U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Conley, commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing, gives closing remarks during a March 5 veteran discussion panel. During the event, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. retired Richard Cole, U.S. Air Force retired Senior Master Sgt. William Cartwright and former U.S. Army Air Forces Staff Sgt. Patt Meara spoke to Air Commandos about their roles during Operation Thursday. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kentavist Brackin)
Hundreds of Air Commandos marked the 75th anniversary of Operation Thursday during a commemoration ceremony at the Hurlburt Field Air Park, March 5.
Operation Thursday was an unorthodox operation in which the first Air Commandos worked alongside British “Chindits” to insert thousands of troops behind enemy lines during World War II.
“Long before Operation Iraqi Freedom, long before Bosnia, long before Desert Storm, Just Cause, Desert One, Son Tay, there was Operation Thursday,” said Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, the commander of Air Force Special Operations Command. “Operation Thursday is acknowledged as the first allied air invasion in military history. [It] laid the capstone for what is AFSOC today.”
The ceremony hosted several WWII veterans including:
- Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Richard Cole, who served as a C-47 Skytrain pilot
- Retired U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. William Cartwright, who served as an enlisted Stinson L-5 Sentinel pilot
- Retired Army Air Forces Staff Sgt. Patt Meara, who served as a B-25H Mitchell gunner
“We continue this legacy today and every day,” said Webb. “Air Commando veterans, you are our pathfinders. You are us.”
Five types of 1st Special Operations Wing aircraft participated in individual flyovers at the ceremony. Each aircraft has unique capabilities that pay homage to the original aircraft flown by the first Air Commandos.
“This is a legacy of facing the unknown, overcoming fears, and overcoming challenges with adaptability and innovation,” said Webb.
Air Commandos and British “Chindits” traveled more than 200 miles to insert more than 9,000 men, 1,000 mules, and 250 tons of supplies behind Japanese lines in Burma. Operation Thursday marked the first time in history that all casualties were successfully evacuated from behind enemy lines.
“It is in these moments, Air Commandos, when unforeseen circumstances threaten failure,” said Webb. “It is in these moments, in particular, that Air Commandos prove their worth.”
The operation is often considered to be the catalyst that pioneered the elite warfighting force that is AFSOC.
“Operation Thursday provided concepts that you and I have perfected over the years and execute on a daily basis around the globe,” Webb said. “We share, at a fundamental level, the same attitude, the same spirit, the same character as the men of the 5318th [Provisional Group (Air)] and now the 1st Air Commando Group.”