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Flock of 'grey geese' gather to remember, lest we forget

BOLLING AIR FORCE BASE, D.C. -- What do the WWII veterans of the 11th Bombardment Group have in common with the Air Force District of Washington, an AFDW wing and a historical flock of grey geese?

They share 73 years of joint Air Force history and esprit de corps, from the burning airfields of Hawaii to our nation's capital.

The 11th Bombardment Group veterans organized a reunion association in 1961. In an effort to keep their history alive, group members have met annually since at various places of historical importance to the Air Force to remember and discuss their group's famous World War II missions, unit history and former aviation heroes and the legacy they have left to today's Airmen.

This year's event was held on Sept. 3 at the Double Tree Hotel in Crystal City, Va. Col. Scott Chesnut, Air Force District of Washington vice commander, attended the group's annual banquet.

"If our generation of Air Force leaders is even half as inspiring as these veterans, then we will have honored their legacy. I am awed and truly humbled by their selfless spirit," said Col.Chesnut.

Col. Chesnut was invited to this year's event by one of the veterans; Phil Gudenschwager, the group's historian, secretary and treasurer. Gudenschwager saw action in the Pacific, losing a brother on a B-17 in the Guadalcanal Campaign in 1942. To honor the sacrifices of the Airmen who came home and those who made the ultimate sacrifice, Gudenschwager became a leading authority on the 11th Bombardment Group's wartime exploits for the last 15 years.

As some of you may know, AFDW's 11th Wing at Bolling Air Force Base was originally established as the 11th Observation Group on 1 Oct 1933. The flock of grey geese that we have all become familiar with over the years, were represented on the unit's patch. After a series of further redesignations and activation, the original 11th OG was redesignated as the 11th Bombardment Group (Medium) on 1 Jan 1938.

At the time of its redesignation, the 11th bombardment group was composed of the 14th, 26th, 42nd and 431st Bomb Squadrons. The group conducted flying operations in Hawaii with the Douglas B-18 twin-engine bomber.

The group was activated on Feb. 1, 1940 and subsequently redesignated the 11th Bombardment Group (Heavy) on Dec. 1, 1940. The 11th Group participated in the crucial Midway Battle performing long range armed search missions and bombing attacks against the Japanese fleet. Shortly after Midway, the 11th Group was authorized as a mobile force by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in order to respond to the U. S. Navy's request for armed search planes with firepower to withstand Japanese fighter attacks while tracking the fleet. Because the 11th was a mobile group, it could leave its Hawaii base to support Navy operations in the South Pacific.

As a result of the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, in 1941 the group's mission transitioned into flying patrol and search missions off the Hawaiian Islands using the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Many of these missions became offensive and strategic in nature. Some of their missions resulted in Airmen being captured and imprisoned by the Japanese Army. Others included a forced landing at Iwo Jima while the heaviest ground fighting was underway, eventually changing out an engine on a bomber while receiving serious enemy fire.

After the war, the group flew reconnaissance and surveillance missions to China and ferried liberated prisoners of war from Okinawa to Luzon, Philippines, before inactivating on Oct. 20, 1948. But the accomplishments of the WWII aviators was kept alive through history as new incarnations of the Grey Geese continued to uphold their history and live up to their legacy. Like a phoenix born in fire, it has always been at the forefront of military engagements that endure through history.

On Mar. 1, 1995, the Grey Geese were reborn at Bolling AFB as the 11th Wing, a direct reporting unit to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. He dubbed the wing the Chief's Own for its direct support of his missions and personnel. On Sept. 11, 2001, the term Chief's Own took on new meaning as the 11th Wing became the command center for the Chief of Staff and his team after the Pentagon was attacked. Earlier this year, AFDW Commander Maj. Gen. Robert Smolen announced that the Grey Geese would always be known as the Chief's Own in recognition of the Grey Geese's actions and contributions on that day.

When the 11th Wing's WWII ancestors were told that night of how the Grey Geese continue to endure at Bolling AFB, they smiled and a few even shed a tear. They took comfort in the fact that the legacy of the Grey Geese continues to be upheld by Airmen worthy of the name.