by John Moran
In the Fall of 1954, soon after the 16th and 67th FBS moved from Korea to Kadena AB, Okinawa, Air Force decided that the absence of the third squadron in the 18th Wing justified a month long gathering of that wing. During the Korean "Police Action", the 44th Squadron had remained in the Philippines at Clark AB, while the other two squadrons flew combat in Korea. But bringing the 44th to Kadena for Operation NATIVE DANCER would result in a loss of the squadron's air defense commitment to the Philippines.
Enter the 26th Squadron. Like the 44th, the 26th had remained in Okinawa with the 4th Squadron, while the 3rd squadron in the original 51st Wing operated in Korea. Flying out of Naha AB, near the southern tip of Okinawa, the 26th F-86Fs shared air defense responsibilities with the 4th, flying new F-86D Sabres.
Similar aircraft and missions, made the 26th the logical choice to assume the alert posture of the 44th. Additionally, the experience of `bugging out' in a hurry could only enhance the experience of both squadrons. The 26th had been living pretty well at Naha, with a brand new BOQ and a great 0-Club called The Fighter Club. Everyone had a maid and "had it made!"
They sat VFR Alert from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. If a cloud could be found, we palmed the alert schedule off on the 4th Squadron, who stood weather and night alert. If we were able to pull off this charade, it was off to the skies for `training', or to Bolo Point for air to ground gunnery.
But going to Clark Field was going to be great fun. A historical base, good flying and adventure. Yea! Little did we know that we would be restricted to the base for the first two weeks and that our BOQs would be 15 man tents (that we had to build!), which were 'furnished' with canvas cots. A far cry from air conditioning, nice baths, and the previously mentioned maids that we'd been led to believe were waiting at Clark.
The flying was great! A nice alert shack and enough "Scrambles" to keep the duty interesting. There was no all-weather squadron at Clark, so we stood alert in the manner to which we were accustomed. There was a good gunnery range, which we managed to take advantage of, And it sure was a lot of fun to shoot the guns without fear that someone was going to shoot back.
Just prior to NATIVE DANCER, the 26th had been selected to transition into the F-86D. Some of our F models had already been returned to Japan in preparation of the arrival of the `Dogs'. Since we were below the proper number of airplanes to fulfil the commitment. we were sent a group of F-86Es that had just been through IRAN. The wings had been modified to remove the slats, so these Sabres were almost identical to our F models. (editors note: This is the first time I've heard about operational F-86Es having the `6-3 hard wing' conversion other than F-86E-15s used in the Guard. Anyone with further knowledge of this, please contact your Editor.) About midway through 'DANCER', the 26th got the word that we had been selected to represent the United States at the celebration of the birthday of the Prince of Thailand. Sixteen Sabres were repainted, scrubbed and shined up. Our normal 120 gallon combat tanks were moved to the inboard station and 200 gallon tanks were added to the outboard station. On the flight to Bangkok, these big tanks would be dropped in order for the flight to continue non-stop from Clark. The drop site was to be over the jungle of some small country called French Indo China, and the 200 gallon tanks would be replaced in Bangkok.
On the return to Clark, one of the Sabres developed a malfunction, requiring it and its element Leader to divert to Saigon. Both aircraft were disassembled and re-turned to Japan. The leader of that element was later to lose his life on a combat mission over that same country, but now called Vietnam.
During the Thailand visit, those of us who did not get to make the trip, continued to `hold the fort' at Clark. While we still had alert responsibilities, the flying was a bit more relaxed and we were able to visit the rest of Clark Field. At the time, Clark still had the charm of an `old Army' post. Classic officers housing was built in tropical style, widely spaced and surrounding a large parade ground. Additionally. Clark had one of the finest Officer's Clubs to be found anywhere. Even though not being chosen to make the trip to Bangkok was an ego buster, those of us left behind (aces in our own minds!) took advantage not only of the Club but also to take in the local color.
If, in your youth, you didn't have the pleasure of visiting Angeles City, you were truly deprived. `Jitneys' were the transport of choice. These were Jeeps, ingeniously and colorfully converted to min-bus configuration for the run between Clark and the City. The fare depended on your ability to `negotiate'. Once in Angeles, the mode of travel switched to small donkey carts. The owner driver sat sideways at the front, and the seat could accomodate two passengers. Not a bad arrangement unless it was late at night and some fun-seeking GIs decided to take over the driving, resulting in racing two or more carts to the next point of happiness. If such was the case, one was well advised to seek shelter since the streets were narrow and two carts would barely fit between the buildings. Later in the day at the 0-Club, while bragging over some tall cool ones about our misadventures to a local cock fight, our friendly bartender, an enlisted man at Clark, pulled us aside and advised us not to broadcast our tour since the fighting pit was seriously off-limits to all US military personnel.
NATIVE DANCER ended with the 26th and 44th returning to their permanent assignments. The replacement F-86Es, even with the modified leading edges, did not have the capability of carrying multiple tanks, nor the big 200 gallon tanks. Those of us assigned to bring them back to Okinawa had to make a pit stop on Taiwan, where I was fortunate enough to re-new an old friendship with a Chinese Nationalist pilot I'd known during gunnery school.
Bottom line was that NATIVE DANCER was a success proving that the national front line fighter aircraft, and the men who worked on those wonderful airplanes, could go where they were needed and get the job done. And have a good time while doing so.
No portion of this article may be used or reprinted without permission from the President of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association or the editor of Sabre Jet Classics magazine.
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