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Wing's history gives POW/MIA day bigger impact

U.S. Air Force Col. Stephen Williams, 35th Fighter Wing commander, front, and Chief Master Sgt. Gary Sharp, 35 FW command chief, begin the first leg of a remembrance run at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Sept. 19, 2013. To honor all of the prisoners of war and those missing in action, the 35 FW ran 24 hours straight for the POW/MIA Remembrance Day. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Kee)

U.S. Air Force Col. Stephen Williams, 35th Fighter Wing commander, front, and Chief Master Sgt. Gary Sharp, 35 FW command chief, begin the first leg of a remembrance run at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Sept. 19, 2013. To honor all of the prisoners of war and those missing in action, the 35 FW ran 24 hours straight for the POW/MIA Remembrance Day. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Kee)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Walter and Tech. Sgt. Kristopher Parker, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technicians, run in commemoration of Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Sept. 20, 2013. The POW/MIA flag was carried around the base during a 24-hour run to pay respect to those who have been captured or have gone missing in action. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Kee)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Walter and Tech. Sgt. Kristopher Parker, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technicians, run in commemoration of Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Sept. 20, 2013. The POW/MIA flag was carried around the base during a 24-hour run to pay respect to those who have been captured or have gone missing in action. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Kee)

Airman 1st Class Zachary Berg, 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aerospace propulsion apprentice, gave a speech about Tech. Sgt. Paul Airey during the Prisoner of War and Missing in Action remembrance ceremony at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Sept. 20, 2013. Airey became a prisoner of war July 1, 1944, after crashing in Hungary during a combat mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kaleb Snay)

Airman 1st Class Zachary Berg, 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aerospace propulsion apprentice, gave a speech about Tech. Sgt. Paul Airey during the Prisoner of War and Missing in Action remembrance ceremony at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Sept. 20, 2013. Airey became a prisoner of war July 1, 1944, after crashing in Hungary during a combat mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kaleb Snay)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class William McDonald, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron operation management, plays taps during a Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Remembrance Ceremony at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Sept. 20, 2013. The ceremony was held to commemorate all service members who are or have been POW or MIA. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Kee)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class William McDonald, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron operation management, plays taps during a Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Remembrance Ceremony at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Sept. 20, 2013. The ceremony was held to commemorate all service members who are or have been POW or MIA. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Kee)

U.S. Army Air Corps Lt. Col. Thomas J. Lynch stands by a P-38 Lightning on the flightline at Papua, New Guinea in 1943. Lynch was a fighter pilot during World War II and a part of the 39th Fighter Squadron in the 35th Fighter Group, known today as the 35th Fighter Wing. Lynch was the top ace for the 39 FS, and during his time with the 35 FG he scored 20 aerial victories. On March 8, 1944, anti-aircraft fire at a low altitude damaged his P-38 and he had to bail out of his aircraft. Because of the low altitude his parachute could not open effectively and he and his aircraft were lost in the jungle below. Declared missing in action, Lynch was never found and is still classified as MIA today. (Courtesy photo by U.S. Army Air Forces, Washington, D.C.)

U.S. Army Air Corps Lt. Col. Thomas J. Lynch stands by a P-38 Lightning on the flightline at Papua, New Guinea in 1943. Lynch was a fighter pilot during World War II and a part of the 39th Fighter Squadron in the 35th Fighter Group, known today as the 35th Fighter Wing. Lynch was the top ace for the 39 FS, and during his time with the 35 FG he scored 20 aerial victories. On March 8, 1944, anti-aircraft fire at a low altitude damaged his P-38 and he had to bail out of his aircraft. Because of the low altitude his parachute could not open effectively and he and his aircraft were lost in the jungle below. Declared missing in action, Lynch was never found and is still classified as MIA today. (Courtesy photo by U.S. Army Air Forces, Washington, D.C.)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Since WWII approximately 70,000 American military personnel have been classified as Missing in Action. In WWII alone, more than 125,000 Americans were captured and became Prisoners of War.

For the 35th Fighter Wing, whose roots date back to the days of the Army Air Corps, honoring those who are or have been a POW or MIA has a bigger impact than setting aside a day of remembrance.

Thomas J. Lynch, a Catasauqua, Pa. native who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1940, joined the U.S. Army Air Corps prior to the start of WWII.

In 1942, as a part of the 39th Fighter Squadron in the 35th Fighter Group, known today as the 35th Fighter Wing, he was a young first lieutenant and found himself engaged in a war that pitted the U.S. and their allies against some of the world's most powerful nations.

In his early days as a fighter pilot, Lynch flew the P-39 Airacobra and claimed his first two aerial victories May 20, 1942 in defense of Port Moresby, New Guinea. After starting with the P-39 and claiming three total aerial victories with this aircraft, the 39 FS switched to the P-38 Lightning, an aircraft Lynch would later earn most of his victories in.

After converting to the P-38, Lynch flew a mission leading a group of 12 P-38s responsible for escorting B-25, B-26 and A-20s attacking Lae Airfield, New Guinea. During the escort, he made several passes at enemy Nakajima Ki-43s (Oscars) and Mitsubishi A6M (Zeros), scoring one enemy aircraft kill. Once the mission was complete, Lynch was credited with two more victories and was shortly after promoted to captain.

In Eric Bergerud's "Fire in the Sky: The Air War in the South Pacific," Capt. Curran Jones, a 5-kill ace who flew with Lynch in the 39 FS, compared how he would assess the situation before attacking an enemy aircraft compared to that of fellow P-38 fighter pilot Bob Faurot.

"All good fighter pilots were aggressive; some exceptionally so," said Jones. "My dear friend Bob Faurot was like that. Tommy Lynch was our leading ace. He was cold-blooded. I think he was the best fighter pilot in the Pacific."

"In combat he was always calculating," added Jones. "I preferred flying Tommy's wing compared to Bob's because when Faurot saw the enemy he'd say 'Tally Ho! There they are let's get 'em' He'd climb up straight underneath them and try to attack. Now that's risky against a Zero. You want to maneuver and find a good position to begin your attack before closing. Skill and cunning had to be combined with aggressiveness. Tommy Lynch never forgot he was responsible for the three guys along with himself."

With this in mind, Lynch's actions wouldn't go unrecognized and after earning yet another aerial victory in June of 1943, he was promoted to major and commanding officer of the 35th Fighter Group.

During his time with the 39 FS and 35 FG, Lynch earned 20 aerial victories and was one of the top aces in the Army Air Corps before a tragedy would leave the rest of what could have been a mystery.

On March 8, 1944, now Lt. Col. Lynch took off piloting his P-38 on a fighter sweep with Capt. Richard Bong. Strafing six Japanese barges, his P-38 received damage from anti-aircraft fire at a low altitude. Bailing out of his aircraft low to the ground, his chute barely opened and Bong watched as his wingman's P-38 was lost in the jungle below. Declared MIA, Lynch's remains were never found and he is still classified as MIA.

That brings us to today, where the 35th Fighter Wing is commemorating the great Lt. Col. Lynch and all other POW and MIA with a 24 hour run and a ceremony to end POW/MIA Remembrance Day.

For Senior Master Sgt. Jason Schmitz, 35th Force Support Squadron career assistance advisor, coordinating the run and commemorating those missing and kept in captivity was something he felt was owed to them.

"Those service members not only served to protect us and provide us our freedom, but they are also taken into captivity for many years of their lives and some didn't return," said Schmitz. "I think it's important we are out here making sure they get the recognition they deserve and remember some are still out there. They sacrificed it all for us; we owe it to them."