By Lt. Col. Charles Gilliam, 48th Flying Training Squadron Commander
/ Published August 04, 2017
COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- "History makes you smarter, heritage makes you prouder."
- Gen. Robin Rand, Commander, Air Force Global Strike Command
Along with the centennial commemoration of America’s entry into World War I, 2017 also marks the 100th anniversary of the 48th Squadron.
On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson went before a joint session of Congress to request a declaration of war against Germany. Wilson cited Germany’s violations of a pledge to suspend unrestricted submarine warfare in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean, as well as attempts to entice Mexico into an alliance against the United States.
On April 4, 1917, the United States Senate voted in support of a measure to declare war on Germany. The House of Representatives concurred two days later. Four months after the declaration of war, the 48th was activated on Aug. 4, 1917, making it one of the oldest squadrons in the United States Air Force.
The 48th Aero Squadron was activated, mobilized and deployed to France with the American Expeditionary Forces to defeat the Central Powers 100 years ago in “The War to End All Wars.” In September 1917, the 48th Provisional Squadron attended basic training at Kelly Field, Texas, before joining the 1st Aero Construction Group in Garden City, New York. The group was designated for deployment with the AEF to France. The following month, it embarked on the Cunard Liner “Pannonia,” suffering a stormy and unpleasant voyage across the Atlantic. The squadron arrived in Liverpool, England, on Oct. 29, 1917, and arrived at Rest Camp 2 in Le Havre, France, just two days later.
Throughout the war, the squadron constructed barracks and shops in central France. At the 3rd Air Instructional Center, Issoudun Aerodrome, it also erected hangars and did necessary construction work to make the school suitable for training pursuit -- fighter -- pilots. It began work building roads, putting up hangars, and installing water and electrical systems on six airfields to support the training school. The Issoudun was essential to the development of the AEF’s air forces, training the likes of Eddie Rickenbacker, Douglas Campbell, and Kenneth Marr of the 94th Aero Pursuit Squadron. At war’s end, the Issoudun was the largest flying school in the world.
After the Armistice, the 48th Provisional Squadron was reassigned to the Third Army Air Service and moved to Trier Airdrome, Germany, as part of the Army of Occupation. The squadron prepared this former German airfield for seven American aero squadrons to use in less than a week. After completing its mission, the squadron turned in all of their equipment at the 1st Air Depot at Colombey-les-Belles Aerodrome and moved to Channel Port where it boarded a troop ship and returned to the United States. The squadron was demobilized on Aug. 11, 1919, for the next eight years.
After reactivation in 1927, the 48th School Squadron conducted flight training at the 10th School Group, training personnel from 1927-1931 and 1933-1936. After becoming the 48th Pursuit Squadron in 1941, the unit was once again renamed, becoming the 48th Fighter Squadron which conducted air defense patrols along California coast before joining the fight in World War II. During the war, the 48th FS dominated many missions including bomber escort, fighter sweeps, advancing ground troop support and reconnaissance flights.
The current squadron insignia dates back to World War II and the late Walt Disney (1901-1966). Walt Disney Productions created approximately 1,200 designs during World War II for both American and Allied military units. The studio did all of this work free of charge as a donation to the war effort. The 48th Fighter Intercept Squadron (1952-1991) tried for years to have the Alley Cat logo integrated into their patch, but ultimately was unable to do so. However, in 1986 the battle was finally won and the 48th was granted permission by Disney to use the design for patch purposes. The Possumtown Alley Cat is the same one you see on the shoulders of men and women of the 48th Flying Training Squadron (1996-present) today.
The 48th legacy lives in each of us. Although we no longer construct airfields or patrol the skies for enemy aircraft, we honor the excellence of the 48th men and women of years past, many of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice. Two such officers were Jack Ilfrey and Virgil Smith, members of pilot training class 41-01. Ilfrey was originally credited as the first P-38 Lightning ace of World War II until a change in the accounting rules after the war gave the title to Virgil Smith. We also remember Lt. Michael Brezas, a Hispanic-American fighter pilot who paved the way for future generations with 12 confirmed kills in battle -- he likely garnered many more. This is the legacy of the 48th. It lives in Smith and Brezas. It lives in the men and women of the 48th FTS who “train the world’s best pilots” as the “premier flying training squadron developing the world’s best pilots and leaders.”
I have a front row seat to the 48th squadron’s legacy of training excellence. As we write our chapter on this centennial heritage celebration, I’m proud to know our continued competence, courage, commitment and capacity will ensure the best pilots serve the United States on silver wings for many years to come. I look forward to reading about all the 48th Squadron will accomplish over its next 100 years of excellence.