Friday, June 25, 2021

The Georgia National Guard and the Korean War

 By Maj. William Carraway

Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

Georgia Air National Guard pilots killed in action in Korea:  Left to Right:  Capt. Barney Casteel, Lt.
James Collins, Capt. David Mather, Capt. John Thompson, Lt. William White. Georgia National Guard Archives.

Three Blissful Weeks in June

In June 1950, with summer approaching, Soldiers and Airmen of the Georgia National Guard were preparing for annual training. The 128th Fighter Squadron of the Georgia Air National Guard’s 116th Fighter Group received its first jet-powered aircraft, the F-84 Thunderjet, replacing the World War II-era F-47 Thunderbolt. The 128th was the second squadron of the Ga. ANG to field jet aircraft after the 158th FS replaced its F-47s with the F-80C Shooting Star in 1948. The first of the 26 Thunderjets assigned to the 128th was flown to Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta, Ga. by Capt. Barney Casteel, a 27-year-old native of Atlanta. A 1948 graduate of Georgia Institute of Technology, Casteel flew 81 combat missions over Germany in World War II and was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross.[1]

Captain Barney Casteel at the controls of the first F-84 Thunderjet assigned to the 128th Fighter Squadron. Photo by Sgt. J. C. Templeton.

As Casteel was winging his way to Dobbins, State Senator Roy LeCraw was ensconced in his Atlanta office. The former mayor of Atlanta and World War II veteran additionally served as commander of the 216th Air Services Group and personnel officer for the Georgia Air National Guard. Colonel LeCraw was anticipating a busy annual training season, not knowing he would soon be called to active duty, along with Casteel, to serve as the executive officer of the 116th Fighter Bomber Wing.

Col. Roy LeCraw Ga. National Guard Archives.
Halfway between Atlanta and Savannah, the Georgia Army National Guard’s Battery D,
101st Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion spent their June drill at their armory in Waynesboro preparing for annual training which was to be held at Camp Stewart August 6 to 20. The battalion would compete with its rival, the 250th AAA Battalion, in crew drills and firing efficiency for bragging rights as the top guns in the Savannah-based 108th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Brigade. First Lieutenant Paul Stone, a 25-year-old platoon leader and business owner, born and raised in Waynesboro, had already gained a reputation as an effective officer. A veteran of the Air Corps in World War II, Stone left the Air Corps Reserves March 13, 1949 to serve with his hometown Guard unit. As he finished up paperwork from the June drill, Stone prepared to return to his civilian job and looked forward to the hot humid annual training at Camp Stewart.


Just weeks later, on June 25, 1950, North Korean Army units backed by Soviet and Chinese equipment and assistance advanced in force into South Korea. In response, the United Nations Security Council authorized the formation of the United Nations Command. On July 5, elements of the 24th U.S. Infantry Division moved to engage forces of the Korean People’s Army near Osan. Lacking anti-tank weaponry, the U.S. force was overwhelmed by North Korean armor. The 24th fell back steadily. Over the next seventeen days of constant combat, the American units suffered more than 30 percent casualties.

Protecting the Homeland

With the action unfolding on the Korean peninsula, Georgia National Guard leaders began to prepare their units for possible mobilization. Brig. Gen. Joseph Fraser, commander of the 108th AAA Brigade was faced with the prospect of serving in his third war. He served in France during World War I and had commanded the Ga. ARNG’s 101st AAA BN in the Pacific during World War II. His present command encompassed the 101st as well as the Augusta based 250th AAA BN which had also served in the Pacific during World War II.

Fraser’s executive officer was Col. George Hearn of Monroe, Ga. Like Fraser, Hearn had commanded an anti-aircraft unit in the Pacific during World War II. Returning home from the war, Hearn had been elected mayor of Monroe and was preparing to begin his term as the commander of the American Legion in Georgia in 1950.

Brigadier General Joe Frasier (second from left) and Col. George Hearn (second from right) brief Maj. Gen. Ernest Vandiver, Georgia’s Adjutant General
(center) on mobilization of the 108th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Brigade at Fort Bliss January 1951. Georgia National Guard Archives.

On August 14, 1950, the 108th AAA was activated for federal service. In addition to the 101st and 250th AAA Battalions, the 178th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Operations Detachment and 420th Signal Radar Maintenance Unit rounded out the brigade. With a combined strength of just over 1,000 men, the 108th was dispatched to Fort Bliss Texas and assigned to the 8th U.S. Army. In November 1951, the 108th was dispatched to the Midwest with the 250th arriving at Fort Custer, Michigan and the 101st garrisoned at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. From these bases of operation, the Georgia Guard batteries were independently assigned to cities and industrial areas from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania to provide anti-aircraft capability against the threat of Soviet missile and aircraft attacks. First Lieutenant Stone’s battery of 90 mm guns was assigned to protect the skies over Chicago.

In December, Maj. Gen. Ernest Vandiver, Adjutant General of Georgia, dispatched the state’s C-47 cargo aircraft to bring Georgia Guardsmen home for Christmas from Camp McCoy and Fort Custer. While the Georgia Guardsmen of the 101st were able to rotate home for Christmas, cold weather prevented the Guardsmen of the 250th AAA from rotating home from Fort Custer.

Georgia National Guard Soldiers of the 101st Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion stand in the frigid cold of a Chicago winter while waiting for their C-47
transport plane to refuel and bring them home for Christmas in 1951. Georgia National Guard Archives.

