"Aces of The Eighth" by Jack Fellows

Cincinatti, OH: September 19-22, 1996

Cincinnati Reunion
16th Reunion

Hosted by
Don & Susan Wykoff
19-22 Sep 1996
Omni Hotel

This great reunion, although attended by a smaller number of members than others, was another huge success!  When we analyzed what the reason was for the lower turn-out, it was determined that, although Cincinnati was a beautiful place, the fact remained that very few of our retired members and none of our active duty members are in that area.  With the next reunion at that time planned for Seattle, WA, the same reasoning dictated we change that reunion to Las Vegas.  So it came to pass!

One of the highlights of this Cincinnati Reunion was the dedication of our Squadron plaque at the USAF Museum on Wright-Patterson AFB. The dedication follows:

80th Squadron
Memorial Plaque Dedication
United States Air Force Museum
Wright-Patterson AFB
20 September 1996
1500 Hours

Distinguished Guests, Fellow Headhunters, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The 80th Pursuit, Fighter, Fighter-Bomber, and Tactical Fighter Squadron has had a long and distinguished history.  I would like to mention just some of its highlights.

The 80th Pursuit Squadron had its beginnings on 6 January 1942 at Mitchell Field, New York.  The 80th, along with the 35th and 36th Pursuit Squadrons, formed the 8th Pursuit Group.  The Group left Mitchell Field 20 days later, and landed in Brisbane, Australia on the 6th of March.

On 15 May 1942, the official designation changed from “80th Pursuit” to “80th Fighter” Squadron.

On the 20th of July, twelve P-39’s of the 80th flew up to 12-Mile Strip outside Port Moresby, New Guinea, and on August 26th 1942, Lt Danny Roberts got the first two air victories for the 80th, the first of more than 225 such Squadron victories of WWII.  Lt William Brown also accounted for two Zeros that day.  Rogers was making a subsequent pass at a Zero that was trying to land, when other Japanese fighters got on his tail.  He was forced to ditch his fighter in the bay after it was badly damaged, and then swam to shore, making it back to Port Moresby two weeks later with the help of a local tribe of headhunters.

A turning point in the history of the 80th occurred on 8 April 1943 when Capt Edward “Porky” Cragg, who had joined the 80th in early 1942, was tapped to be its commander.  Capt Cragg commissioned crewchief Yale Saffro, who had worked as an artist for Walt Disney before the war, to design the 80th’s legendary symbol.  Cragg also gave the squadron the name it still proudly carries today, “The Headhunters” after the local New Guinean Headhunter tribes who helped to rescue downed pilots.

Feistiness of this young commander became more apparent, when the “Powers That Be” decided that only one of the 8th Group’s squadrons would initially be given new P-38 aircraft.  The commanders of the 35th and 36th, respected units whose lineage traced back to before World War I, didn’t even consider the brash newcomer eligible for consideration of the honor being bestowed upon the group, and tossed a coin between themselves to determine the winner.  Informed of their decision, “Porky” raised no protest.  Early the next morning, however, he climbed into his P-39, “Porky I” and proceeded to Port Moresby to consult with the “Powers That Be” personally.  Apparently Cragg talked as well as he flew, because less than two weeks later, on January 28th, the 36th Squadron relieved the 80th and on 6 February 1943, the entire squadron moved to Mareeba, Australia for conversion to their brand-new twin-tailed Lockheed P-38 Lightnings!

Two months later, on 7 April 1943, the personnel of the 80th were flown back to go into business at 3-Mile Strip.  The P-38s were not long in joining them, sporting the sparkling brand new color scheme: the bright green spinners with silver and green striped rudders that Japanese pilots soon learned to dread.

On December 26, 1943, during one of the first missions flown from Dobodura, Major Edward “Porky” Cragg’s P-38, “Porky II” was shot down soon after downing his 15th Japanese fighter.  His parachute was seen to open as he fell to the sea, but he was never seen again.  Cragg had been leading his flight of 12 P-38s against a force of 20 Japanese bombers and over 50 fighters.  At least nine Japanese aircraft were downed during the gallant “Headhunter” attack, and the bombers were forced to drop their loads and return to Rabaul without hitting their target. Although he was only 24 years old when he was lost, Major Cragg was one of the most decorated officers in the Pacific Theater with 15 confirmed aerial victories.  “Porky” Cragg is still remembered in song to this day by the “Headhunters”.

