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The 88th RS: a Dyess connection to Pearl Harbor

  • Published
  • By By Senior Airman Kedesha Pennant
  • 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
On Dec. 7, 1941, at about 8 a.m., the sight of smoke and tracers in the air were in plain view for aircrew assigned to the 88th Reconnaissance Squadron as they were flying into Pearl Harbor. When they got a little closer, they realized areas on the island had been blown up and six aircraft were on fire. There were people scrambling to get to safety on a date which will live in infamy.

“American pilots were flying reconnaissance planes to the Pacific during a non-wartime era, and they found themselves unknowingly attacked—talk about the fog of war,” said Mark Howell, 7th Bomb Wing historian.

Dyess’ has a unique connection to Pearl Harbor that stems from the 88th RS, which is now the 436th Training Squadron. Pilots from the 88th RS flew six B-17E Flying Fortresses during a scheduled mission to the Philippines to deliver aircraft. Little did they know, when approaching Pearl Harbor for a refuel, their lives would be in danger.

“During the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, three of these aircraft landed at Hickam Field, Hawaii, and the aircrew were under fire and strafed as they got out of their planes and ran for cover,” Howell said. “They were all unarmed and didn’t have anything to defend themselves. However, they were part of the reason the Japanese were not able to get so close before we recognized who they were.”

This was due to radar picking up the aircraft arriving, which was thought to be the B-17s. The aircraft arrived an hour early, and it was the Japanese fighter aircraft, Mitsubishi A6M Zeros, coming in during the first wave of the attack.

“The other three B-17s arrived in Hawaii and outflew one of the Japanese Zeros,” Howell said. “They were able to demonstrate the maneuverability of the B-17 at that time by flying the aircraft all the way around the Oahu Island in order to evade the attackers.”

In addition to the three B-17s that landed at Hickam, one landed on a golf course and two landed at the Haleiwa Fighter Strip, a 1,500-foot auxiliary field.

“The B-17 that landed on the golf course was damaged but reparable,” Howell said. “The rest of the aircraft landed with minor damage from shell holes.”

The 88th RS’s mission was to deliver aircraft to the Philippines, but since the country was also under attack, the B-17s ultimately ended up in Australia. Their job as reconnaissance was to find targets.

“It’s an incredible feat of flying skills and bravery,” Howell said. “They were able to land and navigate into those places and escape without harm.”

In 1942, the 88th RS was redesignated as the 436th Bombardment Squadron. They also flew missions within the China-Burma-India Theater that year.

The 88th RS is one of the oldest squadrons in the Air Force. Many of the first members were a part of the 38 American pilots who flew under French command a year before the U.S. entered World War I—the Lafayette Escadrille. The 436th TS will celebrate their centennial Aug. 17, 2017. The unit was originally designated as the 88th Aero Squadron Aug. 18, 1917, at Kelly Air Field, Texas. During that time, they provided observation and reconnaissance support during World War I.

"I'm honored to be the commander of the 436th TS, because it's a squadron with a long-storied history,” said Lt. Col. Edward Brennan, 436 TS commander. “As we approach our 100th anniversary, it's especially important we reflect on the heroism, teamwork and principles of being an Airman we value today. There's a tie to what they've done and what we do, and it's important to embrace it with open arms. I'm proud to be a part of Dyess team and the Abilene community. It's great to be an Airman in today's Air Force. We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn't for the people who came before us."