Truckbusters From Dogpatch:
The Combat Diary of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing in the Korean War,
“The story of this awesome and unique a Wing is long overdue. It is a saga that clearly illustrates the gathering and performance of the best, brightest and bravest group of combat fighter pilots and their exceptional support personnel that I have ever known. I honestly believe that no other Fighter Wing during the Korean War came even close to performing such diverse, challenging and tough missions, as did the Truckbusters.”
Lt. Gen. Devol “Rock” Brett, USAF (Ret.)
Truckbuster Centurian (an F-51 Mustang pilot who completed at least 100 combat missions during the Korean War).
• Over 700 pages, 8 ½ x 11 inch format, largest unit history of the Korean War
• Over 1,000 previously unpublished photographs and images.
• Riveting personal accounts from F-51 Mustang pilots and ground crewmen
• Extensive glossary of Korean War-era military slang and technical terms
• List of more than 3,500 Korean War Veterans of the 19th Fighter-Bomber Wing.
“Truckbusters from Dogpatch is a book that I thought would never be written and that, in fact, could not be written. As a pilot with the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group in the early days of the Korean War, I could see how difficult such an undertaking would be—how do you pull together all the personal stories, not only of the pilots, but also of the maintenance, armament, supply personnel—the guys that really kept the Wing in business—while never forgetting to integrate these with other events of the war as well of the world? It couldn’t and wouldn’t have been done without the incredible effort and talent of CAPT Tracy Connors, who initially set out to investigate and tell the story of his uncle, 1st Lt. Archie Connors, then a young fighter pilot with the 18th who heroically lost his life in combat. Tracy interviewed hundreds of Airmen and got their stories, which became a major part of the book.
It is a fascinating read for those of us who were there, but will be even more so for readers not personally familiar with the fighter pilot’s life at “Dogpatch,” and his flying combat in the great F-51 Mustang.
It’s all there—a part of our nation’s history and the acid test passed with flying colors for the newly created United States Air Force. A truly marvelous book by a great author!
Col. Edward J. Mason, USAF (Ret.)
Truckbuster Centurian 1950-1951
“Truckbusters From Dogpatch: The Combat History of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing in the Korean War” is compelling reading for the Veteran who has been there and done that, as well as the casual reader wishing to get a feel or to understand what air combat is really like. It is a salute to those who fly and also a salute to the mechanics, technicians and other support personnel who—24/7—made it possible for them to get into the air. Truckbuster’s detail also makes it a must for military history researchers.”
Col. Charles E. McGee, USAF (Ret)
Truckbuster Centurian and Tuskegee Airman
Truckbusters From Dogpatch: The Combat Diary of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing in the Korean War, 1950-1953, is the incredible story of the men—pilots, ground crew and supporting elements—whose achievements and records during that bloody conflict not only made U.S. Air Force history, but helped the newly fledged military service gain the confidence and respect it now enjoys.
Early on the Sunday morning of June 25, 1950, North Korean military forces poured across the 38th parallel near Kaesong to invade the Republic of Korea (ROK). Almost immediately, North Korean fighter aircraft attacked both South Korean and United States Air Force aircraft and facilities at Seoul airfield and Kimpo Air Base, just south of Seoul. The brand new U.S. Air Force was involved in its first war as an independent United States military service.
By June 28 th the Far East Air Force had been authorized to fly interdiction missions, photo-reconnaissance and weather missions, airlift missions, bombing and close air support missions for ROK troops. On June 30 th, President Harry S Truman committed U.S. ground forces to the battle, and shortly afterward, on July 7 th, the United Nations established an allied command. Although the bloody conflict would be termed a “police action,” the United States and many other nations were at war on the Korean Peninsula.
From the very first hours of the conflict, U.S. Air Force units were engaged in a variety of missions, the most important being that of a constant struggle to gain and retain air superiority throughout the mountainous peninsula—the key that enabled United Nations forces to stay in the field.
Among U.S. Air Force units engaged in the Korean War from the earliest days of the initial retreat down the peninsula to the “Pusan Perimeter,” one unit in particular established a record during 37th months of unrelenting combat that has not be equaled or surpassed in over a half century. The “Truckbusters” of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing were alerted for combat duty within hours of the invasion. Within a few short days of being alerted, squadrons from its 18th Fighter-Bomber Group had been airlifted from their base in the Philippines and were flying combat sorties from dirt strips that had been most recently used as rice fields.
A Most Illustrious Combat Record…
The 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing was “the best damn fighter-bomber wing in the world.” That was the firm belief of Brigadier General T.C. “TeeCee” Rogers, its commander for much of the Korean War. Certainly its 37-month record of air combat spanned virtually the entire conflict–and the 18th was credited with many firsts and other achievements that underscore its pivotal role in the U.S. Air Force’s first war as an independent military service.
