Delaware Military History


A new mission:
Strategic Airlift

                                                                                             Boeing -97G “Stratofreighter”

Driven by the Kennedy administration's adoption of the "flexible response" strategy and the large
American military buildup during the 1960s, the Air Guard continued to modernize and diversify
its aircraft inventory. In January 1960 the first F-86 units began converting to
C-97
“Stratofreighter’ transports that the Air Force had been preparing to mothball. It had entered the
tanker business in FY 1962 with the acquisition of KC-97s. In 1963, Air Guard tactical flying units
began to routinely deploy outside the continental United States on their annual active duty
training tours for the first time. The ANG's total aircraft inventory shrank from 2,269 in 1960 to
1,425 by 1965. (In 2006 the ANG aircraft inventory was 1103 PAI – Air Force Magazine May 2006)

In March 1962, Lt. Col.
Clarence E. Atkinson was named Commander of the 142nd Tactical
Fighter Squadron.. His first order of business was to preside over new growth.  On April 7, 1962
the Delaware Air National Guard enlarged to "group status" as the 166th Air Transport Group
and was reassigned from the Tactical Air Command to the Military Air Transport Service. The
Delaware Air National Guard gave up its
F-86 jets for the four-engine C-97 Boeing
"Stratofreighter," a long-distance strategic airlift plane.   The 166th Air Transport Group (H) was
enlarged to include the 166th Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, the 166th Air Base
Squadron, and the 166th USAF Dispensary. The 166th managed to transition to the C-97 and
reach C-1 full readiness status a full 21 months ahead of schedule.  They were presented the
prestigious Spaatz trophy for this remarkable achievement.

This first significant shift in mission from fighter to transport allowed enlisted members to
participate in the flying mission as engineers, loadmaster, crew chiefs, and aeromedical
technicians.  It was a “crew” aircraft that helped the unit to build a “crew” spirit of teamwork.  
The mission also required additional officers including flight nurses and navigators. Col. Harold
Copey was the first chief navigator, and navigators have remained an integral part of the crew to
this day.

In June 1962 the unit flew its first trans-Atlantic mission for the Military Airlift Command to
Rhein-Main AFB Germany.  The organization soon became a regular at places like Lajes, Torrejon,
Athens, Rhein Main, and other European destinations.  

On October 22, 1962 a new unit, the "142nd Aeromedical Evacuation Flight," was added to the
Delaware Air National Guard.  This unit initially consisted of only four personnel but had an
authorized strength of 12 flight nurses and 36 aeromedical evacuation technicians trained to fly.  
Many 142nd AEF members augmented active duty crews flying live missions to the US from
Europe and Japan, as well as intra-theater missions within Europe.

In December 1963 Blue Hen planes and crews airlifted Bob Hope and his Christmas show on a
goodwill mission to the Mediterranean area.   In September 1964, during Operation “Ready Go,”
the Delaware ANG acted as back-up to ANG jets flying non-stop to Europe.

In September 1965, only three years after receiving the C-97, the Delaware Air National Guard
received the
McCallister Trophy as the Air National Guard Outstanding Transport Unit.

December 1965, Operation “Christmas Star” took our unit on its first cargo mission to Vietnam.  
Our crews delivered gifts to the troops with regular flights continuing at the rate of four per
month of the total ANG pledge of 75 per month. In April 1966, the DE ANG airlifted cattle, ducks,
rabbits, and chickens to Lajes AFB in the Azores. In July 1966, during Operation “Combat Leave,”
the 166th supported airlifting military personnel during a commercial airline strike.

Dr. Harold Brown, Secretary of the Air Force, announced that effective January 1, 1966, the
Military Air Transport Service would be redesignated as the Military Airlift Command. In addition
to the name change, certain Air National Guard units were also redesignated, including Delaware.
We were named the 166th Military Airlift Group. In April 1966, the unit was awarded the
Outstanding Unit Trophy by the Air Force Association based on our impressive collection of
achievements and safety record. On June 16, 1966 another unit, the 166th Communications Flight,
was added to the Delaware Air National Guard.

