Courtesy of Silver Wings
By: Sonic Johnson
14th Flying Training Wing
Chief of Public Affairs
COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. — Over 450 base Airmen and downtown civilian supporters gathered here March 9 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Columbus AFB, Miss. Fittingly the gala event was held in a hangar named after the first commander of the installation with three former commanders’ journeying back for the commemoration and listen to the keynote address by United States Senator Roger Wicker.
This date was chosen to highlight the first class, 42-C, to graduate at Columbus on March 6, 1942, earning not only their wings of silver, but also their second lieutenant bars. All but four of the newly commissioned flying lieutenants stayed at Columbus to train subsequent class of student pilots.
The BLAZE hangar, normally dedicated to T-38C phase maintenance, had been cleared of all but three T-38s to make room for the 70th event. Memorabilia was on display from all 70 years of the bases’ history and included four locally-owned vintage aircraft. The J-3 Piper Cub, PT-17 Stearman, a P-51 Mustang and AT-6 Texan were present and posed all evening for pictures. On the way in to the event, guest drove past B-52H and KC-135R aircraft that were present at Columbus during the cold war era.
Wicker, representing three generations of Air Force service, remembers coming to the base for tours as a youngster. Both he and his son received commissioning physicals at the base medical facility. “On my two week reserve duty in the JAG office, I can remember telling our children that this was our family vacation,” recalled Wicker. My son attributes the exciting summers filled with July 4th festivals and air shows featuring the Thunderbirds as little moments that inspired the junior Wicker to seek a commission in the Air Force.
Dressed in vintage Army Air Corps uniforms, wing commander Col. Barre Seguin and vice commander Col. Matt Isler and 70th Ball committee chairman Capt. Keith Napolitano were joined by several other guests to weave the theme of 70 years of aviation excellence throughout the evening.
Prior to the intermission, guests were treated to a peek at a movie documenting the history of the base. Local film producer and entrepreneur Carlos and his son Roberto worked tirelessly to produce a documentary chronicling the bases’ 70 year path. Rosales intends to donate the finished film to the Air Force historian.
After the formal portion of the event was concluded, the Itawamba Community College Jazz Band played period swing and jazz music for the guests dancing enjoyment.
Maj. Gen Seve Wilson, 14th Flying Training Wing commander 2004 – 2006 and currently Commander, 8th Air Force was impressed “with the first-class event that had incredible attention to detail in all areas.” Joined by retired Colonels Tom Quelly, 14th FTW commander 2000-2002 and Nick Ardillo, 14th FTW commander 1991-1993, they all remarked the excellent manner in which the history of the base had been presented and the evening ended far too soon!
The base intends to weave the 70th theme throughout this year to continue to celebrate the event. For example, the first class to graduate after Training Command resumed pilot training in 1970, Class 71-01, will be returning to the base for their class reunion during the October 5th graduation of class 12-15.
Seeing the transformation of a maintenance hangar into a setting for a gala event reinforces the 70th’s motto: Legendary Airmen: proving the impossible is possible!