Connecticut Air National Guard celebrates 90 years of excellence in aviation
By Col. Frederick R. Miclon, Vice Wing Commander, 103rd Airlift Wing
/ Published September 07, 2013
BRADLEY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE - East Granby, Conn. -- The year 2013 marks a significant time for the Flying Yankees-- signaling the beginning of a new era with our conversion to the C-130 Hercules tactical cargo aircraft. It is an exciting time filled with the many challenges that a conversion of this magnitude entails. In the coming months, many unit members will be heading off to schools and new jobs on the base; we will see design and planning for new facilities and sadly, the inactivation of the 103rd Air Operations Group after several years as part of the wing. It is history-in-the-making for the Connecticut Air National Guard.
With all of this activity and focus on our exciting future, what may be lost on many of us is the fact that this year is also an historic milestone in the legacy of our unit, specifically that it is the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the 'Flying Yankees.'
The predecessor to Connecticut's 118th Observation Squadron was the 118th Aero Service Squadron which was organized at Kelly Field, Texas in August 1917. Though they were not assigned airplanes, the unit was mobilized for service in St. Maixent, France, the following year where they primarily assisted with airfield construction and aircraft repair and maintenance.
The unit reportedly never flew an airplane during WWI and was credited with honorable service although it did not see combat while in France.
The unit was re-designated the 639th Aero Service Squadron while in France and, following the war's end, eventually returned to the states and demobilized at Mitchell Field, New York, on June 6, 1919.
The National Defense Act of 1921 authorized a number of National Guard Aviation Squadrons and the 43rd Aero Service Squadron was re-designated as the 43rd Division Air Service Squadron as part of the National Guard.
The unit was part of the 43rd Division which, at that time, had its headquarters in Connecticut and was made up of National Guard units from the state as well as Rhode Island and Vermont. Without a suitable airfield from which to operate in Connecticut, the 118th Observation Squadron was assigned to the Rhode Island National Guard.
Ninety years ago on Nov. 1, 1923, the 118th Observation Squadron was activated and federally recognized as the aviation unit of the 43rd Division of the Connecticut National Guard and assigned to Hartford, Conn. The first member of the unit, Maj. Talbot O. Freeman, had learned to fly while in France during the war and had now become commander, recruiter and everything else as he began to assemble what would become the Flying Yankees.
We became the United States' 11th National Guard aviation unit, the first being the 109th Observation Squadron of the Minnesota National Guard which received federal recognition in January 1921. A total of six squadrons were formed in 1921 and five in 1923--the 118th Observation Squadron being the last of the five that year.
And the rest of the story, as they say, is history...
It is not known for certain when the origins of the proud moniker by which we are known - Flying Yankees - began, but given history, perhaps it can be attributed to the origins of units of the National Guard during and just after World War I. Most of the men of Connecticut who fought in WWI did so as part of the all-Guard 26th 'Yankee' Infantry Division. Due to the success of National Guard divisions in the war, six of the eight American divisions rated as 'superior' or 'excellent' by the Germans were Guard divisions and post-war plans called for the creation of more Guard divisions.
The 43rd Division was established in October 1920 as the second New England-based division and initially consisted of units from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont. New Hampshire was later added and by WWII the division was more "Yankee" than the original 26th Infantry Division. Although not its official name, the 43rd became known as the 'Yankee Division' and, upon the formation of the air component of the Connecticut National Guard, it is surmised that we became known as the "Flying Yankees."