The Army Air Corps (Army Air Force), the precursor of the U.S. Air Force, was a decisive force in WWII. Oregonians served in large numbers in the Army Air Corps with a concentration in the Eighth Air Force. Oregonians also distinguished themselves as members of the Doolittle Raiders, the WASPs and in one instance making history by shooting down the aircraft transporting Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The Oregon Air Guard was created when the 123rd Observation Squadron was established in 1940.
The Eighth Air Force attracted an inordinate number of Oregonians of which over 298 are listed on the Oregon Casualty list for WWII.
Five members of the famed Doolittle Raiders that attacked the Japanese homeland on April 18th, 1942, had Oregon ties. Many of the 80 “Raiders” were assigned to the 17th Bombardment Group at Pendleton Army Air Field. The B-25s used in the raid were flown from Pendleton and modified before arriving at Eglin Field, Florida for special training. The Oregonians were Lt. Robert S. Clever, Bombardier, Crew 7, Portland; Lt. Dean Davenport, Co-pilot, Crew 7, Portland; Cpl. Jacob DeShazer, Bombardier, Crew 16, Stayton; Lt. Robert G. Emmens, Co-pilot, Crew 8, Medford; Lt. Everett W. Holstrom, Pilot, Crew 4, Cottage Grove. These Oregonians were assigned to this unit whose sole mission was to attack Japan. Unfortunately the aircraft carrier USS Hornet carrying these bombers was detected by the enemy and launching took place sooner than expected. Most of the bombers ran out of fuel before reaching American-friendly parts of China. All of the B-25s either crashed or crash-landed in Japan or in Japanese held parts of China but for one crew that landed in Russia. Thanks to the help of friendly Chinese, most of the 80 fliers made it back to the U.S. to carry on the fight. Several aviators, including Cpl. Jacob DeShazer, were held as POWs in Japan or in China for the rest of the War. Several were executed by the Japanese.
Oregonian Rex T. Barber enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in September 1940. The actions of the Culver native on April 18, 1943 at the controls of his P-38 Lightning altered the course of the Pacific war. A coded Japanese message was intercepted detailing the flight route of the commander-in-chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. Flying from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, Barber and 17 other pilots of the 339th Fighter Squadron, intercepted the admiral’s aircraft over Bougainville. Decades later, Lt. Barber would receive sole credit for shooting down the “Betty” bomber with Yamamoto aboard.
From 1942 to 44, female pilots were recruited and nearly 1,100 women, including about 30 Oregonians, successfully completed arduous flight training to become Women’s Army Airforce Pilots (WASP). They flew every known military aircraft and ferried them to bases around the U.S. Some flew planes that towed targets for AA and flying units to shoot at. At age 89, former WASP Anna Monkiewicz of The Dalles said, “I got paid for doing something I loved.” Other duties included giving flight training and the transportation of supplies. One of those women was Hazel Ying Lee, from Portland, Oregon was the first Chinese American woman in the WASPs. She was killed in a landing accident when another aircraft collided with hers.
The modern Oregon Air National Guard received federal recognition on 30 August 1946 as the 142d Fighter Group. It was based at the Portland Airport. Its 123d Fighter Squadron was equipped with F-51D Mustangs. Its mission was the air defense of the state. 18 September 1947 is considered the Oregon Air National Guard's official birth date. This was concurrent with the establishment of the United States Air Force as a separate branch of the United States military under the National Security Act
Army Air Corps