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A Monument Built from a Legacy

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. James Douglas
  • 509th Bomb Wing

509ers! Do you know the story of the monument sitting in front of the 509th Bomb Wing headquarters building? The statue that we pass every day is a symbol that pays homage to the heritage of the 509th, a heritage that includes the missions that ended World War II.


The U.S. Army Air Corps established the 509th Composite Group on December 17th, 1944 at Wendover Airfield, Utah to be the weapons delivery section for the Manhattan project. The group, led by Col. Paul W. Tibbets Jr., was trained to fly B-29s modified to carry the first nuclear bombs.


The unit moved to Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands in June 1945 to prepare to carry out their mission if called upon.


That call came on August 6th, 1945. Tibbets, piloting the Enola Gay, dropped the first nuclear weapon used in war on Hiroshima, Japan.


When Japan still did not to surrender, the 509th was called upon again. Maj. Charles W. Sweeney flying Bockscar dropped “Fat Man” on Nagasaki. Shortly after the second bombing, Japan surrendered, ending World War II.


After the war, the 509th moved from Tinian to Roswell Air Force Base, New Mexico where it resided until 1958 when it moved to Pease Air Force Base, New Hampshire.


Pease AFB was home to both the 509th the 100th Bombardment Wings, both of which flew the B-47. In 1965 with the B-47 set to be phased out, the Air Force selected the 509th to be deactivated, while the 100th would be converted to the B-52D.


A monument with a list of previous 509th wing commanders was planned to pay homage to the history of the wing and the pioneers that started it. The wing’s sergeant major, Master Sergeant Anthony Bartolli was sent to Washington, D.C. to verify a few names. While there, Bartolli met Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force General William Blanchard, a previous 509th wing commander.


On December 17, 1965, the monument was dedicated by now Brig. Gen. Sweeny, the pilot of Bockscar on August 9, 1945.


On January 6th, 1966, the Air Force announced that the 509th would remain and the 100th would be deactivated instead. Bartolli’s meeting Blanchard in Washington, planted the seed of preserving the 509th in Blanchard’s mind. The monument that was meant to commemorate the deactivation 509th instead became a trophy celebrating its history.


When the 509th moved from Pease to Whiteman Air Force Base in September 1990 in preparation for the arrival of the B-2 bomber, the monument came along and was placed in front of Building 153, the current home of the 13th Bomb Squadron.  It was later moved to the flightline side of Building 35, Base Operations. When that building was demolished in 2022, the monument once again needed a new home.


Today, visitors to the 509th Bomb Wing can find the monument in its current home next to the base flagpole in front of Building 509, the wing headquarters. There they can read the history engraved on the monument, a history that played a direct role in the 509th Bomb Wing enduring to the present day.