Hidden History at JBLE: Meaning of Memorial Park

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class R. Alex Durbin
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
On Jan. 29, 2010, the creation of Joint Base Langley-Eustis brought the U.S. Army and Air Force together for a common mission. Although the joint installation has forged a new heritage for the past four years, both Langley and Fort Eustis have a cumulative history of approximately 200 years, each with their own rich past.

Langley dates back to August 1916, just two years after World War I began, when the Army appointed a board of officers to search for a suitable site to place an aviation field and conduct aeronautical experiments. After the site was selected, the team leader, Lt. Col. George O. Squier, named the new base after Samuel Pierpont Langley, as a testament to his life-long pursuit of heavier-than-air flight. Now, nearly 100 years later, Langley is America's oldest continuously active air field.

Nestled at the corner of Sweeney Blvd. and Nealy Ave., Memorial Park stands solemnly between the hustle and bustle of the surrounding base. It can be seen as the wind off the Back River blows the 50 state flags in the shadows of the four, large static-display aircraft.

While the display may seem to some as just another mounment to the Air Force's history of air superiority, but the park is, in fact, one of Langley's historical locations with a story unknown to most passers-by.

The park was originally developed in 1983 on the Tactical Air Command Parade Grounds by order of Gen. Bill Creech, the then-TAC commander. The park was created to memorialize Service members who participated in conflicts around the world.

During construction, the park was supplied with three aircraft; an F-86 Sabre, F-105 Thunderchief and F-15A Eagle, to signify the Korean, Vietnam and Cold Wars, respectively. The planes were not painted in their duty colors, but a "ghost gray" to memorialize Service members who lost their lives during those conflicts.

"The planes are painted gray to avoid being related to any specific unit, but to memorialize all Airmen," said David Bragg, Air Combat Command History Office curator. "They are there to remind [us] of those who gave their lives defending this country."

In October 1991, Gen. John Loh, a former ACC commander, ordered an F-16 Fighting Falcon to be added to the park to maintain the original concept and honor Service members who took part in Operation Desert Storm. The chosen aircraft was the Air Force's first prototype F-16 and bears the tail number 78-0001.

The park also holds a memorial to Gen. Jerome O'Malley, a former TAC commander who perished with his wife in a plane crash in April 1985.

Since its construction, the park has also played host to a number of important events at JBLE. The memorial was the backdrop for the deactivation of TAC and transition to ACC in June 1992.

As the JBLE mission moves ever forward, Bragg said Service members can look to historical sites like Memorial Park and remember those who came before them, and apply those lessons to the future.

"It's important for Service members to understand their heritage," said Bragg. "The park should make [Service Members] feel part of a much larger picture."