Commentary

October 5, 2012

Forty aces credited to 56th

The Air Force Historical Research Agency recently credited Capt. Eugene O’Neill Jr. with his fifth victory during World War II, making him the 40th ace of the 56th Fighter Wing.

As I learned of this major milestone in our wing’s history, I couldn’t help but think back on one of the most rewarding experiences of my Air Force career when I met one of those 40 aces, retired Col. Billy Edens. The stories of these two heroes are inspirational for Thunderbolts today and remind us of our proud legacy of courage and sacrifice.

The 56th FW traces its history back to the 56th Pursuit Group activated in 1941 and re-designated the 56th Fighter Group in 1942. O’Neill flew 87 combat sorties during World War II in the 56th FG’s 62nd Fighter Squadron. On one mission Nov. 26, 1943, he earned two of his five kills while leading a formation of P-47s. During the sortie, O’Neill’s flight completed a rendezvous to escort a formation of withdrawing U.S. bombers from Germany. A furious aerial battle ensued during which O’Neill destroyed one of the enemy planes, pressing his attack so close that pieces of the disintegrating plane damaged his own aircraft knocking off a portion of the wing tip and damaging the tail assembly. In spite of this, O’Neill, thinking only of the safety of the bombers, attacked and destroyed another enemy fighter that was vigorously attacking a straggling bomber. The bomber survived, the withdrawal was successful and he was awarded the Silver Star for his actions.

Later on in the war, then 2nd Lt. Billy Edens became an ace with seven aerial victories while flying with the 56th FG out of Boxted, England. I had the pleasure of meeting Edens in 2010 and hearing his amazing stories first hand. At age 87, the colonel brought history to life as he recounted tales of sacrifice and triumph during the war. In addition to being an ace, Edens piloted four aircraft that went down during the war. Amazing survival and evasion stories followed each of those losses. During his second combat mission, he was shot down by enemy anti-aircraft artillery, bailed out and spent six hours in the North Sea. Despite severe hypothermia, he was airborne a few weeks later, scoring his first kills of the war. During what would be his last combat mission of World War II, Edens was captured and spent 10 months as a prisoner of war in Barth, Germany. While a POW, Edens continually found small ways to resist.

“The more I did to resist, the more guards the enemy had to keep at the camp and the less troops they could send to the front,” he said.

His fighting spirit never faded, no matter how bleak his circumstances appeared.

O’Neill and Edens are just two of the thousands of veterans who were willing to go to any length to protect America and its allies. One of the things that struck me after my encounter with Edens was how thankful he was for the opportunity to tell his story. I asked him why on earth he should thank me when he was the one inspiring me.

He replied, “It’s nice to know that someone cares.”

Here at Luke, due to our large retiree population, we have a disproportionate number of opportunities to meet our combat veterans during informal encounters and official events. I encourage all Thunderbolts to take a moment to engage a veteran in conversation the next time you are at the clinic, in line at the commissary, or sitting in the food court at lunch. Seek out events, such as Retiree Appreciation Day, that honor our veterans and get involved. Show a veteran your thanks for what they did for our country, and you just may be inspired along the way.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
Courtesy photo

EOD called out for expertise

Courtesy photo The 56th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal team recovers military ordnance July 4 from the rubble of a burnt down building at an auto repair facility in Phoenix. The Luke EOD team recovered nume...
 
 

Strong followers challenge authority

It’s not surprising that when I tell subordinates to challenge authority, I often get a look of confusion. Admittedly, this is a step used to provoke thought. Obviously, we don’t need subordinates undermining their leader’s authority. My intent is not to create insubordination — it is to underscore the importance of strong followership. Great leaders...
 
 

Travel access, opportunities not to be ignored

Possibly one of the greatest and overlooked gifts we have in the military is our ability to travel. More often than not, we are stationed at bases around the world where we have the access and opportunity to travel and see the local sites. However, it happens way too often that we ignore those opportunities....
 

 
Staff Sgt. Darlene Seltmann

Thunderbolt joins elite Thunderbirds

Staff Sgt. Darlene Seltmann 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs photojournalist, took this photo March 15 during Luke Air Force Base’s Open House and Air Show. She had no idea at the time that just a few months later she would b...
 
 

News Briefs July 25, 2014

Wanted: Airmen selfie videos The Air Force wants to hear from Airmen with unique stories about what led them to the Air Force, who are proud of their job and how it impacts the Air Force mission, or work in an exceptional unit. The 2014 American Airman Video Contest is open to all Airmen who...
 
 

Thunderbolt of the Week

Airman 1st Class Anna Valdez 56th Contracting Squadron Contracting specialist Hometown: Moscow Years in service: One Family: Husband, Phil; mother, Natalia; and father, Oleg Education: Russian State University of Trade and Economics bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics Inspirations: My parents demonstrated excellence and success in a loving environment, taught me to never give up...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


Directory powered by Business Directory Plugin