In 1967, Delaware ANG crews airlifted medical supplies to Vietnamese hospitals for a local
Delaware Group called Aid to International Medicine.  We flew our first cargo mission to the
Australian continent, and in May the Blue Hens saved a NASA missile launch by rushing
technicians to Ascension Island to repair a radar monitoring station.

A kid has an adventure
by A2C Kennard Wiggins

As a young reciprocating aircraft engine mechanic I yearned to fly.  This was the single best perk
of being in the Air National Guard.  The C-97 was a crew airplane with a pilot, co-pilot,
navigator, flight engineer and a loadmaster.  The crews generally treated me as an equal, and did
not stand on rank or position.  Somehow, when you boarded, you felt like a member of the team,
even though there wasn’t much for me to do. When we landed at a base the aircraft commander
would almost always ask for “aircrew integrity” at the billeting office so everyone could stay
together (vs. billeting for officer and enlisted separately).  I frequently took advantage of trips that
were posted on the flying schedule usually a month or two in advance.  It was always a big
adventure then.

My very first overseas trip was to Torrejon AFB Spain, near Madrid in January 1968. I was a 21-
year old kid on my first big adventure. Our aircraft commander was Major Vito Panzarino and
our Navigator was Major Phil Goettel. We flew via the Azores, where we had a crew rest at Lajes
AFB.  Our cargo was a jet engine, which began to leak fuel when we got airborne. The airplane
filled with fumes which were not only an irritant, they were downright dangerous if the fuel
happened to get to a live wire or a hot connection.  We’d have had one of those mysterious
explosions over the ocean and no one would ever know what our fate had been.  We sopped up
the fuel with rags and bagged it up.

Late at night flying across the Atlantic under a starry sky was magical.  I would hang around the
cockpit and stare out the windows at the inky darkness of the sea and the starlight above.  When
the pilot got up for a  break, I was invited by the copilot to take his seat and take the wheel.  We
were on autopilot, late at night crossing the Eastern Atlantic bound for the Portuguese coast. I
was in hog heaven!  He showed me how to correct course through changing the gyro setting and
as I was trying this out, we had an engine-out situation!  I couldn’t help but think that somehow
I had goofed up something.  I vacated the seat so the pilot could return.  It was a relatively routine
situation.  We could easily complete the mission on three engines.  There was some cockpit talk
about setting down in Lisbon.  We flew over the sparkling harbor that night. No one aboard had
ever been there and it would have been a novelty, but it would have created a diplomatic tangle
and likely a big hassle, so according to procedures presumably, we pressed on to Madrid.

The first guy I saw (at around 0430) when we landed was a fellow I went to High School with –
Ray Hughes, who was working on the flightline at Torrejon AB. I visited the Prado Museum and
other local sights. I enjoyed a memorable meal at Botin’s restaurant near the Plaza de Major with
Ray Hale as my guide.  Botin’s dated from the Middle Ages and its specialty was roasted boar.  The
kind with an apple in its mouth, as displayed in the front window. It is the oldest restaurant in
the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records.  Hemingway was a regular there.   
Ray and I had a big night, and returned to a locked base in an inebriated condition. Somehow we
climbed a fence and found our way to the billets.




















Lajes AB, Azores, January 31, 1968.  Left to right, front row: Base Commander, Aircraft
Commander Vito Panzarino, Co-pilot Bob McCorkle, Jay Herr, A2C Kennard Wiggins, Ray Hale,
Rear Row: Loadmaster Bill Carrow. Navigator Phil Goettel, Navigator David Herron, Flight
Engineer Al DiSabatino, unknown, Loadmaster William Crouch.

Returning homeward, we stopped once again in Lajes for fuel and a crew rest.  We were greeted by
the base commander and learned that we had been named their transient “aircrew of the month”
and were the first ANG outfit to earn the honor, I suppose because of the in flight emergency
earlier and the way the crew professionally dealt with the situation. We were treated to a steak
dinner at the finest restaurant in downtown Angra, dining with the mayor and the base
commander. I think the tab for a dozen or so of us was about $25 at that time.

As a starving college student I had some time, but very little money.  But I did manage some
weekend trips to California, Miami, and further visits to the Azores during my hitch as an engine
mechanic.  A2C Kennard Wiggins.  

