A Quick Background
(or, why I wanted to be an Air Commando)
When the United States entered World War II, Phil Cochran was
assigned to a P-40 fighter squadron
based in Connecticut. Early in 1941, Cochran
approached Milton Caniff, whom he had known at Ohio State,
and asked him to
design an insignia for the 65th Fighter Squadron group. Some months later, while
Cochran and other pilots practice fighter airplane maneuvers near
Groton, Connecticut, Caniff realized
“what potential material they were for
Terry and the Pirate characters.” After America’s entry into World War II,
Caniff had Terry join the United States Army Air Forces. On August 3, 1942, he
gave Terry a new companion,
the swashbuckling Captain Flip Corkin, whom he based
on fellow Buckeye and real life hero:
Lieutenant Philip Cochran.
Cochran was soon at the front, having been assigned to lead a group of
replacement pilots and planes to
North Africa. Cochran’s group seemed forgotten
in the mass confusion after the landings; wanting to see action,
charge of his recruits and took off in pursuit of the war, eventually settling
into a small airfield in
southern Tunisia. With no unit designation—his men
called themselves the “Joker Squadron”
—and using British equipment and
repairmen, Cochran’s ragtag outfit took to the air, fighting
German and Italian
pilots, bombing ground units, and earning a reputation as a hard-fighting
of pilots. Even though he was an officer, Cochran fraternized with his pilots
considered them friends, which endeared them to him even as they respected
His deputy commander recalled that Cochran was “a colorful
individual, a natural leader.
He was aggressive, but not ambitiously so.”
American correspondents latched on to the colorful leader
and soon his name was
appearing in headlines around the country. His success also fueled a local
bond drive in Erie that netted more than $15 million in just over a month.
Back in the states to train pilots after the conquest of North Africa, Cochran
was ushered into General
“Hap” Arnold’s office for reassignment. Arnold,
Commanding General of the U.S. Army Air Forces,
wanted Cochran and his buddy
John Alison to form a new air group to provide support for British forces,
as the “Chindits,” who were in India preparing for the invasion of Burma. Under
the command of
Orde C. Wingate, another unorthodox leader, the British were
preparing to push the Japanese out of Burma,
but needed air cover. Cochran and
Alison were tasked with providing it.
Colonel Alison, General Wingate, Colonel Cochran
Thus was born the 1st Air Commando Group, comprised of
fighters (P-51 Mustangs at first), B-25 bombers, helicopters,
cargo planes (the
big C-47s), and gliders. Wingate’s method of attack—long-range
tactics. Using the gliders as attack aircraft,
Cochran and Alison would fly behind enemy lines during in the initial
troop offensives, using jungle clearings as primitive airfields to enable the
British and Indian troops to clear
a larger area for the bigger transport planes
Naysayers abounded, telling Cochran that gliders could not be used in the
jungle. But Cochran’s infectious optimism
helped Wingate get through the tough
times in early 1944. Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Allied theater commander,
informed Cochran that “you are the only ray of sunshine we have had in this
theatre this year.” When Project
Nine got off the ground, Cochran’s last-minute
reconnaissance revealed that one of two clearings was impassible.
Even so, the
operation proved a resounding success, when 9,000 troops landed 165 miles behind
Japanese front lines. Wingate’s interior raiding helped rout the enemy from
Burma and pave the way for
better supply lines to China.
After World War II, the concept of Air Commando or Special Operations nearly
died out entirely until it was kept alive
by the vision of one man, who
practically re-created the Air-Commandos in the early 1960s...
Harry C. Aderholt, Brigadier General, U.S. Air Force, Retired, was born in
Birmingham, Alabama in 1920. He served during
World War II in North Africa and
Italy as a B-17 and C-47 pilot from 1943 to1945. During the Korean War, General
Aderholt commanded Detachment II of the 21st Troop Carrier Squadron which was
responsible for all covert
air support to Special Operations in the theater.
Det. II also played a major role in the evacuation of Marines
from the Chosin
Reservoir. Following his Korean tour, General Aderholt was assigned as the
of the Air Training Branch of the CIA.
During this period, the tactics for low level night aircraft penetrations
against the most sophisticated air defense
systems were developed and tested.
Following a tour at Headquarters USAF Europe, where he served in the
of Plans as an unconventional warfare planning staff officer, Aderholt returned
with a second assignment to CIA as Air Operations Planner. In
January, 1960, in Okinawa, he was instrumental
in developing the airfield
complex in Laos known as Lima sites. These fields were used throughout Southeast
as support sites for special warfare operations as “Jolly Green” helicopter
forward staging bases for rescue
and recovery operations in Laos and North
From 1960 to 1962, he was commander of the Tibet Airlift Operation, then
served as a Special Air Advisor to the
Commander of the U.S. Air Force Special
air Warfare Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, 1962-1964.
From there he
became Commander of the famed 1st Air Commando Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
During the Vietnam War General Aderholt was assigned to the 6200th Material Wing
in the Philippines
and also the U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam.
In 1966, he was selected to activate, organize, and later command the 56th
Air Commando Wing at Nakhon Phanom
Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. In 1968,
he was reassigned to the U.S. Air Force Special Air Warfare Center,
designated U.S. Air Force Special Operations, at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
General Aderholt returned to Thailand in 1970 for two years as chief of the
Air Force Advisory Group. He retired in 1972,
but was recalled to active duty in
1973 and assigned as deputy commander, U.S. Military Assistance Command,
Thailand and deputy chief, Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group, Thailand. In
1974, he organized and implemented the
Cambodian Airlift. He became commander of
both organizations in 1975, retiring later that year.
Since that time the General has lectured at the USAF Special Operations
School, on low intensity warfare and became
one of the founders, and past
presidents of the Air Commando Association. He serves as the president of
McKoskie/Threshold Foundation, which with the ACA has shipped more than $300
million worth of medical
supplies, clothing, etc., to Asia, Central America, and
other areas of the world since 1962.
Air Commando Association
And today: the Air force has seen the requirement to keep Special Operations
as a permanent resource. We even have a
Special Operations Command which is in
charge of the 1st SOW at Hurlburt AFB and other active and reserve units all
over the world.
Special Ops has been a key player in every action from Panama to Iraq and some
you'll never hear about.
"ANY TIME, ANY PLACE".
(Air Commando Motto)
A bit of trivia to think about --- at no time during the
Vietnam War did the
Air Commando/Special Operations folks make up more than 5 percent
of the US Air Force manpower in the war. But they won 5 of the 12
Medals of Honor that went to Air Force men.
Maj. Bernard F. Fisher ...............A-1E .......earned 10
Lt. Col. Joe M. Jackson ...............C-123 .....earned 12 May 68
Lt. Col. William A. Jones III .......A-1H ......earned 1 Sep 68
1st Lt. James P. Fleming ............UH-1F ....earned 26 Nov 68
A1C John L. Levitow ................AC-47 ....earned 24 Feb 69