Prior to the invasion of the Republic of Korea by the North Korean communists in 1950, the area, now designated Osan Air Base, consisted of four villages near the hillsides and a large number of rice paddies where the runway now lies. Originally designated K-55, the base was redesignated as Osan Air Base in September 1956. The base was not named for any of the villages on the site. The first base commander named the base Osan, as it was the only village shown in this region on military maps and because it was easy to pronounce. The word "Osan" means Crow Hill.
The four villages that were moved to make room for the base were Jeuk-Bong-Ri, Chang-Deung-ri, Shin-Ya-Ri and Ya-Ri. A large ginkgo tree that was in the village square of one of these villages still stands on a hill in the present golf course site.
Osan is situated near the site of two significant battles that occurred early in the Korean War. The first ground combat action between American and North Korean forces was fought just a few miles north of Osan Air Base. To halt the advancing North Korean army, which had seized Seoul and was pushing south, Maj. Gen. William F. Dean, commander of the 24th Infantry Division, sent two under strength infantry companies and a headquarters element from Japan to Pyongtaek July 2, 1950. There they were joined by elements of an artillery battalion. Under the command of Lt. Col. Charles Bradford Smith, this force of 540 men, now called "Task Force Smith" moved into position at Juk Mi Pass, just south of Suwon Air Base, where they faced more than 5,000 North Korean soldiers and 34 Soviet built T-34 tanks. Smith's mission was to halt the enemy drive south and allow Maj. Gen. Dean time to regroup United Nations forces and establish a defensive perimeter.
On July 5, 1950, "Task Force Smith" engaged the enemy near Chukini-Ryong. The battle raged for seven hours as the task force held firm against an entire communist division. Outnumbered, outgunned, and out of ammunition, the survivors managed to fight their way clear and reach Pyongtaek where they joined elements of the 34th Infantry Regiment. Delaying actions continued just north of Chonan, until the weary soldiers pulled back to Taejon where General Dean had established his headquarters. The delaying actions fought by Task Force Smith and the 34th Infantry enabled the 24th Infantry Division to land in Korea and establish and hold the "Pusan Perimeter" along the Naktong River.
Topping a hill a few miles north of Osan on the road to Suwon stand two monuments. On the west side of the highway a stone pillar constructed by Companies B and C of the 3rd Engineering Battalion, 24th Infantry Division, pays tribute to the first American soldier who gave his life in the valley. The larger memorial on the east side of the road was erected by the Republic of Korea to honor the gallant men of Task Force Smith who had fought so bravely.
Osan also is remembered as the location for the first U.S. Army company-strength bayonet charge since World War I, which occurred on Feb. 7, 1951. Part of a larger force charged with the task of clearing the Republic of Korea of all communist troops south of Seoul, Army Capt. Lewis L. Millett and his soldiers charged the communist Chinese forces holding Hill 180, which dominates present day Osan Air Base. For his heroic actions, Captain Millett received the Medal of Honor. Osan Air Base is one of two major airfields operated by the United States in Korea. They completed the 9,000-foot runway in November 1952.
The ROK government allowed the U.S. Air Force to purchase 1,250 acres in 1952 to expand the base. A fifth Korean village (unnamed) was relocated in 1953 to enlarge the compound area for the location of Headquarters, 5th Air Force, which maintained an advanced headquarters until the arrival of the 314th Air Division in 1954. Elements of the 839th, 841st, and 417th Engineering Battalions took part in constructing the base. The rolling hills were transformed into a base of operation and the runway was completed in less than six months. The runway opened in December 1952, with the advance elements of the 18th Fighter Bomber Wing arriving for duty late in the month. The 18th FBW provided air operations in support of UN ground forces during the Korean conflict.
Following the war, Osan AB was transitioned to standby status and hosted only temporary duty or transient units involved in PACAF tactical operations. During that time most facilities fell into disrepair. Concrete surfaces were restored in 1957 and total renovation projects were completed in 1958 when the base became a permanent peacetime installation.
Osan has hosted many types of fighter aircraft in its history, from the F-86s during the Korean War, F-100s in the late 1950s, F-105s in 1962-1963, F-106s in 1968-69, F-4s in 1971. Today, the host 51st Fighter Wing flies the A-10 and F-16 fighter aircraft.
The 51st Air Base Wing actually relocated from Naha Air Base, Okinawa, to Osan AB on November 1, 1971, and assumed all support responsibilities for base units and sites. The wing was redesignated the 51st Composite Wing Sept. 30, 1974. On July 1, 1982, the 51st Composite Wing was redesignated the 51st Tactical Fighter Wing. Ten years later, in February 1992, the wing was redesignated the 51st Wing.
On Oct. 1, 1993, the 51st Wing became the 51st Fighter Wing. Today, the 7th Air Force and 51st Fighter Wind Headquarters are located at the base of the now famous Hill 180.
51st Fighter Wing
The 51st Fighter Wing, headquartered at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, is the most forward deployed wing in the world, providing combat ready forces for the close air support, air strike control, counter air, interdiction, theater airlift, and communications in the defense of the ROK. The 51st FW executes military operations to beddown, maintain and employ follow-on forces for the combined arms base that includes three major flying tenants and large multiservice fighting units.
