18th Wing, Kadena commemorate Korean War

  • Published
  • By Stephen Ove
  • 18th Wing History Office
On June 25th, members of the 18th Wing at Kadena may reflect on the service of their predecessors in the Korean War.

From July 1950 to the ceasefire in July 1953, members of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group and their colleagues in the 20th Air Force at Kadena AB fought ceaselessly and valiantly in the face of overwhelming odds to turn back aggression and return peace to the Korean peninsula.

The 18th Fighter-Bomber Group and its 12th and 67th Fighter Squadrons have a proud legacy in the Korean War. Their forward presence in the Philippines improved their ability to respond to the new conflict arising in Asia. While infantry and armored divisions struggled to mobilize their forces in the continental United States, the 18th cut its response timeline to one month from the invasion, deploying through Japan to Taegu Air Base on the Korean peninsula by July 28, 1950.

Deployed as an operations group with the South African Air Force's No. 2 Squadron, the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group launched sortie after sortie to interdict the flow of the invading North Korean's Army's personnel and equipment in their thunderous march south to conquer the Republic of Korea.

With friendly Republic of Korea and United Nations forces then ill-equipped and outnumbered in the Korean theater of operations, airpower provided the combat advantage for the United Nations troops who soon found themselves trapped in the tiny Pusan Perimeter in southeast Korea. Through their speed in deploying to the battlefield and intrepidity in adapting to it, theater commanders continually recognized 18th Fighter-Bomber Group for their ability to influence the outcome of this predicament in a war that could not have been won on the ground alone.

In all, the 18th Operations Group garnered 10 battle honors for their effort, including two Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citations and two more Distinguished Unit Citations.

However, the unit received the most notoriety as "Truckbusters" for their ability to wipe out more than 2,400 enemy military and support vehicles in the conflict. For their three years of tireless service in both North and South Korea, most famously at Pusan East Air Base--known locally as "Dogpatch"--the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing gained forever the title "The Truckbusters from Dogpatch."

Two things more than any other made the difference in defeating North Korean aggression, and both remain key to the mission of the 18th Wing today.

"Providing Unmatched Combat Power" for the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing in Korea relied upon the superior Airmanship of its operators at skill sets as varied as armed reconnaissance, strategic bombing, close air support, aerial combat and interdiction.

Bringing the fight to North Korea required adaptation to battlefield conditions, enemy capabilities, climactic extremes and a "Fight until you Prevail" attitude personified by their Fighting Cock emblem.

The Airmen who went into combat from the 18th also brought with them unparalleled experience fighting in WWII. Leveraging their hard-earned lessons, many Fighting Cocks achieved great success, even with outmoded equipment. Just one month into his deployment, Maj. Louis Sebille, the commander of the 67th Fighter Squadron, became the first Air Force Medal of Honor recipient in the Korean War when he sacrificed his F-51 and his life to destroy an enemy armored column. Even after upgrading to the jet age with the F-86 Sabre, other 67th Fighter Squadron greats, such as Maj. James Hagerstrom, also rose to the challenge in Korea. Hagerstrom, already a commanding figure from his WWII bravery, scored another 8 and a half enemy kills, joining the elite group of seven two-war aces in Air Force history.

The ability of Kadena Air Base to provide a "Forward Power Projection Platform" to respond to crises in the Asia-Pacific region served as the second key factor in the United Nations' ability to achieve success in the Korean War. For Kadena Airmen, this remains a sacred trust today.

The 20th Air Force, then the command responsible for Kadena, redeployed its fleet of B-29 Stratofortress bombers from the 19th Bombardment Group in Guam within hours of the United Nations decision to intervene. With only six words, "Stand by to move up immediately," the 19th concluded its redeployment from an ORI in Okinawa, and pivoted to return and take the fight north.

Kadena's ability to beddown the only available unit of B-29s at Kadena brought with it improved capability; devastatingly effective bomb loads hundreds of miles closer to the aggressors in Korea. Kadena Airmen's ability to generate and support these missions made a world of difference in delivering responsive Airpower in support of the United Nations ground operations, and helping write with it the legacy of a free Korean people.