Demise of the 9523rd AFRES

In this letter, Jim writes about the end of his time in the Air Force Reserves. After moving to Jamestown he committed to the military, primarily to earn the retirement income. After years of active duty, he felt that a regular income was within reach. All he had to do was stay with it to reach the thirty year mark. Now they tried to take it away.

Jim (r) and friend in uniform.

Jim (r) and friend in uniform.

These were stressful times, making it an easy bet that the military would be around for a long time. The Cuban Missile Crisis had been in the papers just a couple of years earlier. Even many of us who lived through that time didn’t really understand how serious that threat was. Recently I heard a B-47 navigator give a talk about his experiences during those tense days in October of 1962. He told us about sitting on the runway with live, armed nuclear weapons. He talked about the route they would take to Russia, refueling over the Atlantic, dropping the bombs in Russia, refueling again over Norway, then returning to somewhere in the States. The most unsettling part of his talk was his description of a talk he had with his wife and young children before he took off. They decided where to meet … “after the war.” They actually made plans to meet at a particular motel in Texas. Gen. Curtis LeMay, who Jim talks about in this letter, wanted to “bomb the hell” out of the Russians. There was a need for these Air Force Reservists.

After Jim defended our country against the Japanese empire, this must have been a simple extension of his duty, with the added benefit of a possible retirement check. Assuming we were all still alive.

I was only fourteen when all this happened, so was oblivious to much of the drama. I focused on the fact that he had friends in the unit and wanted to stay with them.

This was a big deal, Jim had several really good friends in the unit. This was shortly after I met Jim, and I was pretty young, and did not understand the concept of retirement or career, I just knew he thought it was important. I saw that some of his best buddies were in the reserves, so it seemed like the right thing to do.

Jim writes:

The future of the 9523rd AFRES was doomed …. the unit to become another relic of the past. We were to be disbanded. Following studies and evaluations by the Air Force it was determined that there was no foreseeable future military need for these units. This move involved about 8,000 reservists in 44 states and the District of Columbia. This was to be a forerunner to the merger of the Air Force Reserves into the Air National Guard.

It was Jan. 7, 1965 when official word came from the Air Force … it is ironic to note that it was only six days before the retirement of General Curtis E. LeMay, Air Force Chief of staff. He had long favored the idea to disband or merge the Reserves with the Air Guard. It was clear that in the end only the Air National Guard would survive the extreme cutbacks.

From a purely selfish standpoint this was a shocking disappointment my 15 or so years would be of no use now, unless there was an alternative, maybe another unit … but where? I had recently been promoted to Staff Sergeant and things were looking good toward building a retirement. I later learned that one of the reasons for this action was that the Air Nat’l Guard earned considerable praise during the Berlin Crisis when it sent 218 fighters and reconnaissance jets, plus supporting elements to France and Germany within a month of being called into active duty in October of 1961. You can’t dispute that kind of track record.

I had to reluctantly admit that the Air Force with its mission in mind was right and we were no longer a priority. As early as the previous August we were warned of cutbacks and closings. It was final. Upon orders we vacated the old high school building in Jamestown and moved the unit and its gear to Fargo’s Hector Airport to an abandoned hangar space to simulate our final active duty days. The official word came on Jan. 7, ’65. The unit was called to formation and at attention by our Commanding Officer, LtCol William R Hope at which time he issued the order that as of Feb. 23rd we no longer existed as a unit of the Air Force Reserve.

This unwelcome news was met with glum looks and I think a few misty eyes, including mine. In his parting remarks as Commander he stated that the history of the unit dated back to at least twenty years when it was formed after WWII. Old units saw action during Korea when they were called up during that crisis. Then they became the 9749 AFRS flights in several cities including Jamestown and Fargo.

Three years ago the squadron took on a new job … aircraft recovery. It was located in Jamestown with headquarters in Fargo and it was redesignated the 9523rd AFRES. This unit survived earlier cutbacks last year. Other units cut were in Bismarck and two in South Dakota. He further stated that reservists involved would be given an opportunity to train as individuals or transfer to other units such as the Air Nat’l Guard to the extent their jobs and rank were available.

So at the close of this last and final Commander’s Call with our unit we were again civilians looking for a new military assignment. I noted later that most of the troops didn’t try to find another unit. But there was a ray of light at the end of the tunnel … I was told that there were openings in the Air National Guard, 119th Fighter Interceptor Group headquartered in Fargo at Hector Field. I didn’t waste any time looking into this possibility … but I didn’t dare set my sights too high … more on this later.

Jim Letter046