For an account of enlisted basic training, tech school and drill weekends in the 1960s
click here.

Operation Papa Noel

    I was in college and also in the Air Guard at the same time, circa 1968.  One of the things that
attracted me was that they flew cargo planes all over the world and even though I was a starving
student I took advantage of the travel as much as I could.  We had C-97's then, a cargo derivative
of the WWII B-29 bomber.  They were slooow.  It took almost 20 hours to fly the Atlantic and so
for European trips we would always stop at the Azores Islands (Tercierra) to refuel and crew rest,
normally for 18-24 hours.  Any European destination necessitated a stop on the way over and
another stop on the way back.  So I got to know this place well.  And I like the Islands.  The
Azores are a Portuguese possession atop the mid-Atlantic ridge about 2/3 of the way across the
pond.  Ireland couldn't be any greener than the Azores.  Stone fences everywhere, extinct
volcanoes, earthquake prone, whitewashed stucco houses with bright "Portuguese" trim.  
Beautiful people with ruddy complexions dark hair and eyes. It has a moderate climate, but can
tend to damp and cloudy a lot.  It is a simple place with just farms and villages.  The biggest town
was populated by maybe about 5000 people.

    The unit was a frequent visitor to the base at Lajes AFB. One of our chaplains retired there and
would always greet our airplane every time we landed there.  We'd always bring him hard to get
stuff like Tastycakes and submarines etc.  Anyway, he asked for our help to provide stuff to the
orphanages on the Island.  So we started this thing called "Operation Papa Noel", to collect
blankets, clothes, food and toys for the orphans.  

    I went to the service fraternity and service sororities on campus and got them to help me
assemble donations from on campus.  The drive was so successful that we got a couple of
truckloads (Military 6x6's) of stuff.  We got a whole airplane full of stuff including Christmas
Trees.  I got to go on the mission and deliver the goods to the orphanage.  The News Journal
reporter Bill Frank went with us and wrote about it.  We had so much booty we had enough for
all the orphans, and then some. I think we played Santa to the whole village of Praia.  

    We repeated the Operation for a couple of years, and then the State Department made us stop.  
We needed their permission to do this and they didn't like Delaware making our own foreign
policy, so that was the unfortunate end of that. - A2C Ken Wiggins

Racial Tension

Following the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, riots
broke out in 19 major American cities. Some 68,000 National Guardsmen and 22,600 Army troops
were called upon to suppress the outbreaks.  In its first large-scale state activation, on April 9,
1968, the Delaware Air National Guard was called to state duty to quell civil disturbance and
violence in the city of Wilmington, Delaware.  The unit was released from state duty after several
weeks. However, many individuals remained on state duty through January 20, 1969 when
Delaware elected a new governor (Peterson) to replace Governor Terry. Peterson appointed a new
Adjutant General.

January 1969,
Colonel Atkinson became the Adjutant General for Delaware - the first Air National
Guard member to do so. Lt Colonel Charles R. Skinner became the new base detachment
commander and Lt Colonel Robert L. Fuller became the Group Commander. On November 8, 1969
the 166th Civil Engineer Flight organized as a separate unit in the Delaware Air National Guard.

Martin Luther King Race Riots – an A2C perspective.

    In 1968 after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King the city of Wilmington erupted in
riots, looting and burning.  The National Guard was called out by Governor Terry.  I reported to
New Castle Air National Base and then trucked into Wilmington on Army Guard “6x6s”.  They
deposited us at the Wilmington Armory, a very large grey stone gothic building with a complex of
yards and other outbuildings. Hundreds of us were milling around in the grounds waiting for
orders.  It was a pretty unorganized affair. If memory serves, we had received minimal training for
this kind of thing (that would come later).  I enlisted in the Air Guard to avoid the army, yet they
issued me a helmet, web belt, canteen and an M-1 Carbine. Tom Naylor and I hung out lurking in
the milling crowd of soldiers and airmen in the armory courtyard.  

    From time to time an officer would appear and say, “I need ten men.”  You, you; you and you
etc. would be chosen, or would volunteer, and off they would go to guard some firehouse or relay
station, or other vital location.  The firefighters were being harassed by thrown bottles and rocks,
and the fear was that some sniper would take a shot, so the engines were escorted by armed
soldiers when they were sent to a fire.