The wing accomplishes this mission through:
--Conducting exercises to ensure our forces maintain the highest degree of readiness to defend Osan AB against air and ground attack;
--Maintaining and administering U.S. operations at Osan and five collocated operating bases -- Taegu, Suwon, Kwang Ju, Kimhae and Cheong Ju – for reception and beddown of follow-on forces;
--Providing timely and accurate air power in support of military operations directed by higher headquarters.
The overall responsibility for directing the mission falls upon the wing commander. The job of achieving mission goals is divided among the wing’s four groups.
The 51st Operations Group leads and manages the 51st FW’s flying operations, tasked with air strike control, interdiction, counterair, close air support, air rescue and operational airlift missions. The group provides supervision for two fighter squadrons, a rescue flight, an airlift flight, two range squadrons and the operations support squadron. The 36th Fighter Squadron performs air interdiction, close air support, and counter-air missions with LANTIRN (low altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night) equipped F-16C/D model fighters. The 25th Fighter Squadron uses A/OA-10 Thunderbolt IIs to conduct day and night flying operations on air strike control, close air support, interdiction and combat search and rescue missions. The Operations Support Squadron is responsible for training, weapons and tactics, intelligence, plans, airfield management, weather observation and air traffic control for the entire 51st Operations Group.
The 51st Support Group provides wartime readiness, survivability and ground base defense for Osan AB through civil engineering, security police, air base operability, explosive ordnance disposal, communications, recreation and services, and personnel assets. The 51st SPTG develops and enforces policies providing mission support to more than 10,000 people at 122 units.
The 51st Medical Group provides medical and dental care to the wing community and its geographically separated units. Its unique hospital, the first of its kind in the world, contains more than 92,000 square feet and is capable of sustained operation in a chemical environment. Its 30-bed peacetime capacity accommodates 245 patients in its wartime configuration.
The 51st Logistics Group is responsible for a myriad of logistics concerns. The 51st Maintenance Squadron provides intermediate maintenance for 28 LANTIRN F-16s, 21 A/OA-10s, an HH-60 and five MH-53 helicopters, as well as tenant U-2S aircraft. The squadron also maintains 636 pieces of Aerospace Ground Equipment and repair/calibrate 6,537 items of precision measurement equipment. The 51st Transportation Squadron controls and maintains a 2,400 vehicle daily use and war reserve material fleet. The squadron also provides traffic management support for all air and surface movements of materiel and personnel. The 51st supply Squadron provides supplies, equipment and fuel to a "fight in place" combat wing and manages $700 million worth of accountable assets. The 51st Logistics Support Squadron plans, programs and initiates actions for the rapid reception and beddown of U.S. forces deploying to the Republic of Korea during contingencies or wartime by maintaining five collocated operating bases and seven munitions storage sites.
The 51st FW was activated on Aug. 18, 1948. Though not involved as a wing in World War II operations, the wing was granted "temporary bestowal" of the honors achieved by its predecessor, the 51st Pursuit Group. Following the 1948 activation, the 51st provided air defense of the Ryukyus Islands during the U.S. occupation of Japan and Okinawa.
During the Korean War, the 51st FW moved operations to Kimpo Air Base on Sept. 22, 1950. By Dec. 10, 1950, the bulk of the wing was forced to retreat back to Itazuke AB and Tsuiki AB, Japan. Missions were flown from Japan; planes landed at Taegu AB to refuel, rearm and fly another mission before returning to Japan. The 51st moved to Suwon AB, Republic of Korea, Oct. 1, 1951, but left rear echelon maintenance facilities at Tsuiki AB.
During the Korean War, the wing’s crews flew combat air patrol, air interdiction, bomber escort and reconnaissance missions in support of United Nations ground forces. The world’s first all-jet air combat was fought between 51st pilots in their F-80s and North Korean MiGs. Capt. Joseph M. McConnell Jr., with 16 MiG kills, became the Air Force’s leading ace of the conflict. His aircraft is on display near Doolittle Gate.
During the Vietnam Conflict, crews of the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing provided air defense of Naha AB, Okinawa, with F-102s. During the 1968 Pueblo crisis, the wing deployed 12 of is 33 aircraft to Suwon AB. On May 31, 1971, the 51st FIW was inactivated, but for only five months; on Nov. 1, 1971, the wing was redesignated the 51st Air Base Wing and activated at Osan.
The 51st FW’s aircrews have flown a variety of aircraft, including the F-80 Shooting Star, F-82 Twin Mustang, F-86 Sabrejet, F-94 Starfire, F-102 Delta Dagger, F-4E Phantom, F-106 Delta Dart, OV-10 Bronco, A-10 and OA-10 Thunderbolt II and several versions of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
The 51st was redesignated several times over the next two decades: 51st Composite Wing (Tactical), Sept. 31, 1974; 51st Tactical Fighter Wing, June 1, 1082; and 51st Wing, Feb. 7, 1992. A final redesignation of the 51st FW brought it full circle on Oct. 1, 1992, as part of the Air Force-wide plan to preserve the lineage and heritage of its most prestigious units as the force reduced in size.