On the 30th of March, 1944, the 80th, in support of General Douglas MacArthur’s ground offensive, participated in a great turkey shoot over the Japanese Base at Hollandia, destroying over 33 enemy aircraft in 4 days without a single loss to themselves—a Pacific Theater record.  On the 12th of April, the 80th became the first US fighter squadron ever to shoot down over 200 enemy aircraft, and on that same day, while flying with the 80th, Maj Dick Bong scored his 26th, 27th, and 28th victories, surpassing Eddie Rickenbacker’s old record making him the new American “Ace-of-Aces.”  Praise poured in for the pilots and the maintenance personnel after that operation.  The pilots flew outstanding missions, and maintenance kept all 26 P-38 aircraft at their peak with all 26 participating in the action, performing at least three missions a day, for all 4 days!

The legendary aviator Charles Lindbergh, also flew with the “Headhunters” as an instructor, earning several kills.  The squadron moved to Okinawa on 29 August, 1944, and flew its first mission against the Japanese mainland on the following day.  On 12 August, 1945, the “Headhunters” flew their final combat mission of World War II, in which the squadron commander was shot down.

During the course of World War II, the “Headhunters” traveled over 60,000 air-miles, deployed to 21 different locations in 3.5 years, and  accounted for over 225 enemy aircraft destroyed in the air (second highest squadron in the theater, and overall second highest twin-engined allied fighter squadron in the entire war).  Among the 24 “Headhunters” pilots who became aces were Major Jay T. Robbins, the group’s leading ace with 22 confirmed kills, and Major Richard I. Bong with 40 confirmed aerial victories, the American “Ace-of-Aces.”

On 26 Dec 1945, as part of the massive draw-down of American forces following World War II, the 80th Fighter Squadron was deactivated.  The squadron remained inactive until 20 February 1947, when it was once again activated and assigned to the newly reformed 8th Fighter Group, which had moved to Itazuke, Japan.  The 8th Fighter Group was again composed of the 35th, 36th, and 80th Fighter Squadrons and had converted from the P-38 to the F-51D Mustang.  The 80th began to transition to its first jet aircraft in 1949, trading its Mustangs for the F-80 Shooting Star.  The F-80 was the first operational American jet fighter. The conversion to F-80s was completed in 1950, and the squadron designation changed to the 80th Fighter-Bomber Squadron on 20 January 1950.

North Korea invaded South Korea on 25 June 1950, and the “Headhunters” once again entered combat.  The day after the invasion, the 80th and the rest of the 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing provided air defense for the frantic evacuation of American forces from Seoul as it was being overrun.  Other than these initial air defense missions, the 80th spent the rest of the war flying bombing and close air support missions. The 80th was the first American unit to employ jet fighters in combat, another “First” for the “Headhunters.”  On 5 Jul 1950, the 80th’s commander, Maj Amos L. Sluder, became the first American pilot to give his life in the new war when his F-80 was hit by a tank shell during an attack on an enemy column, a not-so-happy “First.”

In a 14-hour period on 14 April 1953, the squadron flew 120 combat sorties, surpassing all previous records.  Shortly before the war ended, the squadron converted from the F-80 to the F-86 Sabre, but continued to fly air-to-ground missions.

The “Headhunters” had remained in continuous combat during the entire conflict.

On 21 October 1954, the 80th moved from Suwon, Korea to Kadena, Okinawa.  While at Kadena, the 80th converted to the F-84 Thunderjet. On 7 August 1956, the “Headhunters” rejoined the 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing, which had again moved to Itazuke.  Here the squadron began flying the F-100 Super Sabre.  During this time the squadron designation changed again, with a 1 July 1958 redesignation as the 80th Tactical Fighter Squadron.

In 1962 the 80th began to transition to the F-105 Thunderchief, and in May 1964 moved to Yokota Air Base, Japan.  The squadron performed two combat deployments to Southeast Asia in 1964 and 1965, serving first for two months at Korat Air Base, Thailand and later for two months at Takhli Air Base, Thailand.  During this period, the 8 TFW/CC, Col Robin Olds, gave the 8th Wing its nickname of “Wolf Pack.”  It has stuck ever since.

These two deployments made up the total of the 80th Tactical Fighter Squadron’s involvement in Vietnam.

During the late 1960s, the Air Force used the squadron for the defense of Korea.  The squadron converted to the F-4 Phantom in late 1967 and early 1968.

