ISSOUDUN, FRANCE —
Airmen assigned to the 32nd Aerial Refueling Squadron at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, attended an Armistice Day ceremony here on Nov. 11 to help commemorate the day and honor fallen Airmen who were stationed at the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center during World War I.
Villages and cities throughout France commemorated Armistice Day, which marks the armistice signed between the Allies and Germany for the cessation of hostilities in World War I. The ceremony included playing the French and United States national anthems, the playing of Taps, the unveiling of a reconditioned war memorial and speeches from representatives of the French government, the city mayor and more. The event concluded with a parade through the village, which 32nd ARS members took part in.
“It was important for us to come here and help the people of Issoudun commemorate Armistice Day; it’s a humble privilege and responsibility of ours to remember those who came before us,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. John Cockburn, 32nd ARS operations officer. “For me, it was amazing to see people who were over 100 years old to children only 4 or 5 years old in a very structured remembrance of why we, back in America, celebrate Veterans Day.”
During the war, the squadron, then known as the 32nd Aero Squadron, was assigned to the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center, which was officially established on June 21, 1917, here to provide advanced pilot and aircrew training for Americans.
When the squadron’s members arrived for duty in September 1917, they found only a couple hangars and barracks, but over the next few months, they helped establish the airfield. Once operational, the 32nd AS members were responsible for repairing damaged aircraft, overseeing aircraft assembly and operating a salvage yard, where retrieved parts from wrecked aircraft to repair others.
“It’s important for Airmen today to have the opportunity to actually walk on the same grounds as those who came before us to gain a better appreciation for what they did,” said Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Becnel, 305th Operations Support Squadron boom instructor. “Even though the 32nd Aero Squadron didn’t have an exciting, front-line role, what they did was very important to train, equip, maintain the aircraft, and support many of the famous flyers who went to the front and fought in the war.”
Some of those famous pilots included U.S. Air Force Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, who was the most successful Air Force fighter ace in the war with 26 aerial victories; U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Quentin Roosevelt, who was the son of President Theodore Roosevelt; and U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Hiram Bingham, who was the 3rd AIC’s last commander from Aug. 31 through December 1918 when it was deactivated. During its height, the 3rd AIC was the largest of the nine American aircraft instruction centers in Europe with more than 8,000 men living on the base.
The site had electricity, a sewage system, a 40-meter-high water tower, a “chow” hall, a laundry unit, showers, a technical and recreational library, and sport fields. The roads were paved and given names of main streets or districts from New York City, according to historical documents.
In total, 16 Airmen from the 305th Air Mobility Wing attended the commemoration.
“It’s important for the world to have Veterans Day and Armistice Day to remember the atrocities that occurred in our past, so we can prevent those from ever happening again and promote peace and prosperity throughout the world,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Mason, 32nd ARS boom operator.
Until recently, 32nd ARS members had no idea the townspeople of Issoudun honored the Airmen from their unit until Becnel discovered information about the commemoration while doing his own historical research on the unit.
“I stumbled across a Facebook event in preparation for the 32nd ARS’s centennial in 2017, when [I learned] the city of Issoudun was commemorating the opening of the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center here in the same month,” Becnel said. “I sent some emails and ended up in the hands of some like-minded individuals; we clicked and started sharing information. Our first visit here was in January 2018, and we hope we started something that will become a tradition both for the city of Issoudun and members of the 32nd ARS.”
In addition to taking part in the commemoration, the 32nd ARS Airmen also visited the site where the 3rd AIC once stood along with other war memorials. In total, more 170 people died while assigned to the 3rd AIC, primarily due to aircraft crashes and disease. The 32nd AS lost five Airmen.