The men that had served in the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing knew that they had made a significant contribution to the UN effort in the Korean War. As it turned out no comprehensive assessment of the Wing’s combat operations would be completed for over 50 years.
Gen. Rogers’ assessment rings even truer after the passage of over half a century. The author’s research–Truckbusters From Dogpatch: the Combat Diary of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing in the Korean War–convinces him that the 18th Wing’s Korean War service record should rank it alongside other legendary military units of the United States Armed Forces.
The 18th Wing made an enormous contribution to the Korean War, including saving the day during the Pusan Perimeter (almost another Dunkirk) period, during the breakout after Inchon, and during the retreat from the Yalu, during which close air support and interdiction saved many thousands of American lives. Although the Inchon Landing—and therefore Gen. Douglas MacArthur—is generally given credit for the dizzying tactical turnaround in September 1950, in fact it had actually begun weeks before as a direct result of the relentless aerial assault on North Korean troops, positions, and supply lines by fighter bombers. Being one of the few such units actually based in Korea during that period, the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing played a pivotal role in changing the direction of the Korea War in August 1950. Without its contribution, it could be argued that the outcome of the Korean War would have been seriously in doubt.
Later, the 18th’s unrelenting interdiction played a key role in bringing about the Armistice that reestablished the nation of South Korea. Eighteenth Wing squadrons flew over 62,000 combat missions, believed to be more than any other such unit in the Korean War.
One of its squadron commanders–Maj. Louis Sebille–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, professionalism and dedication also contributed significantly to the fledgling Air Force core values so often cited these days.
From July 1950 through November 1950, the 12th and 67th Squadrons comprised the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group, the combat flying arm of the 18th Wing. In November, they were joined for the duration of the conflict by 2 Squadron (“Flying Cheetahs”) of the South African Air Force–making the 18th Wing the first joint United Nations air command.. From May 1951 through May 1952, the 39th Fighter Interceptor Squadron was attached to the 18th Group. Generally, each squadron had between 15-20 F-51D Mustangs assigned. [Finally, the 18th was converted to F-86 fighter-bombers in February 1953.]
As a tribute to its leadership and adaptability, the 18th Wing is the only known Air Force flying unit to be asked to convert from one type of aircraft to another—while engaged in combat and without “standing down” from required combat mission completions—not once, but twice and while operating from “forward operating bases.” The Air Force History Support Office noted “the unique accomplishment of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing in converting from piston-engine F-51’s to high performance jets (F-86F) at a new base, in winter, and in a combat zone–we cannot find another example of a similar conversion in the history of the Air Force.”
Unit histories reveal that the 18th Wing flew a total of 62,162 sorties from July 1950-July 1953—11.5 percent of all FEAF combat sorties for counter-air, interdiction, close support, reconnaissance, air control and training missions in the Korean War. Of the 1,144 dead reported by FEAF, at least 163 (14.3%) were pilots and airmen from the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing.
Eighteenth Wing aircraft fired more than 32 million rounds of .50-cal. machine gun ammunition and 135,504 High Velocity Aerial Rockets at enemy targets from 1950-1953. Napalm bombs were also heavily used early in the war—20,447 in 1951—but then were significantly reduced in 1952-53. Early in the conflict napalm destroyed or neutralized more T-34 tanks than all other airborne weapons combined, according to FAF operational analyses.
The 18th delivered over 46,000 general purpose bombs to enemy targets the length and breadth of the Korean Peninsula.
The enormous contribution of the support and ground crews can be judged by keeping in mind that each round, each canister, each rocket, each bomb had to be transported, stored, prepared, loaded and fused before each mission—in the open—no hangars for other than heavy maintenance—and in the notorious Korean winters and summers.
As a story of an embattled American military unit that worked through enormous challenges to achieve military success, what the 18th accomplished in Korea 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.
This combat history of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing during the Korean War was not prepared or based solely on a painstaking accumulation of facts and dates and statistics. Rather, it is the goal of all who worked on Truckbusters From Dogpatch that it establishes the proud record of a venerable American fighting unit that has earned the right through grit, achievement and sacrifice to be remembered as among the very finest of military units, not just during the Korean War, but even when compared with American combat units of any period in our history.
If anything, the intervening half century since the 18th fought so valiantly in Korea has improved our ability to evaluate its contributions by placing them in the context of fifty years of military history and evolution. We can more accurately assess the legacy it established for subsequent Air Force components, and indeed, the sons and daughters who today continue to serve in the 18th Wing.
American military progress and achievements have been significant over the intervening half century, and has enabled history of freedom to prevail against oppressive governments and ideologies. We must not forget, however, that such progress was gained as a direct result of the richer heritage to which today’s fighting men and women were born and inherited—a heritage established and advanced by the pilots and airmen of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing during the Korean War.
