MARIETTA, Ga. – In June 1950, with summer approaching, Soldiers and Airmen of the Georgia National Guard were preparing for annual training. The 128th Fighter Squadron of the Georgia Air National Guard’s 116th Fighter Group received its first jet-powered aircraft, the F-84 Thunderjet, replacing the World War II-era F-47 Thunderbolt. The 128th was the second squadron of the Georgia ANG to field jet aircraft after the 158th FS replaced its F-47s with the F-80C Shooting Star in 1948. The first of the 26 Thunderjets assigned to the 128th was flown to Dobbins Air Force Base by Capt. Barney Casteel, a 27-year-old native of Atlanta.
As Casteel was winging his way to Dobbins, state Sen. Roy LeCraw was ensconced in his Atlanta office. The former mayor of Atlanta and World War II veteran additionally served as commander of the 216th Air Services Group and personnel officer for the Georgia Air National Guard. Col. LeCraw was anticipating a busy annual training season, not knowing he would soon be called to active duty, along with Casteel, to serve as the executive officer of the 116th Fighter Bomber Wing.
Halfway between Atlanta and Savannah, the Georgia Army National Guard’s Battery D, 101st Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, spent its June drill at the armory in Waynesboro preparing for annual training at Camp Stewart Aug. 6-20. The battalion would compete with its rival, the 250th AAA Battalion, in crew drills and firing efficiency for bragging rights as the top guns in the Savannah-based 108th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Brigade. First Lt. Paul Stone, 25, a platoon leader and business owner from Waynesboro, had already gained a reputation as an effective officer. A veteran of the Air Corps in World War II, Stone left the Air Corps Reserves March 13, 1949, to serve with his hometown Guard unit. As he finished up paperwork from the June drill, Stone prepared to return to his civilian job and looked forward to annual training at Camp Stewart.
Just weeks later, on June 25, 1950, North Korean Army units backed by Soviet and Chinese equipment and assistance advanced into South Korea. In response, the United Nations Security Council authorized the formation of the United Nations Command. On July 5, elements of the 24th U.S. Infantry Division moved to engage forces of the Korean People’s Army near Osan. Lacking anti-tank weaponry, the U.S. force was overwhelmed by Korean armor. The 24th fell back steadily. Over the next 17 days of constant combat, the American units suffered more than 30 percent casualties.
Protecting the Homeland
With the action unfolding on the Korean peninsula, Georgia National Guard leaders prepared their units for possible mobilization. Brig. Gen. Joseph Fraser, commander of the 108th AAA Brigade, was faced with the prospect of serving in his third war. He served in France during World War I and commanded the Georgia ARNG’s 101st AAA BN in the Pacific during World War II. His present command encompassed the 101st and the Augusta-based 250th AAA BN, which also served in the Pacific during World War II.
Fraser’s executive officer was Col. George Hearn of Monroe. Like Fraser, Hearn had commanded an anti-aircraft unit in the Pacific during World War II. Returning home from the war, Hearn had been elected mayor of Monroe and was preparing to begin his term as the commander of the American Legion in Georgia in 1950.
On Aug. 14, 1950, the 108th AAA was activated for federal service. In addition to the 101st and 250th AAA Battalions, the 178th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Operations Detachment and 420th Signal Radar Maintenance Unit rounded out the brigade. With a combined strength of just over 1,000 men, the 108th was dispatched to Fort Bliss, Texas, and assigned to the 8th U.S. Army. In November 1951, the 108th was sent to the Midwest with the 250th arriving at Fort Custer, Michigan, and the 101st garrisoned at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. From these bases of operation, the Georgia Guard batteries were independently assigned to cities and industrial areas from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania to provide anti-aircraft capability against the threat of Soviet missile and aircraft attacks. Stone’s battery of 90 mm guns was assigned to protect Chicago.
In December, Maj. Gen. Ernest Vandiver, adjutant general of Georgia, dispatched the state’s C-47 cargo aircraft to bring Georgia Guard members home for Christmas from Camp McCoy and Fort Custer. While the Georgia Guard members of the 101st rotated home, cold weather prevented the 250th AAA from returning from Fort Custer.
