F-111s from Cannon flew 2,780 days of continuous support of Operation Southern Watch in Iraq by Cannon personnel. Southern Watch was set up to enforce no fly zones over Iraq following the first Gulf War. (Courtesy photo)
By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer
The air base that would become Cannon Air Force Base had been closed for four years when Alan Jolly arrived in 1952. What he and his fellow airmen found was a surprise: Cattle and rattlesnakes in the barracks.
“It had gone back to nature,” said Jolly, who was assigned as part of the 140th National Guard to the base shortly after it reopened. “It was an ungodly mess.”
When the base was shut down in May 1947, World War II had just ended. Like many bases around the county, the air base west of Clovis was abandoned. Indigenous wildlife had returned to their homes during the four years the air strip lay dormant.
Starting in 1948, a small group of Clovis citizens contacted a powerful senator to have the base reopened. That was the inception of the Committee of Fifty, Jolly said. In 1951, the request by the group comprised of local businessmen and officials was realized and the base was reopened.
Over the years the Committee of Fifty worked toward improving the military capabilities of the base, members said, and Cannon personnel simultaneously participated in a number of famous conflicts and standoffs, such as Vietnam, the Formosa Crisis and the Cuban Crisis, according to a history provided by Cannon Air Force Base officials.
However the history of the 27th Fighter Wing — the operational wing at Cannon today — doesn’t link up with the air base until the late 1950s.
The early years
After the United States entered World War II, the first military unit to use the air base was a glider detachment. A couple years later, in 1943, a training unit for the B-24, B-17 and B-29 heavy bombers arrived at the facility.
The first unit to use the air base after it reopened was the 140th Fighter Bomber Wing, which arrived in October 1951. Air National Guard elements from Colorado, Utah and Wyoming made up the 140th, which flew the P-51 Mustang fighter.
The 140th formally reactivated the airfield on Nov. 15, 1951, as Clovis Air Force Base. At the end of 1952, the 140th returned to Air National Guard control.
27th Fighter Wing
Before World War II ended, personnel from the 27th saw action in Sicily, Naples-Foggia, Anzio, Rome-Arno, northern and southern France, Rhineland and central Europe — but flew their missions from other bases.
Throughout the war, the group had several names: The 27th Bombardment Group (light), the 27th Fighter-Bomber Group, and the 27th Fighter Group.
Pilots from the 27th scored a number of victories by war’s end. The 522nd squadron — which was part of the 27th — scored a total of 30 air kills during the war, according to numbers provided by Cannon. The 523rd squadron knocked 17 out of the air, and the 524th brought down eight.
The 27th top scorer was Lt. Michael T. Russo, who single-handedly knocked down five enemy aircraft.
In 1959, the 27th replaced the 312th Fighter Bomber Group at Cannon. In the following years, Cannon personnel would see action in the Korean War, in the Formosa Crisis, the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam and other conflicts. According to a history provided by Cannon public affairs, Cannon deployed the first F-100 squadron to Thailand in 1962 and 1963, and to Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Vietnam in 1964 as part of the 481st Tactical Fighter Squadron.
The 481st “Crusaders” flew more than 3,000 combat sorties while stationed there, according to the base historian.
Cannon’s squadrons saw action in the Vietnam and Korean wars, with five total kills in Korea. Lt. Jacob Kratt Jr. accounted for three of those.
In 1988, under recommendations from the Pentagon, Cannon Air Force Base began its expansion.
During this time, Cannon played host to F-111s, a hugely fast airplane, Jolly said.
The air crews and aircraft of the 27th did not deploy to the Middle East during the first Gulf War, however support personnel deployed and a combat support group “element” in support of multinational operations, according to the base historian.
When the final version of the plane was retired in 1998, that ended 2,780 days of continuous support of Operation Southern Watch in Iraq by Cannon personnel. Southern Watch was set up to enforce no fly zones over Iraq following the first Gulf War.
“From September (of) 1992 to July 1993, Cannon’s F-111F crews and support personnel from the 522nd, 523rd and 524th Fighter Squadrons rotated to Incirlik Air Base (in) Turkey, in support of Operation Provide Comfort,” the base historian wrote.
By the mid 1990s, the F-16 had become operational at Cannon. According to the history provided by air base officials, since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, Cannon has continued to play a key role for the U.S. Air Force in the war on terrorism.
On May 13, Cannon was listed on the Base Realignment and Closure list. Community leaders and members of the Committee of Fifty vowed an intense fight to have it removed. They will have until September to try to have the base removed from the list.