This week in history – January 15, 2016

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Jan. 15, 1940: Groups activate at Luke

Seventy-five years ago today two of the current groups in the 56th Fighter Wing activated for the first time.

Today they are the 56th Operations Group at Luke Air Force Base and the 54th Fighter Group at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. The next day, another group activated for the first time, the 58th Fighter Group. All three were constituted on the same day, Nov. 20, 1940, as pursuit groups (interceptor). On May 15, 1942, all three became fighter groups.

What makes those activations interesting is that the United States was officially a neutral nation. Up to that date, the Axis powers enjoyed a series of victories. The nine-month German bomber Blitz of London was about half over. In December 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt upped his request for pilots from 12,000 to 30,000.

Another interesting fact is that all three groups were later associated with Luke AFB. The three groups’ service represented the U.S. Army Air Force’s fighter combat efforts in three of the main theaters during World War II. All three groups received the American Theater Service Streamer.

However, the 54th Fighter Group actually fought the Japanese on American soil. The 56th FG was one of the first U.S. units to take part in combat in the European Theater of Operations. In February 1944, the 58th FG entered combat in the Pacific Theater of Operations. That was early in the Allied counter-offensive against the Japanese.

Of the three groups, the 54th disbanded first on May 1, 1944. The 56th FG inactivated on Oct. 18, 1945, and the 58th inactivated on Jan. 27, 1946. Three months later the 56th reactivated for fighter escort duties due to uneasiness with the Soviets. Later its mission changed to air defense.

In 1952, five months after the 56th inactivated, the 58th reactivated in an air defense mission. Three years later the 54th joined that mission. The 56th and 58th activated and inactivated a couple more times during the 1950s and early 1960s. The 58th even spent four years as a tactical missile group. By the end of March 1962, all of the groups were inactivated and remained so until 1991.

On Oct. 1, 1991, the newly renamed 58th Operations Group reactivated at Luke AFB. A month later, the 56th Operations Group activated at MacDill AFB, Florida. The 56th Operations Group inactivated 26 months later only to reactivate at Luke April 1, 1994. That same day the 58th Operations Group moved to Kirkland AFB, New Mexico. On March 1, 2014, the 54th Fighter Group reactivated at Holloman AFB, but reports to the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke.

Thus, the circle is complete with all three groups flying once again to protect our nation.