Tag Archives: 67th fighter-bomber squadron

JU Leader Defends Freedom in Korea

Truckbusters From Dogpatch: The Combat Diary of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing in the Korean War, 1950-1953, is perhaps the largest unit history ever published on the so-called “Forgotten War.”  Baited Trap, the Ambush of Mission 1890, is the story of the most costly helicopter air rescue mission of the Korean War, and one of the most dary missions in air rescue history.  Both books have very special significance for Jacksonville University. The story of a book that one reviewer said he “thought would never be written and that, in fact, could not be written,” began nearly 70 years years ago at Jacksonville Junior College.

For most of the Korean War, pilots of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing flew the venerable, but aging F-51 “Mustangs.” The cover of Truckbuster From Dogpatch shows one clawing for altitude with a heavy combat load in January 1951. (below) 1st Lt. Archie Connors was lost during a daring, successful but tragic rescue mission in Korea.
1st Lt. Archie Connors, USAF

The story of  books that one reviewer said he “thought would never be written and that, in fact, could not be written,” began nearly 70 years years ago at Jacksonville Junior College.

It took JU Distinguished Alumnus retired Navy Captain Tracy D. Connors over five years to research and write the remarkable, 712-page, true-life account of the U.S. Air Force’s 18th Wing from 1950 to 1953, the time during which their heroic air-combat efforts flying F-51 “Mustang” fighter-bombers helped save South Korea from occupation by North Korean and Chinese military

JJC Student Council President. In December, 1948 Archie Connors was elected President of the Jacksonville Junior College Student Council. He installed the new officers of the sophomore class at JJC during ceremonies at the Student Council. Connors (left) inducts Philip Helow, Sophomore Class President, Rosemary McEachern, class secretary, and Shannon Poppell, sophomore vice president.

forces. Dr. Connors, now a Gainesville resident, has published 14 management handbooks for not-for-profit organizations.

Connors used formerly classified monthly records and reports, plus hundreds of personal recollections and over 1,000 photographs to spotlight and profile the men who actually fought the war. “I wanted Truckbusters to become for the reader a gritty, dusty, tent city full of the sounds, smells and character of those who served with the 18th in Korea—pilots, ammorers, mechanics, clerks, medics, and supply sergeants—who still, live and speak and fret and worry about how to keep that venerable, but out-dated F-51 Mustang “Spam Can” flying,” he explained.

Truckbusters is dedicated to 1st Lt. Archibald “Archie” Connors, President of the JJC Student Council in 1948-49, and CAPT Connors’ uncle–“more like my older brother,” he explained.

The JJC Track Team for the Florida Relays of 1948. Connors (first row, second from left) brought home medals for the Sprint Medley Relay and the Mile Relay for Freshman and Junior College Class participants.

After attending Robert E. Lee High School, serving briefly in the U.S. Navy during WWII, and graduating from JJC as a pre-law student, Connors completed flight training as a U.S. Air Force pilot. He was posted to Korea and the 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron (a component of the 18th F-B Wing), in late 1951. During a daring rescue mission into the so-called “Iron Triangle” on 25 June 1952, Lt. Connors was killed in action.  CAPT Connors’ determination to learn the details of his uncle’s last mission, grew into a comprehensive history of the 18th Wing during the Korean War.

Then JU President Dr. Kerry D. Romesburg welcomes a copy of Truckbusters From Dogpatch into the Swisher Library collection from CAPT Tracy D. Connors, who also donated six other management handbooks he has published for not-for-profit organizations and volunteer administration.