Truckbusters From Dogpatch documents the records established by the 18th during 37 months of arduous, costly combat—chronicling the events, accomplishments and sacrifices by some of the bravest “characters” in American military history who bequeathed an important heritage to subsequent generations serving in the U.S. Air Force. It moves past the relative sterility of fact and data, to reach a better understanding of the personalities behind the facts and data. It is not intended to be a comparative study of “props vs. jets” or to compare one unit’s statistics to another and thereby declare a “winner.”
Monthly records and reports were used to establish a helpful context and matrix into which as much information as possible could be included that profiled and spotlighted the men actually earning the records. As such, Truckbusters becomes 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 their “Spam Cans” flying. They also teach us important lessons about professionalism, dedication, commitment, bravery, fear, sacrifice and humanity—lessons we should never forget, lest democracy and freedom themselves become potential victims.
Truckbusters from Dogpatch is the most comprehensive Korean War unit history yet prepared–over 700 pages summarizing squadron histories and first person accounts—and includes over 1,000 never before published photographs and images, highlighted by the 8 ½ x 11-inch format. Arguably, Truckbusters From Dogpatch is the most authoritative unit history ever prepared on the Korean War. In addition to consulting formerly classified squadron histories filed monthly throughout the conflict, the author was in touch with hundreds of veterans of the 18th—pilots and ground crew—whose personal recollections add vivid detail and emotion to the facts recounted in the official documents.
Organization and Presentation…
Truckbusters From Dogpatch was written to honor the achievements and dedication of the men who served in and with the 18th Wing in Korea. It is their story, told as much as possible in their own words and photographs, taken from the monthly unit history reports, personal recollections, memoirs, scrap books and faded snap shots. Truckbusters attempts to convey for the reader a month-by-month sense of what was happening in the war overall, but especially at the Wing level, squadron level and in the tents and cockpits of the men who were trying to do their jobs, remain loyal to their fellow airmen, and to survive long enough to go home.
The 18th Wing and its component squadrons were called into action within hours of the North Korean invasion of South Korea. It stayed on the line, completing tens of thousands of combat sorties from seven different air bases in both prop and jet aircraft, for the next three years—no matter what the weather or the state of its aging aircraft.
The passage of time for the men was measured in “how many days until I get rotated out of here.” For the pilots, it was in the number of combat missions completed. Early in the war it was 100 missions—becoming a “Centurian.” Later, as the Air Force “pilot pipeline” pumped too many pilots into the Wing, the number of required combat missions for pilots was lowered to 75 missions.
For individual units, time was measured by monthly unit historical reports—relatively candid assessments of combat tactics, results, materiel, personnel and morale. Each component filed these Secret classified reports regardless of what else was going on. They would not be declassified until nearly twenty years later.
Early in the compilation and distillation of information and materials, it was clear that a different framework was needed. There was not just one story, but many stories that ranged from sometimes dry reports up the chain of command to first person accounts that fairly crackled with emotion and adrenaline. Between these extremes were the day to day images and accounts that chronicled the lives and activities of the approximately 1,800 men that at any one time comprised the 18 th Wing complement during the Korean War.
The eventual organization and presentation of materials in Truckbusters is unusual in that it more nearly compares to the layout of a magazine than of a typical book. A “monthly magazine” form of organization evolved that attempts to give the reader an overall understanding of what was happening in the Wing and in the war overall—month by month.
Most chapters in Truckbusters begin with a quote from a report or an account that captures some important development or action that took place that month. The first page has a summary of significant events for that month that provides a brief thumbnail for the reader of what else was happening in the Korean War.
[Note: each year begins with a summary of what happened that year to provide historical benchmarks for the reader on a larger scale. Every six months a time line or chronology is inserted to provide succinct, graphic cues for the reader regarding what happened during that period.]
The chapter narrative leads off with a summary of what the Wing reported to the Fifth Air Force regarding organization, manning and sorties flown. This is followed by more specific information detailing combat operations during that month, including excerpts from unit commanders regarding tactics, weapons, equipment, materiel and personnel. In so far as possible these insights are presented in the words of the commanders making the reports and providing the assessments.
As the monthly chapter content moves forward, the point of view shifts from Wing to Group to Squadron level. Each of these commanders had a different point of view depending on the month and what was happening in the squadron at that time. Each available unit history for each month for each squadron was reviewed and assessed for important developments or events that should be included because they helped explain or symbolize events at the squadron level.
Where information was available, combat statistical data were provided for each month—squadron sorties, aircraft lost in combat, pilots lost in combat and ordnance expended. Every month an average of 1.5 million rounds of .50-cal. Machine gun ammunition, thousands of aerial rockets, napalm bombs and fragmentation bombs were “expended.” Each of these rounds, rockets or bombs had to be brought to the air base, stored safely, retrieved, loaded on the aircraft properly and safely, then carried to the target despite heavy ground fire and sometimes opposing fighter aircraft, to be delivered to the assigned target—a bunker, a depot, a convoy, a trench line, a rail road track, a supply line, a bridge, or a truck. The monthly numbers are staggering and they give us some idea of the enormous logistical effort that was required to keep 75-80 aging combat aircraft mission ready no matter what the weather, location or conditions.
