Salutes & Awards

November 22, 2013

Thunderbirds honor fallen pilot with dedication of restored F-105 replica

Tags:
Tech. Sgt. Jake Richmond
U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Public Affairs

From left: Bill Devlin, Rick Dale, Mark Devlin, Shirley Buckley, and Bill Devlin. Buckley and her sons were the guests of honor at a ceremony Nov. 15 to dedicate an F-105 “Thunderchief” replica in front of the Thunderbirds hangar. Buckley’s late husband, Capt. Gene Devlin, was killed in an F-105 accident in 1964, and the 39-year-old memorial display was recently reconditioned at “Rick’s Restorations” in Las Vegas.

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — It endured a dozen Las Vegas summers and as many cold, dry winters. One hundred and fifty-plus months of gusty desert wind and never-ending desert dust. It had a purpose of the highest order, but for almost 13 years, it sat unnoticed in a remote area of base property.

Its wait is finally over. The one-twelfth-scale F-105 “Thunderchief” replica, along with its cherished memorial plaque, was officially dedicated Nov. 15 in its new location in front of the Thunderbirds hangar. Hundreds of active and former team members attended the ceremony, which honored one of their fallen comrades.

The display bears the name of Capt. Gene Devlin, a Thunderbirds pilot who lost his life in 1964, when his F-105 exploded in the skies over Hamilton AFB, Calif. About 10 years later, the red, white and blue Thunderchief model was placed on a matching, diagonal 17-foot post at Nellis’ front gate.

The 600-pound structure was removed in 1999 to accommodate the realigning of base access roads. It was later replaced by a four-jet F-16 formation display, which is still mounted near the base visitors’ center. Meanwhile, the F-105 replica was set aside near an old bunker, and with the frequent turnover of Thunderbirds members, it was forgotten.

Then, in the summer of 2012, a strange call came from the RED HORSE civil engineer squadron. They had found an old Thunderbirds-painted model, and they didn’t know what to do with it.

Tech. Sgt. Anthony Graham, a former Thunderbirds maintenance professional, went to take a look.

“I had no idea what it was,” Graham said. “I looked at it again, and I saw Captain Devlin’s name on it…and it had the memorial on it.”

The plaque that accompanied the model and its pillar was inscribed with words familiar to Thunderbirds past and present: “In the honor of Captain Gene Devlin, who lost his life on May 9, 1964, while serving his country as a U.S. Air Force Thunderbird. This memorial is dedicated to all whose common bond is uncommon devotion to duty.”

Almost 50 years later, as a tribute to Devlin’s sacrifice, the squadron’s orientation for new members still includes mandatory memorization of those words. Graham had no idea the words had ever appeared anywhere outside the newcomers’ training booklet, until he saw them on the memorial plaque.

“It took my breath. It honestly did,” Graham said. “(I thought) why is it here? (And) how long is it going to sit here before we do something about it?”

It wasn’t long before Graham remembered that one of the country’s most prominent antique restorers did business less than 10 miles away from Nellis. Several phone calls later, Graham had an agreement from Rick Dale — star of History Channel’s “American Restoration” — to give the model jet a much-needed makeover.

The Thunderbirds Alumni Association fronted the $10,000 cost of the restoration, and the entire project was featured in an episode of the national television program in November 2012. The official dedication ceremony was put on hold for a year to accommodate the 2013 TBAA reunion, which celebrated the Thunderbirds 60th anniversary year.

Devlin’s widow, Shirley Buckley, and their three sons were the guests of honor at the ceremony. Mark Devlin, who was two years old in 1964, doesn’t remember his father at all. For him, the legacy of the F-105 model is an importance piece of his pieced-together image of his dad.

“The level of respect even the new team members have for my father and all the ones who flew before them is just so impressive,” Mark Devlin said. “I’ve always been extremely proud of my dad. This just kind of cements everything.”




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


 
 

 
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kiuta B. Ika

Dempsey takes reins of NTTR

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kiuta B. Ika Maj. Gen. Jay Silveria, U.S. Air Force Warfare Center commander, passes the Nevada Test and Training Range guidon to the new NTTR commander, Col. Thomas E. Dempsey III, during a c...
 
 
feature5

Looking back: Commander’s tour at 99th ABW ends

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Kleinholz Col. Barry Cornish, 99th Air Base Wing commander, engages in an on-camera interview with local news media during a tour of Tule Springs fossil beds in Las Vegas Nov. 18,...
 
 
U.S. Air Force photo by Jim Varhegyi

Freedom, fortitude, sacrifice: CMSAF commemorates fallen

U.S. Air Force photo by Jim Varhegyi From right, Air Force Sergeant’s Association International President retired Chief Master Sgt. Daniel Yeomans, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody and Air Force Association Pr...
 

 
retreat2

Nellis closes National Police Week with formal retreat

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Tam Maj. Richard Martin, 99th Security Forces Squadron commander, speaks to military members and civilians at Freedom Park during a final guard mount and formal retreat ceremony...
 
 

799th SFS, local law enforcement gather to recognize Police Week

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class C.C. Nevada highway patrol officer Jineal Jack hands a Police Week flyer to an Airman passing through the gates of Creech Air Force Base, Nev., May 12. Police Week is a nation-wide event proclaimed by the president of the United States during the week of May 15...
 
 
Courtesy photograph

Nellis Airman garners 2013 Sijan Award

Courtesy photograph Senior Master Sgt. David DeLoney, 820th RED HORSE readiness and emergency management superintendent, poses for a photo at an undisclosed location. DeLoney earned the 2013 U.S. Air Force Lance P. Sijan Leader...
 




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