Saturday, May 18, 2019

Ga. Guardsmen in Rome Assist U.S. Navy Airship Landing

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

The Georgia Army National Guard unit at Rome Georgia had seen many things in its twelve years of existence. Since the unit’s founding in 1947, the Guardsmen of Company A, 163rd Tank Battalion had helped apprehend fugitives, conducted missing persons searches and assisted the citizens of North Georgia following weather emergencies. But May 18, 1959 would see the Rome Guardsmen make history as the first Georgia Guardsmen to assist the landing of a U. S. Navy airship.[i]

In May, 1959, the Treasury Department initiated the Share in America Savings Bond Drive. To kick off the campaign in North Georgia, Treasury Department officials contacted the Naval Air Station Glynco at Brunswick Georgia and asked that one of their submarine-chaser blimps be dispatched north to generate interest. The U.S. Navy agreed to participate, but informed treasury officials that they would need to arrange for a ground crew to facilitate the airship’s landing at Russell Air Field in Rome, Ga.

Frank Barron, bond campaign chairman contacted Capt. Lewis Varnedoe, commander of Company A, 163rd Tank Battalion and asked if his unit could assist with 20 volunteers. Accordingly, a detail of Georgia Guardsmen dressed in crisply pressed fatigues reported to Russell Field under the command of 2nd Lt. Ronald Winslett. A four-man detachment from the U.S. Navy briefed the Georgia Guardsmen on what to expect when the 285 foot airship arrived. The Guardsmen were instructed to secure the nose lines of the blimp as it reached the airfield. They were also informed that the duty was dangerous. In the event that the blimp lost control and shifted in the wind, the Guardsmen were told to “hit the deck” to avoid the twin engine propellers of the craft.

As the blimp approached the landing strip of Russell Field, wind gusts made the landing treacherous. After winds blew the blimp off course its first landing attempt was waved off. The second landing attempt appeared destined for the same result, but the Guardsmen scrambled to secure the nose lines and held the craft in place long enough for it to touch down on its one wheel.

 Georgia Army National Guardsmen of Company A, 163rd Tank Battalion based in Rome, Ga. assist a U.S. Navy sub-hunting blimp in landing in Rome, Ga. May 18, 1959 during the Share in America savings bond drive. It was the first landing of a blimp at Russell Field. More than 20 Guardsmen assisted in landing the blimp during rough winds. Georgia History Archives / released

Despite the rough landing conditions, newspaper reporters, radio broadcasters and local dignitaries were taken aboard the airship for an aerial tour of the North Georgia Mountains. Curious onlookers from the ground beheld the spectacle of the area’s first lighter-than-air flight.

Returning to Russell Field, the U.S. Navy pilots again encountered variable wind gusts. The wind shifted just as the airship had touched down and the craft began to slide sideways off the runway and into a grassy field. The Guardsmen sprang to action, sprinting 100 yards to reach the tow lines. Grappling with the pitching airship, the Guardsmen held firm and eventually succeeded in securing the U.S. Navy blimp to the ground.

The passengers disembarked from the airship and the U.S. Naval personnel commended the Guardsmen for their assistance.

The memory of the U.S. Navy blimp visit to Rome, Ga. would far outlive the naval airships themselves. The airship squadrons based out of NAS Glynco were decommissioned in 1959.[ii] The airship hangars would stand as mute testaments to the airship program until they were demolished in 1971.[iii] Three years later, Naval Air Station Glynco was decommissioned.

The Georgia Guard armory in Rome continued to serve as the home of the Company A, 163rd Tank Battalion until 1963 when the unit was reorganized as Company A, 2nd Battalion, 108th Armor. Since 2011, the Rome armory has been the base of operations for the 1160th Transportation Company which is currently supporting Joint Readiness Training Center Rotation 19-07 at Fort Polk, La.[iv]

[i] Landlocked Rome Guardsmen Join Forces with Navy Land Blimp after Tug-of-War with Sub Chaser." The Georgia Guardsman Magazine, May/June 1959, 2.
[ii] Faulkenberry, Leslie, Project Glynco: A History of NAS Glynco, Brunswick, Georgia. PDF, 100
[iii] Faulkenberry, Leslie, Project Glynco: A History of NAS Glynco, Brunswick, Georgia. PDF, 130
[iv] Organizational Authority 204-11. National Guard Bureau, September 3, 2009

1 comment:

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