commitment and courage.

The carpetbaggers--one of the first special operations missions using air assets took place in the European theater with the Office of Strategic Services and the British Intelligence Service. They employed B-24s to fly hundreds of low-level night paradrops behind enemy lines in France and Eastern Europe.

Korea--then Capt Heine Aderholt and the C-47s missions behind enemy lines like Operation Aviary. The men who flew with the 580th Air Resupply and Communications Wing.

Jungle Jim--starting with the Sandy Beach one mission, to Mali, West Africa and then to Southeast Asia. The 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron was created by General Curtis Lemay with men like Dick Secord, Al Russell, George Rosenstrom, and Carlos Christian. They were part of President Kennedy's vision to create an expanded cadre of special operators for the Jungle Jim mission--counterinsurgency.

The Ravens and the secret mission in Laos--Project 404 with Gaylord Hall, Chuck Keeler, Jim Lawrence, Walt Brigham, Jerry Rhein, Jerry Klingaman, and others. Vietnam also saw the leaflet dropping missions, the close air support missions, the first use of the AC-47 and later the AC-130 gunships.

Operation Farmgate from Bien Hoa with Charlie Jones, bill Conklin, Dean Crane, Charles Brown and others. Operation Waterpump where we worked with Laotian and Thai pilots and operation Ranch Hand.

You cannot mention our experience in Southeast Asia without mentioning the Son Tay raid. When they said a rescue of pows in North Vietnam couldn't be done, General Manor and his cadre of legends said it could. Together they organized and carried out a daring, almost perfect operation.

If the prisoners had been at Son Tay, their rescue would have been a monument in military history. And speaking of Don Tay, let me mention one footnote. Bob Gochnauer flew an A-1 on the raid. And while it's said that the A-1 was primarily a Navy aircraft, Bob logged more hours on the A-1 than anyone in anybody's service, or anybody's air force for that matter.

And let us not forget some of our heroes who haven't returned like MIA Andre Guilette, whose sister, Doris Maitland, is here with us today. And there are others from all walks of life; from Airman First Class to Colonel, who remain missing. God Bless them and their families.

After the war, the tradition continued. The Mayaguez operation off the coast of Cambodia--no one can ever question the heroics of the aircrews involved in that recovery and rescue effort. Then in 1980, Desert One and Operation Rice Bowl. And even when things didn't go as planned, it was the innovation and initiative of Special Operators like John Carney and others who had the "guts to try."

In 1983, Urgent Fury with our present commander. Maj Gen Jim Hobson led the way with Hurlburt MC130s and AC130s, rescuing US citizens in Grenada.

Panama, Desert Storm, Turkey, Bosnia, Haiti, Liberia--Air Force Special Operations Forces have been engaged in operations in hostile or combat environments in nearly every single year since 1975.

Each era in Air Commando history: from World War II to the Korean combat resupply missions, from the myriad of air operations supported during Vietnam to the present high-ops tempo of the post-cold-war--every era supports a core theme: The Air Commando Spirit--the high standards of innovation, ingenuity, courage and resourcefulness we still, today, cultivate and measure in our people.

This room we dedicate today will tell that story. the story of America's unconventional aviation warriors who fought and sometimes died in little know locations around the globe. And I hope, with your support, that it will forever be a source of information about Air Commandos. That it will be a place to learn about the Son Tay raid of Nov 21, 1970. A place to learn about our gallant efforts at Desert One, about Spirit 03--our gunships that went down in battle--and all the other contingencies where Hurlburt airmen have gone in harm's way to support American policy.

Let me leave you with this thought: a museum is history. And history teaches us that each generation has to stand guard to assure our birthright of liberty, individual freedom, and human dignity. We all must remember that, a nation, a service, or a community, that forgets the sacrifices of its heroes, risks its very existence.

A museum is people...the one aspect of military service that is unchanging. General Patton told his son on the eve of D-Day, June 6, 1944, "to be a successful soldier, you must know history. Read it objectively--what you must know is how man reacts. Weapons change, but man, who uses them, changes not at all."

More than most professions, the military is forced to depend upon the interpretation of the past for signposts charting the future. Our forbearers, the Manors and the Aderholts, understand that the first step to understanding our role was understanding who we are, where our shared values comes from, what motivates us to excel, and how we connect generation to generation. That's why this museum and this room are so important.

I know I couldn't mention every Air Commando who contributed to making what we have here so special and I apologize if I failed to acknowledge anyone. But let me say this: Today when you look at the Eglin Armament Museum's newest attraction, I ask all of you to find some time to pause and be thankful for all the people this new exhibit documents--be thankful for the Air Commando Veterans--those who fought for America and those who died for it and all the "Quiet Heroes"--The "Quiet Professionals who sustained and cherished this great nation and who continue to do America's business, "Anytime, Anyplace."

Finally, I would like to thank General Cranston and Team Eglin for being gracious host's and including our heritage in Eglin's superb Armament Museum. Thank you.

The Air Force Armament Museum is the only museum in the world dedicated to the collection, preservation, and exhibition of the artifacts and memorabilia associated with the Air Force armament and its platforms of delivery. It now also houses the Air Commando Room dedicated to the men who served in Air Commando and Special Operation units from 1943 to the present. It is located outside of Eglin AFB, FL(near Fort Walton Beach, FL). Telephone is 904-882-4063 tours and gift shop 904-651-5253.

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Gene Rossel
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