Brig. Gen. Paul Stone, commander of the
Ga. ANG, 1963-1971.
The guns of the 108th AAA remained on station through the spring of 1952 before receiving the order to rotate home. The Waynesboro Battery remained in position
through April 1952 with Stone rising to command the battery. After demobilizing at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, the 101st AAA Gun Battalion returned home. Over the next seven years, the Waynseboro battery earned six consecutive superior ratings and Stone received the Georgia Distinctive Service Medal and promotion to major. After a brief tenure on the staff of the 108th AAA, Stone transferred to the Ga. ANG. He retired in 1971 as a brigadier general having served eight years as commander of the Georgia Air National Guard.

Brigadier General Joe Fraser was appointed to command the Ga. ARNG’s 48th Infantry Division in March 1952 but did not return from mobilization until May. He saw the 48th through its transition to armor and served as the first commander of the 48th Armor Division. Fraser retired as a lieutenant general in 1956.

George Hearn was promoted to brigadier general and succeeded Fraser in command of the 108th AAA. In 1954 he was appointed to serve as Georgia’s Adjutant General. He served two non-consecutive terms as adjutant general for a total of 15 years and retired in 1971 having served the longest of Georgia’s Adjutants General.

Ga. ANG Pilots in Early Action in Korea

On Oct. 5, 1950, the Georgia Air National Guard’s 54th Fighter Wing was activated along with Col. LeCraw, Capt. Casteel, and other Ga. ANG pilots of the newly redesignated 116th Fighter Bomber Wing. As had happened to the Ga. ARNG units in the early months of World War II, many of the pilots of the Georgia Air National Guard were individually selected for other units. Among those was 1st Lt. James Lawrence Collins of the 128th Fighter Squadron. Like Casteel, Collins had served in World War II and was a 1947 graduate of the University of Georgia. He left his advertising job with the Atlanta Journal Constitution to deploy with the 128th. On May 8, 1951, Collins was on a mission with the 49th Bomber Wing over North Korea. While maneuvering his F-80 into position for a dive bomb run, Collins was hit by antiaircraft and crashed. He was declared missing, later killed in action. He was 26.

1st Lt. William White

Captain John Franklin Thompson of the 54th Fighter Wing was another Georgia ANG pilot and World War II veteran to see service over Korea with the U.S. Air Force. On June 11, 1951, while flying with the 18th Fighter Bomber Wing on his 75th mission, Thompson, having expended all his ammunition, was flying at low altitude attempting to locate targets. His P-51 Mustang was struck by enemy groundfire which caused it to hit the ground and explode, killing Thompson on impact.

Nine days later, a Georgia Air National Guard pilot scored his eighth kill. Lieutenant J. B. Harrison, formerly of the 128th Fighter Squadron, shot down a Russian Yak 9 fighter over Korea June 20, 1951 adding to seven confirmed kills he had received in World War II.

On June 21, 1951, 1st Lt. William Clyde White of the 8th Bomber Group had taken to the skies over North Korea in his F-80. The 32-year-old native of Savannah was a World War II veteran of the Pacific Theater who had flown the B-29 Superfortress. White had served in the 158th Fighter Squadron before his transfer to the 8th FB Group. Coming under heavy antiaircraft fire near Twijae, White maneuvered into a dive and struck a ridge. His aircraft exploded on impact.

The 116th Deploys

The remaining Georgia Air National Guardsmen, except those assigned to the 128th Fighter Squadron, departed for Korean service in July 1951 aboard the aircraft carriers Sitkoh Bay and Windham Bay and reached Japan July 27 where Col. LeCraw served as commander of the 116th Air Base Group. The Guardsmen provided air defense for Japan until December when the units were ferried to Korea to participate in missions in the skies over North Korea.

Barney Casteel in 1948.
Captain David J. Mather, a former member of the 128th Fighter Squadron and native of
Atlanta was one of the pilots of the 116 to enter combat over Korea. While conducting an armed reconnaissance mission following a dive bombing of enemy supply lines near Sairwon North Korea Jan. 12, 1952, Mather’s F-84 was hit by ground fire. He was seen to crash and was listed as missing, later killed in action.

On Jan 21, 1952, while assigned to the 136th Bomber Wing, Capt. Barney Casteel was conducting an armed reconnaissance mission north of Pyongyang. While strafing vehicles, Casteel’s F-84 aircraft was hit by ground fire. Casteel was unable to free himself from the aircraft seat and was killed on impact. He was the last Georgia Air National Guard Pilot killed in Korea.

The following month, the Ga. ANG units returned to Japan and began demobilizing to the United States. By July, all the units of the 54th had returned to Georgia. The 128th Fighter Squadron was briefly mobilized to France in 1952 but did not see service in the skies over Korea. Nevertheless, many of its pilots, such as Capt. Glenn Herd, were brought into service with the U.S. Air Force in Korea. Herd ultimately flew more than 100 missions before returning home to serve as operations officer of the 128th Fighter Squadron under Major, and future Adjutant General Joel Paris.

Major Joel Paris, commander of the Ga. ANG’s 128th Fighter Squadron confers with Capt. Glenn Herd, operations officer of the 128th.
Georgia National Guard Archives.
Colonel Roy LeCraw returned home to a hero’s welcome. On July 19, 1952, LeCraw learned that he had been awarded the Bronze Star for “exceptionally meritorious service for distinguishing himself by performing outstanding administrative functions connected with the activation, reorganization and command of Air Force Units.” Major General Ernest Vandiver, Adjutant General of Georgia, presented the Bronze Star to LeCraw during a ceremony honoring Korean War Veterans in January 1953.

[1] “Capt. B. P. Casteel, Atlanta Jet Pilot, Killed in Korea. Atlanta Constitution, Jan. 25, 1952, 19.

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