On 15 February, 1971, the 80th moved from Yokota to Kunsan AB, Republic of Korea.  After a few months, the 80th was in the process of being deactivated.  Fortunately, former “Headhunter” Lt Gen Jay T. Robbins, who was Vice Commander of TAC at the time, caught the action and rescued us at the last minute.  Instead, we were re-staffed with new personnel, primarily from the 391st Tactical Fighter Squadron.  The 391st motto was “AUDENTES FORTUNA JUVAT” which translates from Latin: “Fortune Favors the Bold”.  This motto subsequently became the new “Headhunters” motto.  As the new “Headhunters” were removing their old patches, they would grasp the triangular patch by the upper left hand corner to tear them off.  All would tear off except the last word, “JUVAT”.  It caught on immediately, and is used today for the Squadron’s nickname.

On 16 September 1974, the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing replaced the 3 TFW at Kunsan, reuniting the “Headhunters” with the “Wolf Pack.”

In September of 1981 the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing became the first unit stationed overseas to convert to the F-16 Fighting Falcon.  On 3 February, 1992, the 80th Tactical Fighter Squadron was redesignated the 80th Fighter Squadron and reassigned to the new 8th Operations Group (a direct descendant of our original 8th Pursuit Group).  The 80th Fighter Squadron continues to support the United States Contingent in Korea with the same pride and excellence instilled by the “Headhunters” of the past.  In demonstration of this, we proudly bear the name given to us by “Porky” Cragg in 1943, wear a patch very similar to the one designed for us by Yale Saffro, and use some of the Flight-Lead call-signs (“Chevy,” “Olds,” and “Buick”) dating back to World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

Our Squadron has had a proud history, and it still stands ready today, at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, to once again serve our Country and protect others.

Therefore, this plaque is dedicated, NOT to our 24 WWII Aces and other pilots who accounted for over 225 enemy aircraft destroyed in the air, NOT to our 3 Korean War Aces and other pilots who knocked down 17 aircraft, and destroyed thousands of ground targets, including the gun emplacements destroyed by Medal Of Honor winner, Maj Charles J. Loring, as he dove his crippled F-80 into their midst’s, thus allowing the trapped infantry to advance—at the cost of his own life.

NOR are we dedicating this plaque to the pilots who preserved the fragile peace between the wars, NOR our Ace, pilots, and crew members who flew in the Vietnam War, NOR the newer pilots and crew members known as “Juvats” today.

This plaque is NOT dedicated to all the ground personnel of WWII, Korea, between the wars, Vietnam, and the present who kept the planes flying, weapons loaded, aircrews ready, and Squadron administration running efficiently.

NOR is this plaque being dedicated to the numerous members who went on in their careers to become General Officers, NOR the 77 members, as of today, who were 80th Squadron Commanders.

No, not even to our many comrades who gave their lives in all these wars and during peace time to help prevent wars.

Then why are we here today?  We’re here today to dedicate this 80th Squadron Memorial Plaque to ALL members and former members, who, working only as a close-knit team of men and women, excel in all they do—from its inception on 6 January 1942 to the present.  Without any one of these critical parts, the whole would not be the unique same. Therefore, let us unveil OUR Memorial Plaque—dedicated to ALL of us. We, as a team, can be very proud of our Squadron and our individual role we each play to insure it’s the best fighter squadron in the world.

As the plaque is unveiled, and the ceremony is concluded, the fly-over you’ll see is a flight of four single-seat F-16 Vipers from Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, being flown by four former members of the 80th Squadron.

1525 — ( Unveil Plaque at this time, and read it )

HH Plaque.jpg (50803 bytes)

1530 – Fly-over TOT

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for coming today to witness this dedication.  Please feel free to come up and view YOUR beautiful plaque.  This concludes the ceremony.

* END *


Dear God,

Today, we have gathered here to honor the men and women of the 80th Fighter Squadron.  This unit was born in time of war, and has survived the challenges of our countries enemies, but at great sacrifice during its 54 years.

We ask you, God, to please keep those brave people of the 80th who have gone before us, with you, and we ask that you watch over our young people in this Squadron today who are still protecting our country by maintaining the peace in a far-off land.

And lastly, dear Lord, please watch over the rest of the people of the 80th Squadron who couldn’t be here today in person, but are here with us in spirit.

Thank you, God, for all our blessings, and please keep us always close to You and each other.  We ask it in Your name, Amen.

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