A Truckbuster’s section entitled “Into the Iron Triangle,” describes the compelling story of Lt. Connors’ final mission, one of the Korean War’s most heroic–and costly. Using declassified official records, extensive research, tracking down the scattered families of heroic airmen, and the Freedom of Information Act, CAPT Connors pieced together the story of what five incredibly brave and determined Air Force and Navy pilots did that long June afternoon. After three costly attempts to pluck a downed Navy Ensign off the side of a heavily defended mountainside, the helicopter and its escorting Mustang fighter-bombers were successful in

After three costly attempts to pluck a downed Navy Ensign off the side of a heavily defended mountainside, the helicopter and its escorting Mustang fighter-bombers were successful in rescueing the young pilot. Several miles away however, enemy fire brought down the helicopter. Two of three airmen aboard were killed. Lt. Connors was shot down and killed several minutes later as he made a low level pass over the downed helicopter attempting to provide further protection. One crewman survived 14 months as POW.

The 18th Wing made an enormous contribution to the Korean War, Connors noted, including saving the day during the Pusan Perimeter (almost Dunkirk) period, during the breakout after Inchon, and during the retreat from the Yalu, “during which they saved many thousands of American lives.” Later, the 18th’s unrelenting interdiction played a key role in bringing about the Armistice that reestablished the nation of South Korea. The 18th Wing flew more combat missions that any other unit in the Korean

The 18th Wing flew more combat missions that any other unit in the Korean War, and one of its squadron commanders was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, one of only two such awards to Air Force personnel during that war. The Wing’s integrity,

The Wing’s integrity, professionalism and dedication also contributed significantly to the fledgling Air Force core values so often cited these days, Connors explained.

Connors believes strongly that Truckbusters as a story of an embattled American military unit that worked through enormous challenges to achieve military success “is highly relevant to all Americans today. The Korean War is called by some Americans ‘the Forgotten War.’  But not by millions of South Koreans who regained their freedoms, self-determination and future.  It’s not called that by the families and friends of those who fought, bled and died there.  And, it should not be forgotten by those today who understand the on-going importance of what was achieved by those who struggled there. Our nation owes those who served in Korea a significant debt of gratitude for what they did to protect Freedom. Their deeds and achievements continue to shape the world over half a century later,” he emphasized.

Remembering a Korean War Hero: Captain Elliot Dean Ayer, USAF

The Iron Triangle Claimed the Last 18th FBW Mustang Pilot

It was nearly dark at 1915 hours on 25 July 1952, when Captain Elliott Dean Ayer, Flight Leader of Filter How Flight was “wheels up” from K-46, Hoengsong, SK, on a twilight reconnaissance of a North Korean MSR.

K-46 Forward Operating Base for the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing, 1952-53.
K-46 Forward Operating Base for the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing, 1952-53.

It was rapidly getting dark, making it harder for ground observers to make out the “655” side number or the “Lovely Lady” on the left cowling or “Lady Louise” on the right cowling.  His four-ship flight included 1st Lt. William McShane flying Number Two, 1st Lt. C. J. Gossett was Number Three, and 1st Lt. Rexford R. Baldwin was Number Four. Ayer was one of the Korean War’s most experienced pilots and leaders, having served with distinction as a soldier, NCO and combat pilot during WWII.  He was highly experienced in the F-51 Mustang, having earned several decorations for his bravery during heavy air combat in the Italian theater in WWII.  Following his appointment as How Flight Leader of the 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadron on 1 June just a few weeks before, he had been selected by the 18th FB Wing to fly its historic 45,000th combat mission, a great personal honor.

Captain Elliot Dean Ayer, USAF
Captain Elliot Dean Ayer, USAF (left) is congratulated by Colonel Sheldon Brinson, Commander of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group (the combat flying squadrons of the 18th Wing), after flying the Wing’s 45,000th combat mission on July 14, 1952. He was killed in action two weeks later.