    This went on for some hours.  A Captain arrived and said he needed two men, so Tommy and I
volunteered. We were to escort two officers in a station wagon as they delivered food and supplies
to the various guarded locations around the city.  I liked this detail because we got to see what
was going on. I got the overview of our situation on a daily basis.  The officers drove, and Tommy
and I were the armed escort in case there was trouble.  We never encountered anything serious,
although we did get caught one night on a dead-end street in the ‘ghetto” and had to back up for
a block under the watchful eyes peeking behind curtain and blinds in second story windows.  We
might have been in a fix if anyone chose that moment to snipe us. I was really too young and
naïve to worry about such things and never felt in any danger.  The M-1 in your hands gives you
some confidence, even if it is false.

    In another very minor incident we were stopped well after midnight at the stoplight at 12th
and Market Street.  A curfew was on and there was absolutely no traffic.  As we sat there dutifully
waiting for the light to change, a car full of what were then termed as Negroes pulled alongside.
At once, it seemed like a dozen M-1 carbines locked and loaded and cocked although it must have
just been Tom and me.  We had live ammo, and in that moment I feared more from our guns than
any the other guys might have had. I turns out that a woman in the car was in labor and needed
to go to the hospital.  We escorted them there.

    We bunked in the armory, in bunk beds in rows, open-barracks style, and no one was allowed
out or in.  There was a canteen in the basement where you could buy smokes and beer and
personal items like toothpaste and shoe polish.  When we weren’t patrolling, we were being
trained in the care of our weapon, or in tactics, or first aid etc.  Again, I thought of the irony of
how I joined the Air Guard to avoid this very thing.  Others thought the same.  One of my
bunkmates, John DiMondi, from teh engine shop casually ignored the training advice on
disassembling and cleaning his weapon.  When the Army Lieutenant held weapon inspection, he
carefully examined both the muzzle and then turned the weapon to examine the chamber of each
soldier or airman.  He would then say to each man, “very good soldier or very good airman.”
When he got to DiMondi, he was puzzled to see no light down the barrel from either end but
shrugged his shoulders and proceeded on to the next guy without comment other than to say
“very good airman.”  DiMondi had not cleaned his weapon at all.  He simply chambered his dead
cigarette butt in the chamber as a gesture of defiance, that was lost on the lieutenant.

    Originally thinking that this would be a deployment for a few days or a week we were
dismayed to find ourselves calling this place home for several weeks.  They permitted visitors on
Sunday afternoon and my girlfriend came to see me, but it was small consolation for the weeks of
enclosure. We did however have beer and lots of it.  There was a little party every night down in
the basement or in the indoor pistol range.  The armory was in Little Italy and some enterprising
fellow got a couple of stag movies from his friends outside the wall.  At first they were grainy
black and white ten minute single- reelers evidently filmed in the 1930s.  We hooted and hollered
and had a grand time.  The movies quickly got better and longer and the entrepreneurs started to
charge for admission which we gladly paid.  Pretty soon we were getting the latest Swedish
imports. The Army Guard ATAG was a General Preston Lee and one night he entered our late
night sanctum during beer fueled shaving cream fight and really raised hell with us and
threatened all kinds of article 15’s and other non judicial punishment. We were in State status so I
don’t know how much was real, and how much was bluster, but we chilled out until he went
away.

    After about two to three weeks, I was rotated out of Wilmington for a week in the Dover
armory.  I recall my Uncle Charles Eugene “Jake” Wiggins was there too.  It was pretty neat to
serve alongside my uncle, and to be regarded as a peer, even though I was barely 20 years old.  

    By this time, Wilmington was getting famous as the city in America with the longest serving
occupying army.  The riots had ebbed away, but Governor Terry was tough on crime and a hard-
liner, kept the troops on the streets.  Eventually the troops were partially withdrawn and
motorized patrols substituted for garrison troops.  They were named the “Rat Patrol” after a
popular TV show at the time.  The Rat Patrol was manned by volunteers who could make some
extra pay for an evening’s patrol.

