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Happy Birthday 36th Wing and Andersen

  • Published
  • By Jeffrey N. Meyer
  • 36th Wing Historian
The first week of February is a special time for Andersen Air Force Base and the 36th Wing.

This year probably meant more than others because it was the 75th Anniversary of the 36th Pursuit Group (Interceptor) activation on February 1, 1940, and the 70th Anniversary of North Field, Guam's opening on Feb. 3, 1945.  As you can see those names don't exactly match up to our unit names today because things were just a little bit different over 70 years ago.

How different? Well, there wasn't a U.S. Air Force yet, so our birthday recipients were born or activated in the U.S. Army Air Corps, or in the case of North Field, the Army Air Forces.  The 36th Pursuit Group (Interceptor) was activated through a series of events after World War II began in Europe in 1939. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for 50,000 aircraft to be built a year, those aircraft, Airmen, and equipment needed to be organized into units.  Many of the current wings in the USAF today can trace their lineage back to Army air groups that fought in WWII.  Later, those same groups' lineage and honors earned during WWII were bestowed onto the wings, after the birth of the new Air Force on September 17, 1947.

Just before the liberation of Guam, the 36th Fighter Group flew its first combat mission on May 8, 1944, in the European theater.  They supported D-Day landings at Normandy in June 1944 and breakthrough at St. Lo, France in July 1944.  The unit acquired the nickname of the "Fightin' 36" while assisting Gen. George Patton's 3rd Army across Europe.  The unit also played a key role in the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944, and supported operations during airborne assault across the Rhine river in March 1945. Coincidently, the war in Europe ended exactly one year after the 36th's first combat mission on May 8, 1945. In those 364 days, the group flew 1,060 missions, 6,947 sorties, and moved airfields eight times. The Fightin' 36 also suffered 85 casualties: 48 missing in action, 25 killed in action, and 12 prisoners of war. In addition, the 36th laid claim to a great deal of battle damage including: 42 aircraft destroyed in the air, 250 aircraft destroyed on the ground, 262 armored vehicles, 420 locomotives, 2,868 railcars, 4,882 motor transports, 848 buildings, 309 gun emplacements, and 129 vessels.

Meanwhile on Guam, North Field was carved out of the jungle and limestone in an area known as Savana Grande, Yigo. The field was built out of necessity to strike the islands of Japan with the AAF's new B-29 Superfortress and to hopefully end the war as soon as possible.  North Field was the third of five B-29 combat airfields built. The next two were Isley Field, Saipan and North Field Tinian. The two after were West Field, Tinian and Northwest Field, Guam. The base wing at the time, 314th Bombardment Wing, would fly their first B-29 combat mission from North Field on February 25, 1945.  The 314 BW's subordinate units (19th, 29th, 39th, and 330th Bomb Groups) conducted 96 combat bombing missions over Japan.  There were daylight raids against strategic objectives, bombing aircraft factories, chemical plants, oil refineries and other targets. These units also participated in several incendiary raids on Tokyo and other Japanese cities. Immediately after the end of the war, the 314 BW aircraft also carried supplies to American prisoners of war.

After WWII, both the 36th Fighter Group and North Field, Guam went through many transfigurations. The 36th endured through many re-designations while being the "tip of the spear" at Bitburg Air Base, Germany, throughout the Cold War. Whereas North Field would change names many times until finally becoming Andersen AFB in 1949.  Andersen AFB continued to have an important mission as the only strategic bomber base in the Western Pacific during the Cold War. Plus, it fought another war flying B-52 Stratofortresses off those same  WW II runways for the duration of Operation Arc Light from 1965 to 1973. It must have been destiny to bring these two historic USAF units together in 1994. 

The 70th Birthday of Andersen AFB was commemorated during last year's Air Force Ball on September 13, 2014, called the "70th Liberation Day, The Dawn of Pacific Airpower on Guam" and the 36th Wing's birthday was celebrated during the Wing's Annual Awards Banquet on  Feb. 6, 2015. 

If interested in reading more about the history of the wing and the base please read the Andersen Heritage Pamphlet on the Andersen webpage:  http://www.andersen.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-140814-001.pdf.