A Moment in History: 62 years ago Camp Williams was rededicated to Volk Field

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Erik Figi
  • 115th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The weather for the weekend of June 16-17, 1956 called for partly cloudy skies, possible rain, and a maximum temperature of ninety degrees. All in all it was shaping up to be the perfect climate for the beginning of the summer training encampment at Camp Williams, Wisconsin. The front page article from the 115th Fighter Group base newsletter, Sting of the Scorpion (published June 1956) stated, “Camp Williams Invaded, Beachheads Well Established.” And while there were no “beachheads,” the article described how a sizable force would be laying down tent stakes, setting up equipment and shelters, and readying for a training evolution under the tranquil daytime skies and starry nights of a storied Wisconsin training ground, whose roots could be traced back to 1888.

Units from Madison, Milwaukee, and Fargo, North Dakota, formed the backbone of this puissant team of Guardsmen. Milwaukee’s 128th Fighter Group and its cadre of 68 officers and 661 enlisted, commanded by Maj. Thomas Baily, brought to the evolution its F-89 Scorpions. The 119th Fighter Group out of Fargo, commanded by Lt. Col. Homer Goebel, was comprised of 50 officers and 382 enlisted, and brought to the fight their F-94s. And last, but certainly not least, was the 115th Fighter Group, commanded by Lt. Col. Oliver S. Ryerson, and spearheaded by a cohort of 54 officers and 541 enlisted, flying and maintaining the F-89 Scorpion. According to the base newsletter, these were the dedicated Airmen who called Camp Williams home for the next few weeks, sacrificing time away from jobs and families, in pursuit of excellence in training and the accomplishment of the mission.

Despite initial weather woes, flight operations for the 176th Fighter Intercept Squadron accelerated through the training evolution with aircrews and maintenance personnel executing their regular 12 to 14 hour days. The newsletter noted how training was devoted to “radar intercepts, instrument, camera gunnery, formation, and on the newer pilots and radar observers in the squadron, transition training.” Air-to-air firing practice was executed using an aerial range over Lake Michigan, which extended from Port Washington, north to Sheboygan. The target was a 6ft by 30 feet banner that was towed behind a T-33, at an altitude of 20,000 feet, and six aircraft fired on each target. The unit also did an exemplary job of maintaining its 17 F-89 aircraft in top condition.

On the services side of the house, it was noted that “a variety of tasty food was served to field personnel in spite of balky stoves, a reluctant water supply, and very green KPs.” The Communications Section aided in the overall training evolution by laying 50,000ft of cable and installing telephones in the orderly rooms. On the Base Operations side, air traffic operations were smooth, save a radio failure that lasted about one and a half hours. The Photo Section excelled in capturing a photographic record of the bases’ activities, parade formations, and aerial gunnery practice.

Halfway through the Airman’s camp experience, Camp Williams was rededicated Volk Field by Lt. Gov. Warren P. Knowles during a ceremony held on June 23, 1956, in honor of 1st Lt. Jerome A. Volk, the first Wisconsin National Guard pilot killed in combat in the Korean conflict. More information on Volk Field’s history can be found at www.volkfield.ang.af.mil/About-Us/History.  A parade was held prior to the dedication. At the dedication, the Air Medal and Purple Heart were awarded posthumously to Volk and presented to his parents, along with a citation from Pres. Eisenhower.

The summer training encampment at Camp Williams (later named Volk Field) had proven to be a successful exercise, having provided Airmen ample opportunities to gain valuable experience in their respected career fields. And, perhaps most importantly, they got to participate in an historic event, when the installation was rededicated to a fallen Airman and Wisconsin hero. 

Today, Volk Field Air National Guard Base is home to one of four Air National Guard Combat Readiness Training Centers, the 128th Air Control Squadron, and the 126th Weather Flight.  As the Air National Guard's premier counterland training center, Volk Field serves as a venue for high-end, joint training for fifth generation fighters such as the F-35 and F-22 as well as fourth generation fighters including the F-16, F-18 and the A-10. Volk Field also manages 30,000 cubic miles of airspace over Wisconsin and the Hardwood Range, a 7,200 acre air to ground bombing range near Finley, Wisconsin.