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51st Fighter Wing history

Original emblem of the 51st Fighter Inteceptor Wing.

Original emblem of the 51st Fighter Inteceptor Wing.

P-40 aircraft on the line during World War II.

P-40 aircraft on the line during World War II.

A crew chief with an F-86.

A crew chief with an F-86.

F-80 ground crew at Kimpo.

F-80 ground crew at Kimpo.

Loading bombs on an F-86.

Loading bombs on an F-86.

Col. "Gabby" Gabreski's F-86.

Col. "Gabby" Gabreski's F-86.

F-4s over Osan AB in 1984.

F-4s over Osan AB in 1984.

A-10 taxiing on Osan flightline.

A-10 taxiing on Osan flightline.

F-86 deployed to Taiwan.

F-86 deployed to Taiwan.

Three F-16s in flight.
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Three F-16s in flight.

P-51 aircraft in flight.
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P-51 aircraft in flight.

The 51st Fighter Wing has an illustrious record in both combat and peace. Through a bestowal of honors, the 51st FW traces its legacy to the Jan. 15, 1941 activation of the 51st Pursuit Group (later Fighter Group) at Hamilton Field, Sacramento, Calif. One of the first fighter groups to enter action in World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the 51st FG deployed to India and China where it served with distinction in more than three years of combat against Japanese forces. Briefly inactivated after WW II, the 51st FG activated at Naha Air Force Base, Okinawa, on Oct. 15, 1946, under the 301st FW. The 301st had a post-war mission to defend the Ryukyu Islands against air attack.

Today's 51st FW activated on Aug. 18, 1948 at Naha AFB and absorbed the resources of the 301st FW, to include the 51st FG. The 51st FW became a "fighter-interceptor" wing in 1950. It entered combat service in the Korean War on Sept. 22 of that year, when it moved to Itazuke AB, Japan, to support the breakout of the U.S. Eighth Army from the Pusan Perimeter. For nearly four years thereafter, the 51st FIW played a key role in the defense of South Korea despite moving to four different locations within a year and operating under austere conditions. The 51st FIW's war record was impressive. Wing pilots flew more than 45,000 sorties and shot down 312 MiG-15s; this produced 14 air aces including the top ace of the war, Capt. Joseph McConnell. The ratio of aerial victories to losses was 14 to 1. Unfortunately, the wing lost 32 pilots to enemy action; however, nine that became prisoners of war were repatriated later.

On Aug. 1, 1954, the 51st FIW returned to Naha AB to resume air defense coverage of the Ryukyu Islands. At the same time, the wing demonstrated its mobility readiness in response to three regional crises. From August 1958 to January 1959, the 51st FIW deployed eight F-86Ds to Taiwan to fly combat air support missions for Nationalist Chinese forces after mainland Communist Chinese forces shelled the Nationalist-held islands of Quemoy and Matsu. Six years later, the wing deployed 12 F-102s to the Philippines and South Vietnam from August to October 1964 for air defense against possible Communist North Vietnamese air attacks. Finally, on Jan. 23, 1968, North Korean naval forces seized the USS Pueblo. From January to February 1968, the 51st dispatched 12 F-102s to Suwon AB, South Korea. The 51st FIW ended almost 17 years of service in the Pacific from Naha when it inactivated on May 31, 1971.

Redesignated and activated as the 51st Air Base Wing on Nov. 1, 1971, the 51st assumed the host responsibilities of the inactivated 6314th Support Wing at Osan AB, to include the Koon-ni range and a variety of remote sites. In the first of many changes in name and combat capability over the next 20 years, the 51st ABW became the 51st Composite Wing (Tactical) on Sept. 30, 1974, when an F-4E fighter squadron and OV-10 tactical air support squadron were assigned. The defining changes of these decades included the addition of a squadron of A-10s on Jan. 1, 1982, then based at Suwon AB; the transition from the F-4E to the F-16 in August 1988; and the assignment of a flight of turboprop C-12Js in August 1992.

On Oct. 1, 1993, after a half-dozen name changes, the wing returned to its original and current designation as the 51st Fighter Wing. Since then, the 51st has stayed true to its proud heritage, ensuring the defense of South Korea as a proven combat force and as an able host ready to receive and integrate follow-on forces on the peninsula.