A war that claimed the lives of more than 50,000 Americans as well as millions of Koreans and Chinese came to an end 61 years ago today.
The conflict left North and South Korea divided at the 38th Parallel, where the two nations remain in a de facto state of war to this day as thousands of troops – including more than 30,000 Americans – line both sides of the demilitarized zone.
The Korean War is often called “The Forgotten War,” but that should never be the case. Though the war ended in stalemate, when the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, it marked the conclusion of another period of noble and heroic service for the U.S. military.
Among the returning veterans were Airmen from the newly formed Wisconsin Air National Guard, born only three years before the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1947.
The story of the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s call-up during the Korean War begins with the formation of the 126th Fighter Squadron, the 126th Utility Flight, Weather Station, the 128th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron, and Detachment A, 228th Service Group, all of which were based out of Milwaukee.
At the time, the fighter group was made up of P-51 Mustangs – the same aircraft that proved so vital to the American war effort in World War II. Eventually, the Wisconsin Air National Guard had 22 of the aircraft and another unit – the 176th Fighter Squadron in Madison. Soon the fighter groups would be reorganized into the 128th Fighter Wing and switch to the F-80 “Shooting Star.”
After North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950, the newly minted Wisconsin Air National Guard was thrust into a 21-month tour in support of the operation, as the 128th Fighter Wing and the 128th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron were federalized. About 14 months into the 128th’s call-up, it converted to the F-89A “Scorpion.”
Pilots from the 128th Fighter Group were sent to Korea, while others served stateside at places like Truax Field in Madison. The 128th Fighter Wing and the 128th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron remained on active duty in federal status until December 1952 and June 1953, respectively.
One of the pilots sent to Korea was 1st Lt. Jerome Volk, who was sent on a strafing mission against communist Chinese forces in North Korea on the afternoon of Nov. 7, 1951. About two hours after departing the U.S. Air Force Base at Suwon, South Korea, Volk reported that his fuel tanks were not working properly and that he would return for repairs. Shortly thereafter, the napalm bomb on his right wing was damaged, spraying napalm everywhere. Eventually, the entire tail section of his F-80 Shooting Star came off, sending it toward the earth at 200 mph.
Volk became the first Wisconsin Air National Guard pilot killed in combat.
Today, the legacy of those early Wisconsin Air Guardsmen lives on in the Milwaukee-based 128th Air Refueling Wing, the Madison-based 115th Fighter Wing, and the 128th Air Control Squadron at Volk Field in Camp Douglas, where the base bears the name of the first Wisconsin Airmen killed in combat.