    We were lucky that nothing disastrous occurred due to our lack of training, disorganization,
and confusion.  The leadership of the Guard set out to rectify this by giving us seemingly endless
training in riot control procedures.  This necessitated the usual combat gear plus a face shield and
a riot baton in place of the M-1.  It was hard hot work usually conducted for some unknown
reason on the hottest days of the year.  We did this an entire weekend every year for many years
after 1967.   It was tedium far worse than the actual riot that I had deployed for.  In a ludicrous
attempt to make the training realistic the old NCO’s were dressed up as adversaries who called us
“honkies” and had phoney names like “H. Rap Shotwell”.  Much as I disliked this training, I
could see the payoff if we were ever to engage in an urban riot in the future.  Several years later, I
had to wonder what had happened to the discipline, and what kind of training did the
Guardsmen at Kent State receive in a similar situation. -  A2C Ken Wiggins


C-97 Crew Overcomes Overwater Emergency (January 1971 DANG TRUTH)

Lt Col John Marder and the crew of a December 1970 flight to Lajes AFB can thank a faulty relay
switch for crippling their C-97.  About halfway through a flight from Dover Flight Engineer
Alfred DiSabatino found the engines were running too hot.  He threw the switches to open the
cowl flaps.  When they had opened enough he disengaged the switches, but the flaps on engine
number four continued to open.  DiSabatino tried everything, but the cowl flaps were stuck past
the full open stop.

The turbulent air created by the open cowl flaps hit the horizontal stabilizer on the tail and the
airplane began to pitch up and down.  The controls at the hands of aircraft commander Lt Col
John Marder started to vibrate violently and the airplane was growing uncontrollable.

The crew thought they were going into the drink.  TSgt James Boyce ran for survival suits but the
crew knew survival in the frigid North Atlantic would be measured in minutes.

The plane was losing altitude as Marder and co-pilot Tenney Wheatley fought vainly to regain
altitude. They tried lowering the flaps, and varying the power.  The biggest help, however, was
feathering the propeller on engine number four.  The airplane leveled out at 5000 feet (after losing
13,000 in altitude). They turned north towards St. Johns, Newfoundland and descended towards
the runway two-and-a-half harrowing hours later.  As they flared for landing the stabilizer once
again encountered turbulent air as the nose rose.  Marder had to hold the tail up and land with
only the nosewheel touching. Both pilots had to stand on the rudder pedals to control the
airplane.  Marder cut the power and plane settled onto its main gear.  The crippled C-97 stopped
and the emergency was over.

For more details on this incident, see
Accidents, Calamities, Fatalities, and Scary Moments

Vietnam

Following the end of active American military involvement in the Vietnam War in 1973, there was
a substantial reduction in the active duty Air Force enabling the ANG to acquire another infusion
of modern aircraft and equipment. These included A-7s, A-10As, F-105s, OA-37s and some brand
new C-130Hs. But, its principal fighter aircraft such as F-4s had logged many flying hours
including combat operations in Vietnam before they came to the Guard. The Air Guard's
personnel strength stood at over 90,300 by the end of FY 1973 when active American military
involvement in the Vietnam War ended.

During the period from 1964-1974 the Delaware Air National Guard flew airlift missions to
Vietnam with increasing tempo. The organization made an impact on the war effort, by
voluntarily contributing a significant portion of the mission (an estimated 65 percent) it would
otherwise have been expected of, had it been fully activated.

The following is an account of a Vietnam airlift mission written by
Major H. P. "Phil" Goettel in
January 1966.

Delaware's Viet Nam Journey

One finds it difficult to relate men and war without personal feelings clouding the issue. It is all
too normal to think of the fighting man as a professional soldier whose business is to wage war--
as a mature human being who is aware of what he is fighting for.  The illusion is broken while
standing in line at a BX in Guam waiting to pay for a carton of cigarettes.   The young boy
standing ahead of you is an infantryman--very young--self conscious in a too big uniform--
waiting to pay for a bag of jellybeans and two comic books.

