by TSgt. Dan Heaton
127th Wing Public Affairs
6/28/2011 - SELFRIDGE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mich. -- The Airmen who made the Delta Dart fly at Selfridge pointed and looked and joked and visited. But the highlight of the trip was standing in a hangar, with a quiet look of pride and satisfaction.
Some 60 former Air Force members, who all served at Selfridge in the 1960s and worked on maintenance on the F-106 Delta Dart - known in its heyday as the "Ultimate Interceptor" - held a reunion in the Detroit area over three days in June. The highlight of the trip was a visit to Hangar 5 on the air base, where most of the men worked, performing maintenance on the F-106.
"It's a brotherhood. There's no doubt about it," said Ken Wigton, who helped to organize the reunion outing. Wigton, who lives in the far, semi-rural exurbs of the Detroit area, served in the Air Force from 1960 to 1964. He spent much of that time assigned to the 1st Fighter Wing at Selfridge, working on the automatic weapons and flight control systems of the F-106.
"I haven't seen some of these guys in 40 years, but we could stand and talk for hours," he said. "We worked together, we lived together. Really, we grew up together in the Air Force."
A few of the people on the reunion visit had retired from the Air Force after 20 or more years of service. Most spent four years in Air Force blue as young men and were eager to show their wives their old barracks and other familiar locations around the base and the city of Mount Clemens, just outside the base. The veterans came from as far as Florida and California to participate in the reunion.
From 1947 through 1971, what is now known as Selfridge Air National Guard Base, about 20 miles from Detroit, operated as an active duty Air Force base. Prior to that, it was known as Selfridge Field and was operated as an airfield by the Army, beginning in 1917.
"Obviously, things are more modern now and some things have changed," said Ken Johnson, who traveled from the Cincinnati, Ohio, area to attend the reunion. "But even though things have changed, a lot of it feels very, very familiar."
Col. Gregory Holzhei, commander of the 127th Maintenance Group - which maintains A-10 attack aircraft in the same hangar the F-106 unit once utilized -- said the veterans are an important part of the Air Force and Selfridge family.
"Our veterans understand our story. They help to educate their friends and neighbors about the Air Force and the sacrifices that are so often involved with military service," Holzhei said. "The reunion visit was a great opportunity for us to be able to hear their stories and to share with them some of the things that are happening at Selfridge today."
Two international conflicts impacted the Air Force career of many of the reunion participants - the Cuban Missile Crisis and the beginning of the Vietnam War. Several of the former Airmen recalled sleeping on the floor in the hangar, almost within arm's reach of their aircraft, for several days as the nation went on high alert during the October 1962 standoff between the U.S. and the Soviet Union over the placement by the Soviets of potentially nuclear-armed missiles on the island nation of Cuba - some 90 miles from the coast of Florida.
A number of F-106s and personnel from the 1st Fighter Wing deployed to locations around the country - including to Florida - to provide air superiority coverage of the continental U.S.
"It did get a little tense there for a few days," Johnson said. "We were Air Defense Command back then and we were on the highest alert."
The 1st Fighter Wing operated two squadrons at Selfridge, the 94th and the 71st Fighter Interceptor Squadrons. Tracing its roots to 1918, the 1st Fighter Wing is the oldest air combat unit in the U.S. military. Today it is based at Langley Air Force Base, Va., and flies the F-22 Raptor, the newest fighter in the Air Force inventory. Air Defense Command no longer exists. After several reorganizations of the Air Force structure, much of the duties of the former ADC are now borne by Air Combat Command.
The 1st FW left Selfridge when the base transitioned to the Air National Guard, but that was not the end of the F-106s at the base. The Delta Darts were operated by the Michigan Air National Guard at Selfridge in 1972-1978. A retired F-106 is on display in the Selfridge Military Air Museum. The museum was a part of the reunion visit for the veterans, who also had a question and answer session with a current Selfridge pilot who flies the A-10 Thunderbolt II, also known as the Warthog.
Wigton said as he began making contacts for the reunion, often each person he contacted would provide another several names of old buddies from Air Force days.
"If I started planning the reunion today, I know I would have more than 100 people here. I kept adding names, even to the last minutes," he said. "As you get older and reflect back on your life, there is a special bond that exists between you and the people you served with."
A group of Air Force veterans listen as Senior Master Sgt. Wayne Fetty talks about the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., June 24, 2011. The veterans all served at Selfridge in the 1960s, when the base was an active duty Air Force installation. They were all part of the 1st Fighter Wing, which was then located at the base, operating the F-106 Delta Dart. (USAF photo by TSgt. Dan Heaton) Hi-res