The guns of the 108th AAA remained on station through the spring of 1952 before receiving the order to rotate home. The Waynesboro Battery remained in position through April 1952, with Stone rising to command the battery. After demobilizing at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, the 101st AAA Gun Battalion returned home. Over the next seven years, the Waynseboro battery earned six consecutive superior ratings and Stone received the Georgia Distinctive Service Medal and promotion to major. After a brief tenure on the staff of the 108th AAA, Stone transferred to the Georgia ANG. He retired in 1971 as a brigadier general, having served eight years as commander of the Georgia Air National Guard.
Fraser was appointed to command the Georgia ARNG’s 48th Infantry Division in March 1952 but did not return from mobilization until May. He saw the 48th through its transition to armor and served as the first commander of the 48th Armor Division. Fraser retired as a lieutenant general in 1956.
Hearn was promoted to brigadier general and succeeded Fraser in command of the 108th AAA. In 1954 he was appointed adjutant general and served two non-consecutive terms – 15 years – and retired in 1971, having served the longest of Georgia’s adjutants general.
Georgia ANG Pilots in Early Action in Korea
In October 1950, the Georgia Air National Guard’s 54th Fighter Wing was activated along with LeCraw, Casteel, and other Georgia ANG pilots of the newly redesignated 116th Fighter Bomber Wing. As had happened to the Georgia ARNG units early in World War II, many of the pilots of the Georgia Air National Guard were individually selected for other units.
Among those was 1st Lt. James Lawrence Collins of the 128th Fighter Squadron. On May 8, 1951, Collins, 26, of Atlanta, was on a mission with the 49th Bomber Wing over North Korea. While maneuvering his F-80 into position for a dive bomb run, Collins was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed. He was declared missing, later killed in action.
Capt. John Franklin Thompson of the 54th Fighter Wing was another Georgia ANG pilot to see service over Korea with the U.S. Air Force. On June 11, 1951, while flying with the 18th Fighter Bomber Wing on his 75th mission, Thompson, having expended all his ammunition, was flying at low altitude to locate targets. His P-51 Mustang was struck by enemy ground fire, which caused it to hit the ground and explode, killing Thompson on impact.
Nine days later, Georgia Air National Guard Lt. J. B. Harrison, formerly of the 128th Fighter Squadron, shot down a Russian Yak 9 fighter over Korea, adding to seven confirmed kills he received in World War II.
On June 21, 1951, 1st Lt. Clyde White of the 8th Bomber Group had taken to the skies over North Korea in his F-80. The 32-year-old native of Savannah had served in the 158th Fighter Squadron before his transfer to the 8th FB Group. Coming under heavy anti-aircraft fire near Twijae, White maneuvered into a dive and struck a ridge. His aircraft exploded on impact.
The 116th Deploys
The remaining members of the Georgia Air National Guard, except those assigned to the 128th Fighter Squadron, departed for Korean service in July 1951 aboard the aircraft carriers Sitkoh Bay and Windham Bay and on July 27 reached Japan, where LeCraw served as commander of the 116th Air Base Group. The Guard members provided air defense for Japan until December, when the units were ferried to Korea to participate in missions in the skies over North Korea.
Capt. David J. Mather, a former member of the 128th Fighter Squadron and native of Atlanta, was one of the pilots of the 116 to enter combat over Korea. While conducting an armed reconnaissance mission following a dive-bombing of enemy supply lines near Sairwon, North Korea, Mather’s F-84 was hit by ground fire. He crashed and was listed as missing, later killed in action.
On Jan 21, 1952, while assigned to the 136th Bomber Wing, Casteel was conducting an armed reconnaissance mission north of Pyongyang. While strafing vehicles, Casteel’s F-84 aircraft was hit by ground fire. Casteel was unable to free himself from the aircraft and died on impact. He was the last Georgia Air National Guard pilot killed in Korea.
The following month, the Georgia ANG units returned to Japan and began demobilizing to the United States. By July, all the units of the 54th had returned to Georgia. The 128th Fighter Squadron was briefly mobilized to France in 1952 but did not see service over Korea.
Nevertheless, many of its pilots, such as Capt. Glenn Herd, were brought into service with the U.S. Air Force in Korea. Herd ultimately flew more than 100 missions before returning home to serve as operations officer of the 128th Fighter Squadron under Maj. Joel Paris, who became adjutant general.
LeCraw returned home to a hero’s welcome. In January 1953, he received the Bronze Star for “exceptionally meritorious service for distinguishing himself by performing outstanding administrative functions connected with the activation, reorganization and command of Air Force Units.”