Formation of the 117th

By the fall of 1956, the first steps were being taken for the eventual organization of the 117th in Kansas, though the official transfer was still several months away. First, a cadre of trained and experienced Air Guardsmen had to be found. This was easy enough. The 127th Fighter-Interceptor squadron, Kansas Air National Guard, was already in existence in Wichita, at McConnell Air Force Base. The creation of a new unit would offer a chance of promotion to many of the men of the old unit, if they transferred. Then too, it was a good chance to get out from under superiors one disliked. These arguments appealed especially to the Guard's full time employees, the Air Technicians. From the same unit, a commander could also be found. Major Carl L. "Curly" Boggs, commander of the 137th Maintenance and Supply Group, and Chief of Maintenance of the 127th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, was evidently experience enough to handle a new squadron, and was well-liked by the men of the 127th who would form the cadre. As one said, looking back, "A lot of them came to Hutchinson to follow Curly Boggs." He had just begun a one-year course of instruction at Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell AFB, Ala. The only officer in the Air National Guard admitted for the full course that year.

Major Boggs was born in Kansas on 26 May 1916 , and graduated from Wichita North High School in 1935.He spent one year at Wichita Business College, but with the Depression still in full swing, by 1937 he was working for Beechcraft Aviation, producing two-engine trainers. On 2 January1942, he was drafted into the Army Air Corps. Trained as a mechanic, he flew as an engineer gunner on medium bombers flying antisubmarine patrol out of Westover Field in Massachusetts. As he put it, "As long as I was going to be flying in the things, I decided to learn to fly one myself." By 28 July 1943, he had become 2ndLt Boggs, USAAF. He we declared the outstanding cadet of Southeast Air Force Training command--a position determined by both academic standing and flying proficiency--and was awarded a presentation sabre. On 1 April 1944 , he left the United States as a B-17 pilot, assigned to the famous 305th Bomb Group, Eighth Air Force, formerly under the command of Lt. Colonel Curtis E. Lemay. He completed his 30 missions with 240 hours of combat flying over Europe , having once ditched in the English Channel. One of his airplanes was the "Wichita Wench," featuring the obligatory girl "but they made me put pants on her."

Assigned as a Repair and Reclamation officer in France, Captain Boggs flew most of the Air Force inventory. On 15 March 1946 , he was released from the active Air Force. He might have stayed, but he wanted to live in his native Kansas, and didn't know yet how to combine an Air Force Career with staying in one place.

Six months later he found out. After reading of it in a newspaper, he joined the Kansas Air National Guard on 7 September 1946, and 10 days later became Air Technician Chief of Maintenance for the 127th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron.

With the commencement of the Korean War, Curly Boggs was activated (with the rest of the 127th) on 25 September 1950. While the unit went to France, he was assigned to the 136th Fighter-Bomber Wing, composed of Texas and Arkansas Guardsmen. He served with them as commander of the maintenance squadron while the 136th flew in Japan and Korea.

On the 13th day of July 1952, Boggs now Major, was deactivated, and went back to being an air technician. His task now was to return to Wichita and raise a replacement squadron for the 127th, which was still in France. In carrying out this mission, Major Boggs gained experience, which would aid him greatly in the formation of the 117th four years later. (Among other things, he learned how to hijack men from the Air Force Reserve, a knack especially useful in acquiring trained pilots and navigators). He remained with the 127th for almost four years, until he was selected to attend the Air Command and Staff College.

