History of the Colorado Air National Guard
Published September 15, 2008
To get a complete understanding of the 140 Wing and its association with the Colorado Air National Guard, one must first focus on its subordinate unit, the 120th Fighter Squadron.
The Colorado Air National Guard has a proud history that can be traced back to June 27, 1923 when the 120th Aero Observation Squadron, 45th Division, Aviation was mustered into service as part of the Colorado Army National Guard. Initially composed of eight officers and 50 enlisted members, the unit flew Curtis JNSEs (better known as Jennies) - an aircraft which proved to be unsuitable for flying at Denver elevations. One year later, the 120th began flying out of Lowry Field. The brand new airfield was named in honor of 2nd Lt. Francis B. Lowry who was shot down and killed near Crepion, France in 1918 while on a photographic mission.
Nonetheless, the men of the 120th persevered flying the Jennies just before sunrise and after sunset, when the air was less turbulent. In later years, they would transition through a variety of more powerful observation aircraft such as the Douglas 0-2, Consolidated 0-17, and Douglas 0-38. The unit eventually started flying the 0-47 - a three-seat, all metal, single-engine aircraft - that took the unit into World War II.
Mobilization for the "Big One" took place on January 6, 1941, 11 months prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The unit, then 19 officers and 116 enlisted members, moved to Biggs Field, Texas. It remained intact until the outbreak of the war when the 120th was disbanded and its members dispersed to share their knowledge and experience with their comrades in the nation's rapidly growing Army Air Force (AAF).
Following the war in 1946, the Colorado Air National Guard was formed as a separate air arm of the state's National Guard. Its first unit, the newly reorganized 120th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) flying the P-51 Mustangs, was the first Air National Guard unit to obtain federal recognition nationally. Also formed was the 140th Fighter Group which would later become the 140th Wing.
In 1947, shortly after World War II and during the days of the "barnstormers," the 120th TFS organized an aerial demonstration team called the "Minutemen." This team was federally recognition in 1956, making it the first and only Air National Guard precision aerial demonstration team. Headed by Col. Walt Williams, the team performed in more than 100 air shows for more than three million people in 47 states and five foreign countries before being disbanded in favor of a fledgling team of Air Force pilots, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.
Since its rebirth as a separate service, the Colorado Air National Guard has been called to federal active duty several times.
The first time was in April and May 1951 when the pilots of the 120th were called into service in Korea. Later activations included the Berlin Crisis in 1961; the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962; the Pueblo Crisis in 1968 where the 120th was the first Air National Guard unit ever to be called to combat; While in Vietnam at Phan Rang Air Base, members earned the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with the "V" device for valor. Flying the F-100C Super Sabres, the 120th flew more than 6,000 combat missions in support of the ground forces of the United States and the Republic of Vietnam.
This highly decorated unit has been mobilized most recently for service in Operation Desert Storm, Operations Northern and Southern Watch, Operation Noble Eagle, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, in addition to many domestic efforts.
Hours after the planes hit the World Trade Center on Sep. 11, 2001, dedicated aircrews had jets patrolling Colorado skies ready to challenge any who would threaten freedom. That mission became the Air Sovereignty Alert mission and continues today.
The current home of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard is Buckley Air Force Base. It was named in honor of Lt. John Harold Buckley of Longmont, Colo. He lost his life in 1918 when shot down behind German lines during a strafing mission in France.