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Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard in Korea

During the Korean War, more than 146,000 Air Force Reservists and 46,000 Air National Guardsmen were mobilized to meet the communist threat in the Far East and enable the USAF to expand worldwide.

When North Korea invaded in June 1950, the USAF was, in the words of Chief of Staff Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg, a "shoestring air force." In the Far East, the USAF was equipped for the air defense of Japan, but had inadequate resources for combat on the nearby Korean peninsula. To increase its strength, the Air Force mobilized its only available resource -- thousands of Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard Airmen. Most were World War II veterans, and their training and experience proved invaluable to the war effort.

The sudden emergency in Korea needed a quick response, but leaders worried about using Guard and Reserve forces outside the U.S. The Korean War's unique character as a "UN police action" forced questions about how reserve components should operate. The Cold War's needs for huge amounts of people and equipment at bases worldwide complicated the roles of Guard, Reserve and regular forces.

Inefficiency and dissatisfaction with the Korea call-ups led to legislation during the war to untangle the situation, including making all men between 18 1/2 and 20 years old liable for military training and service. Those up to age 26 had to register under the Selective Service System, and young men could be drafted during war or peace. This was a response to frustrated WWII veterans who had to go back to war in Korea because there was no one else to call.

The government first called for volunteers and then began involuntary mobilization. From the Guard and Reserve, the Air Force needed not just pilots, but people in every specialty. Between 1950 and 1953, the USAF called up 146,683 Air Force Reservists and 46,413 National Guardsmen to fight the war in Korea and to fill Cold War needs by increasing forces around the world. This number was about equally divided between officers and enlisted members.

Reserve and Guard Airmen filled roles in every part of the USAF during the war, from combat flying in bomber, fighter, airlift, and rescue units, to all manner of ground support jobs at forward and rear bases in the Far East and elsewhere. Mobilization for Korea led to greater equality and cooperation among active duty and reserve forces because Guard and Reserve Airmen played an essential part in the young U.S. Air Force's success as a combat-tested service.

Exhibit Case:
The colorful hand-painted fatigue hat shows 100 Korea combat missions. It belonged to 2nd Lt Clifford Allison Jr., of the 154th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, Little Rock, AR, a unit of the Texas Air National Guard's 136th Fighter-Bomber Wing. Allison flew F-84s from Itazuke AB, Japan, and Taegu AB, South Korea.

-he Air Force issued multi-language "pointee-talkies" and blood chits as survival gear for pilots in Korea. If downed in enemy or other unfamiliar territory, pilots used them to communicate. These belonged to 2nd Lt Clifford Allison, Jr., who also wore the painted cap.

"Ace in the Hole" unit patch from the Texas Air National Guard's 111th Fighter Squadron, 147th Fighter Group. When activated in October 1950, the 111th was flying F-51 fighters at Houston Municipal Airport. The squadron went on to fly F-84s, and was based at Itazuke AB, Japan, and Taegu AB, South Korea.

Click here to return to the Korean War Gallery.


Find Out More
Other Resources
Citizen Airmen: A History of the Air Force Reserve, 1946-1994 (Provided by AFHSO)
Prelude to the Total Force: Air National Guard, 1943-1969 (Provided by AFHSO)