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Remembering the Oregon ANG's 'Caretakers'

  • Published
  • By Retired Chief Master Sgt. Gene Thomas and retired Lt. Col. Terrence Popravak Jr.
  • 142nd Fighter Wing History Office
When the Air National Guard resumed its normal peacetime role after World War II, lessons learned from both prewar and wartime experience resulted in a buildup of capacity with ANG unit structure across the United States. One of these improvements was the addition of the "Caretakers," a cadre of full-time personnel whose role was to take care of the day-to-day requirements in aircraft maintenance and support equipment, parachutes, supply, transportation, administrative/personnel, electrical/electronics and security. This Veterans Day, we remember the Caretaker veterans and their role in the Oregon Air National Guard in the early postwar period.

Back in the 1970's, Oregon ANG aircraft maintenance legend and historian Jack Cronise asked Maj. Gen. Gordon L. Doolittle, then Oregon ANG Commander, for an input on the organization's history in the 1946-1947 timeframe. Doolittle, himself a combat veteran of WWII, a fighter pilot with three and a half aerial victories, spoke of the early recruiting for the Oregon ANG after WWII, when the Oregon ANG was built from scratch after the war as an entirely new outfit, but benefitted from the experience of many WWII veterans.

The Oregon National Guard's first aviation unit was the 123rd Observation Squadron, activated in April, 1941. Most of the 123rd Observation Squadron's original members were transferred out to help form new air units and subsequently served tours of military service during the war in a variety of units in the U.S., Europe, North Africa, China-Burma-India, and South Pacific. Some of them returned to Oregon and helped to establish the Oregon ANG after the war. On the other hand, after WWII, many veterans who served with no prior association with the Oregon ANG joined the organization and some of them became the initial Caretakers for the newly-established 142nd Fighter Group at Portland Army Air Base.

For example, the general remembered the following men, who were all aircraft maintenance Caretakers. Cronise was reportedly the first Caretaker hired, who worked on North American P-51 Mustangs aircraft, Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft, Beechcraft T-6 Texan trainer aircraft, and Douglas A-26 Invader attack bomber aircraft at first after the war - all were there later for the Oregon ANG transition into jet aircraft.

Neil Buley was in the European Theatre of Operations for three years during WWII, starting out as a crew chief on Northrop F-5 Lightning photo-reconnaissance aircraft in the 14th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron of the 7th Photo Reconnaissance Group in Eighth Air Force, and advancing to line chief in charge of the unit's flight line maintenance. One of his F-5 was reportedly the first U.S. aircraft to photograph Berlin.

Wyeth Barnum worked during the war at the Burtonwood Air Depot in England for four years performing maintenance and repairs on numerous heavy bombers of the European Theater of Operations such as the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber aircraft and Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber aircraft as well as medium bombers.

Lester Emery flew as an aircrew member on North Atlantic anti-submarine patrol aircraft for five years during the war.

John Lyons was a flight engineer and gunner in North American B-25 Mitchell medium bomber aircraft of the 488th Bomb Squadron, assigned to the 340th Bomb Group. He flew 67 combat missions over Sicily, Italy and France in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations.

Floyd "Pappy" Lovell served for 20 months in the South Pacific Area in the Pacific Theater on the island of New Caledonia as a crew chief on bomber aircraft belonging to the "Jungle Air Force," otherwise known as Thirteenth Air Force.

These men performed a mission essential role for the Oregon ANG as aircraft maintenance Caretakers, ensured the assigned aircraft were ready to fly as required, and established the regular presence of Oregon ANG personnel at Portland ANG Base.

There were other Caretakers too, in addition to these aircraft maintainers. Some of the full-time Caretaker veterans were specialists in various shops.

John Barden, who saw combat with the Army, was in admin and personnel. Lloyd Buckley, who served in the Navy, worked in sheetmetal and the machine shop. John Stockdale was in operations and Marvin Brant, who saw combat with the Navy, was in Electric/Electronics. Dale Evens, also with the Navy, was in Parachute and Bud Snavely, who saw combat while in the Army, and Dick Finch were in Transportation. Jim Schoonmaker was in Supply.

It wasn't until the 1960's that the Caretakers were accepted into the real "Civil Service" as full time employees, when they were given 55 percent of their past years of civil service, non-competitive time, to the real civil service competitive system. That was when they were called "Air Technicians," and most of them were still young enough to earn civil service retirements.

Until that time in the 1960's the Caretakers worked with no retirement; they mostly just loved their jobs and loved what they were doing. Most of all they loved not being nation-wide civil service competitive, meaning, one joined the Oregon ANG then applied for a full-time position at the base, whereas for nation-wide civil service one could put applications in to any place in the civil service unit.

We salute all veterans, and remember the Caretakers, those veterans named and unnamed, who played a key role in helping the Oregon ANG get a firm footing in the early postwar years. We owe them a debt of gratitude, for the prior military service as well as for serving so well in the ANG.