The 355th Fighter Group Association Reunion was held here May 1-5.
The 355th FGA consists of any member assigned to the 355th Fighter Group or Wing from 1942 to present.
Members of the group began the reunion by experiencing a flight in the A-10 Thunderbolt simulator at the 355th Operations Group Thursday.
U.S. Air Force retired 1st Lt. William Lyons, former 355th FG P-51 Mustang pilot, described that the simulator awakened sensations inside him that are only felt while piloting an aircraft.
“I enjoyed it very much,” Lyons said. “I couldn’t understand how I could feel each maneuver I went through. I realized that the images that were on the screen were going into my head and were reacting somehow within my brain to make me think that I was climbing, diving or turning. I felt them physically in the same way I would a real plane, and that, to me, was exciting.”
Later that day, the 355th FGA gathered at the Mirage Club to share stories of Air Force heritage with D-M’s Airmen.
Lyons was the first to speak during the presentation. He shared the experience of his most well-known aerial victory over an ME-109 German aircraft during World War II.
D-M Airmen were also in the presence of two former prisoners of war, who are also members of the 355th FGA.
Retired Col. Thomas Kirk, former commander of the 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron and retired Col. Dewey Waddell, former commander of the 354th TFS, both F-105 pilots and both out of Takhli Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, were shot down within months of each other in Northern Vietnam during the Vietnam War in 1967.
Kirk described the events leading up to being captured by the Vietnamese.
“We were bombing downtown Hanoi,” Kirk said. “We came up at 7:30 in the morning. I’m going down the bomb run, hustling like mad and all of a sudden this tremendous explosion comes from the back of the airplane. I look up and the fire warning light is on, but I was able to drop my bombs, pull off and make it 27 miles before the flight controls stopped working and I had to jump out. And that began my five and a half years as a POW.”
Waddell followed up with his accounts of life as a POW.
“We learned to use porcelain cups against the wall to throw our voices into the back of them,” Waddell said. “The guy on the other side in the next cell would have the cup turned the other way. We used it like a telephone and it could be almost as clear as one through 12 or 13 inches of brick wall. That was one of the main things we were prohibited from doing. Needless to say, if you prohibit an American, he’s going to prove he’ll do it come hell or high water.”
Waddell, Lyons and Kirk shared a common goal during their presentation. It was to make it clear to Airmen that whatever job they have in the Air Force, it is equally important as any other.
“The Air Force operation is a team effort,” Waddell said. “It takes everybody from the pilot who is visible, to the maintainers behind the scenes and from the people who keep records and take photos. The operation would not be successful without everybody involved.”
Lyons elaborated on the importance of the Air Force’s mission.
“The job that each person does in the Air Force is probably the most worthwhile job they can have,” Lyons said. “You’ve got a purpose, and it’s a noble purpose. I wish I stayed in. I think it was one of the best times of my life because I felt that I was doing something very worthwhile. I think that what you [Airmen] are doing, is the best job in the world.”
Kirk ended the presentation with one last message to D-M’s Airmen.
“At every talk, I tell everyone this,” Kirk said. When you wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and ask yourself, ‘How am I doing?’ If you like the answer to that question, you are wonderful. No matter your age, no matter how you’re doing, try to do a little bit better every single day.”