Imagery in Truckbusters ranges from official photographs taken by usually unnamed Air Force personnel, to snap shots brought home by airmen and pilots, to copies of the actual documents that passed across their desks—frag orders, mess hall passes, letters, and other memorabilia. These images are presented to the reader, where ever possible, in the month during which they were recorded. The reader sees the images as they happen instead of having the images grouped elsewhere in the book, almost as an after thought. The sheer number of images is significant. Virtually every page has one or more images to help convey a sense of what was happening and who was involved. I wanted the reader to be able to “see” the war not only from the “front office” at Fifth Air Force or Far East Air Forces headquarters, but from the Orderly Rooms and berthing spaces at the squadron level.
Photographs were included, where available, of off duty entertainment activities and locations. The work days were awful and recreation was limited, but there was usually a movie in the evening. At some bases, there were clubs—primitive to be sure—but clubs where airmen and officers could try to relax with some beverage of choice, a game of cards, or a sing along. I tried to show a range of images that convey a sense of daily life at “Dogpatch.”
Much of the information in Truckbusters is presented in “boxes.” This enables the reader to obtain discrete information about a particular topic in a glance or very short read, then return to the main story of the chapter. Often Truckbusters looks more like a magazine than a typical book. Having a layout that presents information in easily identifiable blocks or units enables the reader to focus on the topic if it is of interest or move on by if their main interest lies further on. It also provides an effective way to present the first person accounts, many of them brief, using the exact words or even by-lines of those that lived through the experience.
Some of the chapters include first person accounts provided by pilots or airmen that were especially noteworthy for the understanding they provided about how individuals experienced the war and what they were thinking at the time. Although several are lengthy, these accounts are unsurpassed in their ability to convey thoughts, reactions, fears and motivations on the part of those who were actually fighting that war.
Chapters conclude with a summary of the significant events that took place that month. Enough information is provided about developments elsewhere in Korea to enable the reader to form a “big picture” of what else was going on in that theater of war. The major emphasis in this section, however, is on what had happened of interest or significance within the 18th Wing or its component squadrons that month. It is here that many of the aircraft accidents and crashes are reported—those that did not result in the death of the pilot. Not only were these “highlights” the subject of much animated discussion in the chow lines and clubs, but they graphically illustrate for Truckbuster readers the constant danger to which both pilots and ground crews were exposed.
Chapters conclude with a list of combat losses for that month. Some months, mercifully, ended with no killed in action or missing in action to report. Sadly, most months ended with several deaths—some months with as many as a dozen pilots. Ground crews could become victims as well to ordnance mishaps or accidents. To whatever extent is known, the circumstances surrounding the pilot’s last flight or the fatal accident are noted. These were gleaned from sometimes very sketchy summaries in the unit histories or from reports submitted by surviving flight members.
The stories of these last missions are often harrowing, but they provide riveting insights into the risks of combat operations and the incredible bravery shown by other members of the flight in trying to attempt a rescue or to ascertain exactly what had happened. In far too many instances, there is little or no information available about the last flight—the pilot simply failed to return from the mission. This listing appears at the end of the month in which the loss was sustained rather than as a list in the appendix of the book. If photographs are available, they appear nearby.
When these elements are seen as a whole, Truckbusters emerges as a compilation of some 37 “books,” each of them a month in the life of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing and its component commands. It is unlikely that Truckbusters will be read at one or even several sittings. Instead, most often, it will be reviewed by those interested in a specific time period, events or people. For unit members themselves or the families of 18 th Wing veterans, the primary interest will be those months during which they or their family member served in Korea with the 18 th. Designing each month as almost a “stand alone” facilitates the overall book’s use in this way. It also facilitates its use as a reference or text book.
The book is organized by month starting with January 1950 and concludes with the Armistice in July 1953. Each month includes a summary of what was happening elsewhere in the war, major developments within the 18th Wing drawn from various unit histories, a chronology of significant events for the war and the Wing, a list of combat losses for that month (including “thumbnail” biographies on all those about which information is available), and concludes with first person accounts and personal experiences.
In addition to the chapters covering each month of combat service for the 18th, Truckbusters includes a Preface, Introduction, Lessons Learned/Combat Summary, Index and an extensive Glossary of terms and slang used by military (particularly members of the 18th Wing) during the Korean War. It also includes a list of the more than 3,500 Korean War veterans who served in the 18th Wing.
© Copyright 2015 BelleAire Press, LLC