While the new Squadron now had (or at least would have) a commander, there were still a few details to be decided. The first was equipment. The 117th would remain a fighter-interceptor squadron, and as such would be equipped with F-80 "Shooting Stars" (and the T-33 trainer version of the Shooting Star), with the prospect of more modern equipment at a later date. The choice of equipment and location ( Kansas ) between them settled the place of the 117th in the Air Force chain of command. It would become the 4th squadron of the 137th Fighter-Interceptor Wing, Kansas and Oklahoma Air National Guard. The existing three squadrons were the 127th in Wichita , and other in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

Now all the unit needed was a home. There were a number of possible sties in Kansas at that time; Shilling AFB (Salina); McConnell AFB (Wichita), Forbes AFB (Topeka) and Hutchinson Naval Air Station, Hutchinson. McConnell already had the 127th, and an additional squadron would have left both units with difficulties in recruiting. Schilling and Forbes were both somewhat crowded at the time. Hutchinson had all its buildings full at the moment, but there was room for more on base. Besides, it already had an Air Force radar detachment, which was something that the 117th would need as an operation fighter-interceptor squadron. So Major Boggs and various other technicians of the 127th prepared to move their families to Hutchinson.

Hutchinson NAS was about 12 miles from the actual town of Hutchinson, (population: 40,000). It had been built during the Second World War to take advantage of the generally good flying weather of Kansas. Deactivated at the end of the war, it had been reactivated and to some extent rebuilt for the Korean War. By 1956 it was no longer as active as it once was, however, and there was some hope that a small augmented squadron could be fitted in. The announcement that the 117th would be formed at Hutchinson was made by Air Defense Command on 3 January 1957, a Thursday. By the following Monday, a headquarters and recruiting center was in operation at 23 ½ East First St., in the Air Force Filter Center. (Needed in those days as a point at which to concentrate radar reports). All the unit needed now was people.

The task facing the staff (Major Boggs was still away in training) looks impossible today. They had to enlist 92 men by 1 March in order for the unit to be recognized (and paid) by the Federal government. In order not to imperil the combat readiness of the 127th, only 13 men were transferred in from it. Among them were Tony Leis, later Chief of Supply, and Paul Simmons, later unit exec. Both of these men helped maintain the traditions of the Kansas Air National Guard, since both men had gone on active duty with the old 127th Air Observation Squadron in 1941. Another of the original 13 was Sgt. Kenneth Horner, now (Spring 1978) the last of the original members of 1946 still on active duty. A veteran of World War II and Korea, Horner was a Master Sergeant by 1946, and was the first E-8 and the first E-9 of the Kansas ANG as these ranks were created.

No matter what the quality of the initial 13, and additional 79 men would have to be recruited from the community at Hutchinson in less than two months. The recruiters, though, had certain advantages. First, they had slots of 27 air technicians, of whom only eight were transfers from the 127th. Thus, 19 men would gain full-time employment by joining the 117th. The second factor was the draft. Not only was the community filled with veterans of World War II and Korea , but all those who were not yet trained could expect to be called up sooner or later. These young men had only one hope of avoiding the regulars (and possibly marching in the infantry) and that was to join a unit of the National Guard or Reserves. The situation reminds one of the Civil War recruiting poster reading "Last changes to AVOID THE DRAFT! ENLIST IN THE CALVARY !"

These advantages did not make raising the required men easy. They made it just barely possible. As an early member recalled, they took "anything that breathed" to make up the 20 percent of strength needed for federal recognition. When the 117th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, Kansas ANG, held its first roll call on 23 February 1957, it had 94 me - just two more than the absolute minimum for Federal recognition. At that time, several of the recruits were thoroughly unsatisfactory, and were released as more suitable men became available.

One of these more suitable men was MSgt. Melvin Simpson, whose recruitment illustrates the methods used by the unit. A computer search was made for any former USAF personnel trained in certain specialties needed by the 117th, and with residences within a reasonable distance of Hutchinson. Sgt. Simpson was among those turned up. Raised in Hutchinson, he had completed a four-year hitch in the regular Air Force in May of 1956, and then taken a civil service position with the Air Force. Nothing could have made him happier than the call from the recruiter, offering him an Air Force job in his hometown. Sgt. Simpson joined the unit as First Sergeant in March, and became air technician in April 1957.

