Deployed Nellis Airman honors Tuskegee Airmen

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Craig Lifton
  • 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
High over Germany, a B-17 Flying Fortress by the name of 'Round TWIP Wabbit & Thumper' moves into position on its potential bombing targets. Army Air Corps Flight Officer Gordon Hay Jr. is in the cockpit and with him is a small pack of maps, guides to avoid capture, and even local-language phrase books in case he has to bail out over enemy territory. Made of silk, the maps are carried by all aircrews. In fact, Hay carried them for more than 25 missions while flying with the 524th Squadron, 379th Bombardment Group (Heavy), "The Grand Slam Group", 8th Air Force, out of England during World War II between 1944 and 1946. During this time, the 332nd Fighter Group, the famous Tuskegee Airmen, were flying missions out of Italy.

For more than half a century, the silks gathered dust in an old foot locker in a suburb of Chicago and were passed down from father to daughter as a memento. In the meantime, the U.S. Air Force was formed. The Cold War started and ended and the rise of the current terrorist threat, gave way to combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then, recently, the daughter of Hay, Meredith Hay Kelly of Lyons, Ill., corresponded with a member of the current-day Tuskegee Airmen, Master Sgt. Howard Fulk, a vehicle operations supervisor with the 332nd Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron. Fulk who is deployed from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., volunteered to help Kelly have the silk maps fly one more combat mission.

"These silk maps come from a time when flying more than 25 missions was almost unthinkable," said Fulk from Bayard W. Va. "Now, we can launch missions from thousands of miles away and return safely."

Fulk contacted members of the 332nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron and asked if they could support carrying the World War II maps on one of their F-16 Fighting Falcons. This request was answered by the squadron commander, who said he would fly the maps himself in his cockpit while he flew a combat air patrol over Iraq.

Early morning on Feb. 7, more than 63 years after the last combat mission flown by Hay, an F-16 was prepared for combat.

"As you know the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing and the 332nd EFS have a proud lineage," said Lt. Col Smith, 332nd EFS commander, during the aircrew briefing. "We want to keep up the tradition."

Smith, an Air Force Reservist from Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., opened the packet, with the map, and examined its contests. He pointed out the quality of the cloth map of 1940s-Germany.

"The crew of the 'Round TWIP Wabbit & Thumper' were part of the greatest generation," said Smith, a Miami native. "Hopefully history repeats itself and it will be our legacy to help Iraq establish democracy."

"There are not enough words or emotions to begin to tell you how honored I am that this wonderful event took place in honor of my dad," said Kelly, wrote in an email on Feb. 9. "Knowing that his silks were flying again to protect our freedom & liberty, and to help those oppressed in Iraq, makes me very proud and very humble."