The 130 lands in Tan Son Nhut, lowers its rear cargo door and a hundred plus men climb out.
They are new recruits, young boys coming to fight a war. The Sergeant in charge moves them to
the edge of the ramp to brief them. On the ramp, next to the group is a stack of coffins, piled like
cordwood, waiting to be loaded on an outgoing plane.

An enroute stop is Kwajalein, an atoll in the Marshall Islands.  The crew takes advantage of the
warm temperature and hot sun to go snorkeling with fins and masks. The coral is beautiful and
the fish abound by the hundreds-- each one a different shape and color. Scattered among the coral
formations are barnacle-encrusted cables and rusty twisted steel--signs of another war. One
wonders how many years it will be before we are relaxing in warm waters off Vietnam-- and when
that time comes, where the trouble spots of the world will be-- where men not yet born will be
dying.

People are people, are people--so true that it sometimes takes a shock to make you realize it--crew
resting--standing in a bar in the Philippines with a drink in your hand, you are jostled by a
stranger, another flight crew member who has just returned after a flight into Vietnam.  You chat
and he remarks that he thought Vietnam was like Hollywood.  You recoil, not wanting to believe
what you hear--"What did you say?"  "Like Hollywood", he says, --Just like a movie with
camouflaged aircraft and a wild tangle of men and equipment."

In retaliation you blurt out your reaction to such a comment--young boys being offloaded from
aircraft--briefed beside a load of coffins--dead boys who bought jelly beans and comic books , and
killed men and were were killed, and you don't think it was much like Hollywood and you turn
your back in disgust, but then you remember--people are people, are people.  

A crew of ten men on a C-97 plodding its way across the Pacific, leaving a strip of concrete and
landing at another thousands of miles a way. Concrete to concrete-- again and again until
Vietnam is reached and 10,500 pounds of Christmas gifts are unloaded. Ten men on a C-97-- who
are casual about the job they are doing--men who would have you believe they are having a
rowdy time--men whom some say drink too much and play too hard-- civilians!--men who are
not military by profession but who are professional in the military--men who are doing quite a
job whether they admit it or not--and you have a feeling for them.

Enroute to Vietnam in a C-97 it is necessary to many stops. C-97s fly low and slow.  They are
rather primitive in relations to today's aircraft, but they do a job and men who fly them must
work hard. They are not equipped with present day sophisticated computer type navigation
equipment nor up-to-date auto-pilots. They are not air-conditioned and they require frequent
maintenance. These aircraft bear the names of many states-- almost all are represented--but it is not
the individual states that should be commended, it is the men--the men who would fly for any
state--anywhere--anytime--because they know the job they are doing is important.  A camaraderie
exists when people of like talent work in close association, and when the job they are doing is
important. When the manner of doing a job is outstanding, the state which the men represent
becomes known and remembered, Delaware is known throughout the world.

The approach to Tan Son Nhut in Saigon is hazardous.  The air if filled with aircraft of all types, it
reminds one of bees swarming around a beehive.  As we turned on final and started our descent,
we saw three fighters making a diving approach to the runway.  The ground controller waved us
off, and warned of other traffic in the area. As we banked to the right we could see the rapidly
descending fighters making their landing.  The air was alive with aircraft--helicopters crisscrossing
the area to discourage the infiltration of snipers--army reconnaisance planes--carrier-based fighters
returning from raids--troop carriers. We landed without incident and had little doubt that a war
was being fought. - Major Phil Goettel

                                                           ---


The Vietnam War illustrated a central paradox facing the USAF's reserve components. In January
1968, President Johnson mobilized naval and air reservists following the North Korean seizure of
the USS Pueblo. More reservists were called into federal service following the February 1968 Tet
offensive in Vietnam. Altogether, approximately 10,600 Air Guardsmen were called into federal
service in 1968. Although most of the reservists were used to strengthen America's depleted
strategic reserve force, four ANG fighter squadrons were dispatched to Vietnam. Vietnam revealed
a negative aspect of relying on reservists. For largely domestic political reasons, President Johnson
chose not to mobilize most of the nation's reserve forces. The 1968 call-ups were only token affairs.
Johnson's decision to avoid a major reserve mobilization was opposed by the senior leadership of
both the active duty military establishment and the reserve forces, but to no avail. The Reserves
and the Guard acquired reputations as draft havens for relatively affluent young white men.
Military leaders questioned the wisdom of depending on reserve forces that might not be available
except in dire emergencies.

