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Historic relic preserves a legacy

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Anthony Jennings
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
Andersen's historic Arc Light Memorial continues to preserve a legacy of the base and the Airmen who served in the Pacific.

The memorial, a B-52D Stratofortress static display, was dedicated in honor of 75 crew members killed during the Arc Light Operations from June 1965 to August 1973, while flying B-52s during the Vietnam War. The memorial was dedicated on Feb. 14, 1974, precisely one year after the first prisoners of war were released from Vietnam.

"Due to the display aircraft's current condition, the 36th Wing and the National Museum of the United States Air Force (NMUSAF) have been looking into several options to keep the Arc Light Memorial a valuable part of the U.S. Air Force history for future generations," said Jeff Meyer, 36th Wing historian.

The current B-52 display isn't actually the original. The aircraft, with the tail number 55-0100, was affectionately given the moniker "Old 100." It flew more than 5,000 hours in the Vietnam War, to include its final combat mission on Dec. 29, 1972, when it was one of the three final B-52 aircraft to bomb North Vietnam as part of Operation Linebacker II.

"Rather than turn the aircraft over to the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center after the War," said Meyer. "Approval was obtained to retain the bomber at Andersen as a memorial."

Ten years later, civil engineers and maintenance personnel rendered the aircraft unsafe after discovering the salty air and damp climate of Guam had corroded "Old 100" severely. The decision was made to replace the aircraft on display.
At that time, as the Air Force was converting the 43rd Strategic Bomber Wing at Andersen from B-52Ds to the G model, an aircraft with the tail number 56-0586 was chosen to replace "Old 100" and its tail number was re-designated as 55-100 by the NMUSAF.

The history of aircraft 56-0586 is just as intriguing as its predecessor.

Built in Seattle, in April 1957, and delivered to the U.S. Air Force June 28 of the same year, the 54-year-old aircraft deployed to Guam repeatedly between 1966 and 1973. It has the distinction of being the last B-52D to retire from active-duty service in the Air Force.
"An interesting fact is a large part of the original 'Old 100' still remains on base," Meyer said. "Just off the road, the battered tail section of the aircraft has managed to survive to this day."
After being replaced, "Old 100" was moved to the west side of the airfield and earmarked for destruction under the Strategic Arms Limitation Agreement. It was subsequently dismantled by July 16, 1986, however, Typhoon Roy, scattered "Old 100's" fuselage into the jungle Jan. 12, 1988, with the tail section coming to rest in its present location. Encroaching jungle concealed the aircraft until Dec. 17, 1997, when Typhoon Paka uncovered the tail and assorted debris.

To this day, Airmen and their families can see a small piece of history preserved and surrounded by history in the making.

The care and compassion for three generations of this aircraft speaks to the importance of its history. Although the shell on display of "Old 100" continues to battle the elements and mother nature, the legacy this aircraft has carried will never fade.