by Bob Alvis, special to Aerotech News
There was once a public service announcement that ran on television many years ago, featuring a Native American (portrayed by Iron Eyes Cody) who shed a single, poignant tear as he looked at litter tossed along an American highway.
Sadly, we still see that after all these years, we are not doing much better when it comes to how we embrace the upkeep of not only our country’s natural resources, but of the many items that make up our landscape of American Pride.
This past weekend, as I went to look for some of that American pride in honor of the victims of 9/11, one of my stops had me feeling much like Iron Eyes from years ago. I discovered that a point of pride for all those who served at Victorville Army Airfield/George Air Force Base had been visited by a thief of pride. This nameless individual put self over others by defacing the symbol of honorable service rendered by thousands of men and women — generations who took pride in service to country by keeping those old warbirds in the air, back in the day when they were our front line of defense and the “tip of the spear.”
Many would attribute this to a changing culture where we would just look the other way and say, “It’s just an old plane and who really cares anymore?” These vintage display aircraft symbolize military service of old, and that history doesn’t really mean a thing to the generation that, for all intents and purposes, is not being taught the history, or just doesn’t care about these relics from the past and what they represent.
An old F-4 on display honors the service of many: the men and women, the ground crews, the support staff, the pilots, the weapons officers. For many years they were a part of this old bird’s story and history. It doesn’t have a soul or a heartbeat, but it does have something that made it live: it had us. It can’t feel the pain of what we see here, but we do, and we just shake our heads and wonder why.
When somebody retires, many times at a retirement party people share that person’s story to give those not “in the know” a bit of history, as to why that person is worthy of admiration. This old war bird needs a person to stand up on its behalf and share its story and show why it needs to be respected. So let me take the podium for a few minutes and share the story of what one old F-4 on a pedestal did, while America went about its daily chores. Its story is in its assignments and when all is said and done, how can we not respect its journey and the thousands of hands that went along for the ride or kept it in the air?
The history of the McDonnell Douglas F-4C Phantom II 63-7519 — its assignments from delivery to display:
- June 1964-July 1964: 15th Tactical Fighter Wing, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.
- July 1964-Sept. 1964: 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, George AFB, Calif.
- Sept. 1964-Oct. 1964: 15th Tactical Fighter Wing, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.
- Oct. 1964-July 1965: 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, George AFB, Calif.
- July 1965-Aug. 1965: Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards AFB, Calif.
- Aug. 1965-Sept. 1965: 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, George AFB, Calif.
- Sept. 1965-Feb. 1966: Combat Crew Training Wing, Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz.
- Feb. 1966: 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, George AFB, Calif.
- Feb. 1966: 479th TFW, George AFB, Calif.
- March 1966-Oct. 1966: 366th TFW, Phan Rang AB, South Vietnam
- Oct. 1966-Sept. 1967: 366th TFW, Da Nang AB, South Vietnam
- Sept. 1967-April 1968: Camn Rahn Bay AB, South Vietnam
- April 1968-Dec. 1969: 347th TFW, Yokota AB, Japan
- Dec. 1969-Oct. 1971: 479th TFW, George AFB, Calif.
- Oct. 1971-Feb. 1972: 35th TFW, George AFB, Calif.
- Feb. 1972-July 1982: 58th TFW, Luke AFB, Ariz.
- July 1982-March 1983: MD Tulsa, Okla.
- March 1983-July 1986: TFG, March AFB, Calif.
- July 1986: Battle Damage Trainer, George AFB, Calif.
- Oct. 1989: Display, George AFB, Calif.
- Nov. 2016: Restored, displayed, George AFB, Calif.
Respect! Respect for an old warbird that did more for its crews and pilots then we as a nation could ever have hoped for. If this were a human, it would have been put out to pasture many years before it ended up as yard art in honor of the thousands that made it live and breathe in peace time and in war.
Sadly, I don’t know what it will take to halt a spray can intent on defacing a memorial as, I’m sure, the perpetrators could care less about an old man with tears in his eyes who sees this old bird as a reminder of those heroes who gave years of living (and some, their lives) to say to America, ‘This is my gift to you and all the freedoms you enjoy. I will not get these days back on my death bed but for you and your children it’s a price we are willing to pay.’
It’s “just an old war bird,” but by God, old 63-7519 deserves better. I will say that thanks to volunteers, the attempt to keep the old girl relevant will carry on in a society that can never grasp what an amazing story of perseverance and service to country looks like, when it comes to a silent bird that carries the voices of past generations and shares them with the winds of the High Desert.
George Air Force Base, 1975-1979: Proud of my part in keeping the mission going, as that old three-stripe buck sergeant who loved those old F-4’s.
Until next time, Bob out …