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-as-happy “First.”
After the first few months of the war, the rest of the 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing reverted back to the F-51D Mustang because of problems associated with acquiring spare parts for the relatively new F-80s. But, always the exception, the 80th Fighter-Bomber Squadron became one of only half a dozen squadrons who retained the F-80.
On 6 October 1950, the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Group took command of Kimpo Air Base, Korea and moved two of its F-80 Squadrons to Kimpo. On the 25th of October 1950, the 80th Fighter-Bomber Squadron (which had never relinquished its F-80’s), attached to the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Group, moved to Kimpo. The 80th remained attached to the 51st at Kimpo until the airfield was evacuated shortly before Christmas 1950 because of the advancing Chinese Communist Forces. The 80th returned to Itazuke Air Base, Japan.
The 35th and 36th Fighter-Bomber Squadrons, who had been flying their Mustangs out of various South and North Korean airfields, had transferred their aircraft to other Mustang units and were already at Itazuke along with the 8th Wing and Group. The 80th Squadron continued to fly Korean combat missions from Itazuke and were joined by the 35th and 36th Squadrons as they were reequipped with F-80 aircraft. The wing, group and all three squadron did not move back to Kimpo Air Base until June 1951.
By December 1951, the squadron had flown 10,827 combat sorties. During the first year of the Korean War, the 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing and its flying units, the 80th FBS “Headhunter,” 35th FBS “Black Panthers,” and 36th FBS “Flying Fiends” were credited with destroying at least 45 enemy aircraft (of which the 80th got 17), 256 tanks, 1916 artillery positions, 4026 vehicles, 48 locomotives, 6026 buildings, and 14,684 enemy troops.
In October of 1952, 2Lt Warren Guibor of the 80th flew the 50,000th sortie of the Korean War in an F-80C named “The Spirit of Hobo.”
The Chinese communists had entered the war with massive forces in December 1950, driving the United Nations troops back to positions near what is now the DMZ. For the next 18 months fighting was sporadic, interrupted or slowed by numerous unsuccessful peace negotiations. During the late summer and fall of 1952, the war heated up again. With enormous sacrifice of their troops, the Communists recaptured the strategic Triangle Hill in early November. Triangle Hill overlooked the massively outnumbered US forces on nearby Sniper Ridge (near present-day Osan Air Base).
On the morning of 22 November 1952, Major Charles J. Loring of the 80th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, on his 51st mission, led a flight of four F-80s in a close support strike against enemy formations near Triangle Hill. Loring was directed by an airborne controller to dive-bomb gun emplacements that were pinning down US ground forces near Sniper Ridge. The ground fire, as usual, was very heavy. After locating his target, Loring signaled his flight members and then rolled into his bomb run. Most of the enemy fire concentrated on his F-80 as it led the attack. Other members of his flight saw Loring’s plane take several direct hits from AAA. They expected he would pull out of his dive and attempt to reach the nearby friendly territory. Instead, he continued the attack, altering his course some 45 degrees in a deliberate, controlled maneuver and dove directly into the enemy gun positions, destroying them and allowing the entrapped infantry to advance at the cost of his own life.
A later investigation determined that there was no indication that Loring had been mortally wounded when his aircraft was hit or that it could not have been flown to safety. For his self-sacrifice, he was posthumously awarded our Nation’s highest award; the Medal of Honor. Today, Loring Air Force Base in Maine, Loring’s home state, commemorates the extraordinary heroism of this noble “Headhunter.”
Although it had been a separate service since 1947, Air Force Medal of Honor recipients during the Korean War still received the Army Medal of Honor for their actions. The actual Air Force Medal was adopted in 1965, and was first awarded to Bernard Francis Fisher on January 19, 1967 for his action in Vietnam on March 9, 1966.
The 80th served at several different bases during the Korean War, returning to Itazuke after the Communist Chinese intervention and later moving to Suwon, Korea after the United Nations pushed back the Chinese offensive. 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 vastly superior F-86 Sabre, but continued to fly air-to-ground missions.
Whether striking the enemy’s front lines, or flying deep behind the lines to hit supply routes, bridges, supply build-ups, or heavy troop concentrations, the “Headhunters” remained in continuous combat during the entire conflict. We produced three Aces, James Hill, Leonard Lilley, and Harold Fischer. The 80th earned the Presidential Unit Citation, two Distinguished Unit Citations, 10 campaign credits, the Korean Service Medal, and two Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citations.