Moody AFB celebrates history of Flying Tigers

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Veteran and active aviators celebrated their unit’s storied history with past and present members of the Flying Tigers during a reunion here Nov. 13 to 15.

This year, three of the original Flying Tigers from World War II were able to attend the reunion. Don Miller, Frank Epperson, and J.M. Taylor were among nearly 300 Flying Tigers who gathered in Valdosta to celebrate their heritage. Miller, Epperson and Taylor flew P-40s and P-51s in China during World War II.

Col. Chad Franks, the current commander of the 23rd Wing, welcomed and thanked the veterans for attending the event during the kickoff ceremony in the fuels hangar.

“All the Flying Tigers who are here today, that is what it's all about," Franks said. "Getting all of you back together and telling some war stories ... and they don't all have to be true. Ten percent is the rule I think we're going for."

On a serious note, Franks expressed the importance of coming together to learn about the unit's history and to celebrate the accomplishments of all Flying Tigers from World War II to present day combat operations.

The group toured static display aircraft, received unit capabilities briefings, viewed a combat search and rescue demonstration by the 347th Rescue Group and the 23rd Fighter Group, and gathered for a dedication of Moody AFB's P-40 pavilion in memory of retired Lt. Col. Robert "Muck" Brown, an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot who passed away March 2014.

Miller said his favorite part about the reunions is everybody coming together.

“Honestly, I came because the other two guys weren't going to beat me,” he said. “I picture myself as the foundation of the guys, at least the information bit. As the newsletter editor and past 75th association president, I try to keep them all together."

Epperson, his friend and wingman, chimed in, "Seeing all of your old friends and classmates and people you flew alongside is worth the trip."

Moody AFB's 23rd Fighter Group traces its roots back to the 23rd Pursuit Group (Interceptor), constituted Dec. 17, 1941, at Langley Field, Virginia, just 10 days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Claire L. Chennault had been recalled to active duty with the rank of brigadier general and placed at the head of the China Air Task Force (later to become 14th Air Force). The 23rd FG, a component of the CATF, was assigned three squadrons -- the 74th, 75th, and 76th. These three fighter squadrons are today based at Moody AFB. The group's aircraft have evolved from the P-40 Warhawk, which lacked gun sights or bomb racks, to the current A-10C Thunderbolt II.

The group was nicknamed the "Flying Tigers" and became famous for the shark teeth painted on the P-40, which were thought to intimidate enemies and are used on the A-10s to this day.

After World War II, the Flying Tigers were inactivated and reactivated several times, flying different fighter aircraft at different locations before being reactivated as the 23rd Wing at Moody AFB in 2006.

The reunions, which began in 1946, provide an opportunity for Flying Tigers, past and present, to get together, celebrate their heritage, and share war stories.

(Information courtesy of the 23rd Wing Public Affairs)