This dent in personnel problem was only a beginning though. The aircraft assigned to the 117th were parked at McConnell Air Force Base, Kans., since the Navy had no hangar space to spare initially. The pilots and mechanics had to commute to Wichita for weekend drills and daily flying. The remainder of the small unit met in a Quonset hut in downtown Hutchinson, since the Navy could find no available space in Hutchinson NAS. Finally, in April, part of Building 303 became the orderly room and base supply. Unit supply was at 707 West 7th, still in downtown Hutchinson, so the unit was pretty thoroughly scattered on a UTA. (We might note that the bins unit supply acquired in this period have become some of the most enduring components of the unit. They have traveled from West 7th to East 2nd to Hutchinson ANGB, and then to two locations in Topeka, finally settling (or at least resting) at Building 451, with a move to Building 662 already planned).

Recruiting was the main function in those days. With the initial quota passed, they could pick and choose. Mostly, the draft being what it was then, they chose college graduates. Indeed, once the 117th sent 40 men to Lackland AFB for Basic Military Training, and 39 of them were college graduates. This did pose some problems: A college man could make more trouble if he was discontented. By and large, though, the recruits were able men and learned their trades rapidly.

Things really began to happen in July of 1957, when Major Boggs returned from school and assumed active command of the 117th. Within a month, the unit was off on its first Summer Camp, voluntary for weekenders. It was to Casper Wyoming , together with the 127th. This did a great deal to heighten unit skills, but perhaps not so much for esprit de corps as later ones would, since the "augmented squadrons" of those years were split off by sections during such training. The maintenance security police of the 117th and the 127th formed a joint section, and so forth. Be that as it may, though, for the first time in the history of the unit, it was doing something as a unit. It was shortly after that summer camp (6-20 July, 1957) that Major Boggs talked with the Guard Bureau about the future of the unit. He needed a facility, he needed funds, and he needed technicians. To get them, he made a commitment. He told them he would double the unit strength.

The drive began in a big way on 8 Feb 1958. "Air National Guard Day" in Hutchinson , by order of the Mayor. The local movie theatre (the "Fox") hosted the 42nd Army Band, and a short feature, "Scramble Two," on the mission of the Air Guard. The Adjutant General of Kansas was to make a brief speech. Two billboards were loaned to the unit, and decorated with the face of a pilot, a jet and the motto: "Defending America since 1915: the Air National Guard." In other advertisements in the newspapers, short Air Guard ads were included, with the legends "Don't fly on the highway--do your flying in the Air National Guard," and "You get a good deal in the Guard." Within Major Boggs' limitation, the strength of the unit nearly tripled, from about 150 in the fall of 1957 to 448 by late June 1958. While not at full-authorized strength, the 117th was now close enough to be thought of as a functioning unit.

Besides the start of the recruiting drive, 8 February 1958 marked another victory for the 117th. The first of the unit's F-80s arrived at HNAS, more than a year after the creation of the unit. It was not necessary to build hangars for them, as had been planned. The Navy was in the process of closing down HNAS. They had announced the closing in April of 1957, and the Navy was to be out by July of 1958. That was quite a relief to the 117th. The Navy did, after all, own the base, and they weren't easy people to live with. They never got used to the greater camaraderie between Air Force officers and enlisted men, and the Air Force personnel never got used to the Naval habit of turning off the smoking light at certain times during the day. More important, with the Navy leaving, they could find room for the planes and pilots and mechanics wouldn't have to commute to Wichita each day. They'd have the airplanes right where they needed them.

The move was barely in time for the F-80s. From the beginning, they had been regarded as transitional aircraft. Initially, the intention had been to replace them with F84s, but the runway at Hutchinson (7500 feet) was a little short for that. Then the 117th was slated for F-86Ds, Fighter-Interceptor aircraft that would make use of the Air Force radar detachment already at the base. Major Boggs was in the Pentagon, discussing the changes needed for the conversion - spare parts, man-hours, schools for his pilots and mechanics - when General Winston P. (Wimpy) Wilson, a personal acquaintance, came by, and the dialog went something like this:

WILSON : "Well, Curly, how do you think you'll like these B-57 Canberras?"
BOGGS: "What about them?"
WILSON : "That's what you'll get for new equipment."
BOGGS: "@#$%! I can't even spell it."