Further, he had been recommended for another Distinguished Flying Cross for his leadership in directing Mission 1890 on June 25th, a harrowing helicopter extrication of a Navy Corsair pilot from off the side of a mountain west of Wonsan under heavy fire.  The mission involved six Mustangs and one H-5 Dragonfly helicopter.  Tragically, although the rescue mission was initially successful, the waiting Chinese used Ens. Ron Eaton as bait, and shot the helicopter down five miles from the site.  Minutes later, Ayer’s wingman, 1st Lt. Archie Connors, was also shot down while making a “low, fast pass” over the helicopter crash site to ascertain the fate of its crew and passenger.  Mission 1890 became the most deadly helicopter rescue of the Korean War. Tonight was to be just another twilight MSR interdiction.  But for Captain Ayer, it was the last mission, the one from which he never returned.  He became the last 18th FB Wing Mustang pilot killed in combat before it transitioned into the F-86 Sabre-jet in February 1953. © Copyright 2015 BelleAire Press, LLC Next: Pearl Harbor Veteran

Book Review, Graybeard Magazine, Korean War Veterans Association, Jan-Feb, 2008

“…this book finally tells a story that has not been told but should have been.”

Kris Barnett

Graybeard Magazine Book Review

One of the most insidious effects of war is the way unforeseen and unplanned circumstances can intersect so many lives. Baited Trap: The Ambush of Mission 1890 presents the surreal events that followed what was hoped to be a successful rescue mission in the Korean mountains. But what happened to the pilots and the rescuers leads to long-term ramifications for the men and their families.

Tracy D. Connors [author of Truckbusters From Dogpatch], the nephew of one of the F-51 pilots from the Rescue Combat Air Patrol sent to protect a downed Navy fighter pilot that day, presents the results of his extensive research regarding Mission 1890.

Connors’ interviews with the families of the rescuers, original documents such as military records and official correspondence, and personal letters and experiences are woven together to create comprehensive depiction of the ill-fated mission as well as a riveting portrayal of each of the man (and their loved ones) whose lives changed on June 25, 1952.

After providing helpful background with a brief history of the procedures and equipment used in many military rescue missions, Connors introduces the men whose fate intertwined in what is described as “the deadliest helicopoter rescue mission of the Korean War.”

Readers get to know Navy Fighter Pilot Ensign Ron Eaton, whose combat mishap sets in motion the rescue mission. Readers meet Rescue Combat Air Patrol pilot Archie Connors and the extended Connors family. Also profiled is Captain Wayne Lear, the pilot of the rescue helicopter sent to rescue Ensign Eaton. We also meet Elliot Ayer, flight leader for the combat rescue mission, and Bobby Dale Holloway, the medical technician who flew the rescue mission with Captain Lear.

Connors skillfully weaves personal and professional details about each man, bringing depth and interest to the book. However, he never loses sight of his purpose in publishing the details of this little-known event in military history: to bring to light the daring mission and what it represented for the men and their families. The dramatic plot twists and turns are continually surprising, even for the reader who is most familiar with the circumstances surrounding the Korean War.

The reader may easily forget that the events depicted are not fictional. Furthermore, the men involved in the mission were never officially recognized for their sacrifices as part of Mission 1890. However, this book finally tells a story that has not been told but should have been.

After detailing the mission, Connors describes its aftermath. At the time, the whereabouts of the servicemen involved in the initial crash as well as the rescue mission were unknown. With credible information, the families clung to hope that their loved ones were alive as prisoners of war. Each man was listed as Missing in Action, leaving the families in heartbreaking limbo.

A remarkable amount of correspondence between the families and military officials is presented in the book, capturing the frustration and uncertainty. As the men’s lives did, the families begin to intertwine as they connect with one another in the years that follow the mission. Sadly, one by one, the belongings of the men make their way back to their families, as do some of their remains. Nonetheless, the returned belongings and remains are not enough to provide closure for many family members.

Connors includes final thoughts in his concluding section: “Slowly, as one set of hopes died, others would begin to grow, as Baited Trap recounts. Lives, however battered and broken, could be put back together again. All of them tried…not all were successful. The eventual toll for Mission 1890 was much greater than the three servicemen, as it turned out.”

By Kris Barnett

in Book Review, Graybeard Magazine, Korean War Veterans Association, Jan-Feb, 2008