Race had emerged as another major issue with the flowering of the American civil rights
movement in the 1950s and 1960s. For over a decade after the active duty military establishment
had begun to integrate its ranks during the Korean War, the National Guard had remained an
almost exclusively white organization. Discrimination varied, but ten states with large black
populations and understaffed Guard units still had no black Guardsmen in their ranks as late as
1961. Secretary of Defense McNamara had tried to encourage voluntary integration in the early
1960s, with little success. The NGB had disputed his legal authority to force integration while the
Guard was under state control. It had also argued that integration would be political suicide for
some governors and would hurt the military capabilities of their units.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited the use of federal funds to support discriminatory
activities, dramatically altered the attitude of the Defense Department toward racial discrimination
in the National Guard. It gave federal officials the power to force integration regardless of who
controlled the Guard in peacetime. But, real progress in effectively integrating the Guard did not
come until the 1970s.

In July 1967 Garnell Purcell, a prior service Air Force veteran, became the first African-American
man to enlist in the Delaware Air National Guard.

Interview with Master Sergeant (DE ANG Ret) Garnell Purcell (April 2006)

In 1967 Garnell Purcell was at Dover AFB working as an engine mechanic on C-124s, living in
Wilmington. On his daily commute he saw our C-97s sitting on the ramp at New Castle.  “What
was that?” he asked.  He had never heard of the Air National Guard before.  

Garnell had eleven years experience when he joined the DE ANG. He served in the Air Force from
1952-1956, working on B-26s and B-57s. After his active duty stint he then worked at Dover AFB
in the engine shop as a civil service employee. He came here part-time in July 1967.  He is a
Wilmington native, and became a full time member in November 1967 in the Engine Shop.  

In his own words are his impressions –

“I had experience that they needed, I worked on carburetors in the fuel control shop at Dover, so I
had something to sell to the Guard.  I got my job based on experience and proficiency. I showed
them a few tricks when I first got here, that saved them a lot of money.

When I first got here it was kind of loose, and now over the years it has gotten more professional,
with more responsibilities, and better camaraderie.  I had a ball here.  I particularly enjoyed
trouble shooting the engines especially.  I like to solve problems.  When it comes to TDY’s mostly I
sent my troops, and didn’t deploy that much myself.  I never deployed or traveled much until my
last two years when I went to Panama. I have no regrets, I enjoyed my work. I liked coming in
everyday.

I moved to AGE (Aerospace Ground Equipment) around the time of our conversion to C-130As in
the early 1970s. I had gotten older and wanted a job “on the ground.”  I retired in 1989.  

I was the first black man in the unit – so everybody says.  It caused me a few problems – a couple
of times, but I handled it “one-on-one” at that level.  I’m here for the job, and you’re here for the
job.  Off base maybe it’s a different story.  I think it’s improved - a black guy took over my old
position in AGE. I haven’t talked to all the young folks, and so I don’t know for sure.  

The funniest moment – and there were so many of them: One that comes to mind.  There was an
automatic power wash in the electric shop (in case of a battery acid spill) where a certain officer
was clowning around. The shower caught him, and soaked him because he didn’t know it was
automatic. We fell off our chairs!  Another one I recall was Roger Lambert and Newt Brackin who
were in a sub-eating contest.  The contest was going to be in the flight line office so we put Roger
in the back of a pickup and sat him up in a chair.  Roger won by psyching Newt out.  We had
some good times.

My proudest moment was when Ernie Talbert made General.  It was the highlight of my career. I’
m in the Tuskegee Airmen club with Ernie Talbert.  He’s the vice president and I’m just a member,
but we are working together on scholarships and other programs. I tell kids you must have your
act together before you go applying for a job.  When I came up I had a talent to sell. And I tell
them to get an education.  The Air Force offers lots of schools and I took advantage of them.  I
especially liked a psychology of management course I took.  I took every CDC course I could. I
don’t want to be remembered as the first the black man in the unit, just as a guy who did his best.”