13 Sep Don Shepperd’s F-100 dedication, Joint Base Andrews, MD at the Air National Guard Readiness Center (their operational headquarters)
This is an emotional day for me, but for reasons you may not understand. It is NOT because my name is on this airplane but for what it represents. This aircraft happened because of Lt. Gen. (ret) Sid Clarke, former Director of the Air National Guard – Sid Clarke understood the importance of history and culture and where we as Guard men and women came from and who gave it to us and why we need to be reminded of such.
This aircraft was the first of the Century series fighters. It ushered in the era of supersonic flight. It was a true mainstay in the Cold War, the big war that we won without firing a shot. It was flown by active duty, Guard and Reserves. We flew it in peace and war, over deep oceans, wide deserts and thick jungles, day and night in all kinds of weather. I checked out in this aircraft over 50 years ago as a 23 year-old kid. At 24 years old I strapped a nuclear weapon onboard and sat alert in Europe. I don’t think I scared the Russians, but it would certainly have concerned my neighbors in Wheat Ridge, Colorado to know their former paperboy had a nuke. We would have blown the world up to save it.
And then, there was war. I left for Vietnam from Stapleton Field in Denver, Colorado. As I walked down the ramp to the airplane, I looked back at my wife, Rose, who was crying. I didn’t understand. It was everything I had dreamed about. I was going to be a fighter pilot in real war, a jungle war for men with hair on their chests. There were missiles and MiGs and SAMs and Triple-A and our bases were attacked at night with rockets and mortars. What was not to like? Many decades later I understand why Rose was crying. I fully understand the toll on families, wives, husbands and children of war.
You see, when I look at this beautiful airplane on a pedestal, I don’t see just an airplane. I hear voices. I hear the voices of men in terrible danger and on fire. I smell smoke. I see flames. I hear the thump, thump, thump of Triple-A passing close to the canopy and I feel the impact of shells hitting the airplane. I see ejection seat rockets and I hear parachute beepers and I see the bravest of the brave, Jolly Green helicopter pilots, hovering to pick up our downed pilot while being riddled with gunfire and us strafing desperately to keep the bad guys away. And, I hear the worst radio call of all, “They’ve got me. I’m breaking my radio. See you after the war,” and of course some we did, some we didn’t.
I was part of a group of 157 men who flew a special, then, Top Secret mission over North Vietnam. Our mission was to seek out SAM sites, Triple-A, truck parks, POL, ammunition storage. Our missions lasted 4-6:30 hrs. with two-three aerial refuelings. We went back in two-three times depending on weather and marked targets for bomb-laden fighters. It was a desperately difficult and dangerous mission and 28% of our pilots were shot down, some twice. – WHY? – well, that is why this airplane is important. The reason we were shot down is we didn’t have what you now have – we were in SAM and Triple-A country and we had no reliable RHAW gear, no chaff, no flares, no ECM, no night vision equipment, no radar, no precision weapons. We did not have what we needed to win and survive.
The men who flew this aircraft and others like it, gave you what you have today. They came home from a difficult war, one we did not win, and rebuilt the Air Force and the Guard with what you have today – modern equipment, relevant training and great facilities worthy of true professionals. In return you have used what we gave you to construct a combat ready force, an OPERATIONAL force, NOT a strategic reserve, that can fight side by side with our active duty counterparts on a moment’s notice and you can’t tell the difference. That is truly amazing, and you are doing it today in Iraq and Afghanistan and all over the world.
Just behind my name on this aircraft is the name of Capt. Jim Fiorelli, a great Arizona Guardsman. Jim was one of the finest and most natural pilots I have ever known. He passed away several years ago while investigating an F-16 crash east of Tucson. I still see his smiling face and hear his voice. His wife, Mary, is a dear friend of ours still living in Tucson. When I found out this aircraft was to be put here and my name was to be put on it, I asked that Jim’s name be placed alongside mine because we flew many Misty missions together in Vietnam.
As you look at this aircraft on your way to work, remember the men who gave you what you have and thank them, because they will be looking down at you and smiling and saying, “Thanks for what you have made the Air National Guard.”
Time flies swiftly. I have been retired over 18 years and do you remember the little girl whose image I used on my Power Point slides as I spoke about the future? – well she’s here today, my granddaughter Paigey Pooh Shepperd Sallee, now graduated from college and married along with the rest of my family, grandson Christian, a college sophomore and granddaughter Isabelle, a high school sophmore, son Tyler, a former USAF AC-130 gunship pilot, his wife Rebecca and of course, my beautiful wife, Rosie the Riveter, who followed me through the ups and downs of life’s journey through military flying.
I want to sincerely thank everyone who had a hand in placing this aircraft here. They are too numerous to mention. I accept this beautiful aircraft on behalf of all who flew it in peace and war, active, Guard and Reserve – a testament to where we came from long, long ago.
LtCol. Robert “Hoppy” Hopkins, USAF (Ret.) is here. Hoppy is CEO of the Super Sabre Society, an organization of we old surviving F-100 pilots. There are about 1400 of us. Hoppy has brought our “Last Man Standing” toasting cabinet that we use at reunions and events to toast our departed comrades. Like the Doolittle Raiders, the last two F-100 pilots will share a final toast. Please enjoy the cabinet on the left as you enter the Hall. I fully intend to be one of those last two men – thank you for being here today.