In 1946, Brigadier General Raymond Fleming, the Louisiana Adjutant General, new the importance of promptly taking the necessary steps to obtain an air unit for the State. He was fully aware that Lakefront Airport, with it’s multi million dollar Air Guard hanger and attached facilities, would easily pass every criteria for a bombardment unit. Early on he had chosen his squadron commander, Lt. Col. H. Farley Vincent. Vincent was already compiling a list of outstanding officers and airmen and prospects for early Federal Recognition were going forward.On 17 May 1946, Fleming’s office received the distressing news “the runways at Lakefront Airport are considered inadequate for Air National Guard bomber activities.” General Fleming was discouraged but he quickly flooded the National Guard Bureau with alternate plans. Moisant Airport or Alvin Callendar Field across the Mississippi River would be utilized in a “split operation.” The Aviation Board immediately turned down the plan involving Moisant and Callendar. It was described by the Guard Bureau as unacceptable because “it has excellent runways and nothing else.” A man with lesser persistence than Gen. Fleming may have lost his enthusiasm during these months, but the Adjutant General pressed on. He now proposed that Federal Recognition be granted to the 122nd Bombardment Squadron and that activities with AT-11s, BC-1As and C-47s be carried out until suitable arrangements could be made at Moisant or Callendar Field. To his astonishment, this plan was accepted and effective 5 December 1946 his split operation was granted.
During the early years of World War II, a vast industrial plant had been constructed on the eastern edge of New Orleans. Financed by the U.S. Government, the plant incorporated a 5500-foot airstrip, a large hangar, taxiways, etc. Although built on hydraulic fill with marshland at both ends and the sides, this strip was quickly approved by the National Guard Bureau. A total of twelve Douglas A-26s were assigned and within a few weeks the pilots of the 122nd were checking out this fast and versatile aircraft. During the years 1948 and 1949 the squadron flew thousands of hours from Michoud Strip with only one major non-fatal accident that marred an otherwise perfect flying record.
Intensive training for airmen and officers during regular drills was conducted on a weekly basis and summer exercises of two weeks training were held in 1948 at Eglin Field in Florida and then San Marcus Air Force Base in Texas in 1949. Gunnery, bombing and formation missions were flown daily with night navigation scheduled after dark. In December of 1949 Lt. Col. Robert Monsted replaced Lt. Col. Vincent as commanding officer of the squadron.
The year of 1950 was, as described in the history of the 122nd, a year of “Training for War.” Events in Korea were becoming increasingly serious. The squadron participated in maneuvers at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas and General Hufft, The Adjutant General, declared that all hands should be ready for active duty. On 19 January 1951 the squadron was alerted for active duty. Orders were effective on 11 April to report to Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. The mission of the 122nd Squadron was to form, train and prepare replacement night intruder combat crews for duty in Korea. The training would usually last six weeks for each crew and 70% of flight time would be at night.
VETERANS ASSOCIATION & RESTORATION UNIT
With the war in Korea winding down in 1952, personnel of the Bomb Squadron were being released from active duty on an individual basis and, as the end of the year approached, few of the original members remained at Langley Air Force Base. As previously mentioned, squadron deactivation occurred 31 December, 1952. The majority of individuals returned to their civilian jobs in New Orleans. Some joined the reactivated 122nd Squadron, which was being formed at the Lakefront Airport in 1953.
In the spring of 1992, some forty years after their release from service, a number of veterans of the 122nd met over coffee at Lakeside Shopping Center in Metairie, La. The group began to grow and it soon became apparent that some sort of activity would be in order. During this period, Clarence Eckelmann was elected President, Ernest Daunis Vice President, Anthony Trapani Treasurer, and Dave Callen Secretary. The members began meeting for lunch regularly every month at Lakefront Airport. Callen now publishes a monthly newsletter sent to some 130 veterans of the Squadron, many who are now living in cities outside of Louisiana.
During the years of active duty at Langley, the Bomb Squadron flew the A-26 Invader aircraft. All concerned agreed that every effort should be made to obtain an A-26. The men of this restoration group believed whole-heartedly that an A-26 could be restored to mint condition for static display purposes. Clarence Eckelmann’s fine book, “Final Flight”, details the story of the tortuous efforts to obtain one of these great aircraft – a non-stop task of over three years. He also describes how the A-26 was transformed, after two more years, from a semi wrecked aircraft into the beautiful aircraft that is now a feature of the Jackson Barracks Airpark.
The restoration group of artisans has now completed such projects as the renovation of an AT-11 aircraft and an OH-58 helicopter. Work in progress includes a Hiller “Raven” helicopter and the disassembly of two Pratt & Whitney engines which will be cleaned and reassembled for static display. Recognizing the caliber of work and unique talents of this group, The Adjutant General has approved plans for a building approximately 50′ x 100′ adjacent to the air park. This building, now under construction, will be fully equipped and designed for work to be performed by the restoration personnel.
The 122nd Veterans Association has continued to be active in efforts to carry on the history and legacy of the Squadron. Histories of the Observation Squadron and the Bombardment unit were written by LTC (Ret.) Robert Monsted and were quickly sold out. On February 9th, 2000 the Association participated in a memorial service that involved most of the various components of the Adjutant Generals office and command. The Veterans Association initiated the idea for the event and could be considered the driving force behind the ultimate success of this impressive ceremony. The occasion was a moving and colorful service honoring 1st LT Walter Gardner and 2nd LT Arthur Davis, who lost their lives in the Gulf of Mexico while on submarine patrol with the 122nd Observation Squadron. General Landreneau went “all out” at this event and the service included troops from the Veterans Association, the 122nd Fighter Squadron, speeches, color guard, cannon and rifle salutes, wreath laying in the Mississippi river by a Coast Guard cutter, taps and a fly-over by four F-15 fighter jets.
The 122nd Bombardment Squadron Veterans Association is an active dynamic organization dedicated to preserving it’s place in history. It is looking ahead to the future with confidence for additional challenges.
Lt. Col. Robert M. Monsted (Ret.)