'Living legends' discuss Air Force of yesterday, today

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Monique Randolph
  • Secretary of the Air Force Office of Public Affairs
In keeping with the Air Force's 60th anniversary theme, "Heritage to Horizons," a panel of four war veterans gathered June 14 at the Pentagon Conference Center to discuss the challenges and triumphs of air power over the years.

The theme of the discussion was, "The Jet Age: Korea, Vietnam, Cold War."

The panel included retired Gen. Hal Hornburg, retired Air Vice Marshal Paddy Harbison of the Royal Air Force, retired Maj. Gen. James McInerny and retired Lt. Col. Tom Hanton.

Throughout the panel discussion, each speaker discussed technology, tactics, training and leadership in the Air Force.


General Hornburg, who served as a forward air controller in South Vietnam, joined the Air Force in 1968 and retired in 2005. Throughout his career he held various flying positions and also served as commander of 9th Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, and Air Combat Command.

"The Air Force is based on a technology perception -- it's one our greatest strengths because we lead all the other services in technology," he said. "But it's also one of our greatest curses. I think we put technology at the head of the wrong train at times.

"When we look at what we can do today and how we can be anyplace at anytime of our choosing -- we can find them, track them, fix them, kill them -- I think technology moves so fast sometimes that we, as Airmen, can lose our identity to it. Sometimes we think about 'it' and 'stuff,' rather than putting the emphasis on 'him' and 'her.'"


"During the Korean War, the Royal Air Force became very interested in the tactics being used in Korea, so they sent over a team of four to observe," said Air Marshal Harbison, a member of the Royal Air Force who served in the Korean War as a fighter pilot with the U.S. Air Force's 4th Fighter Group.

"I was continuously impressed by the standard of flying there. These people flew the F-86 to limits I'd never seen before, and in fact, you had to do that to survive.

"All sort of tactics were involved, such as the use of contrails. They would fly below the contrail level or in it if they wanted to be seen. We used that tactic on the MiGs as well. And the Australians were flying Meteors for ground attacks. The Chinese hated that because they would pierce the sides of the caves they were in.

"Korea was the first jet war. It was jet versus jet. I think a lot of the tactics that evolved later on in any Air Force (began) there."


As commander of AETC from June 2001 to November 2002, General Hornburg was responsible for all Air Force recruiting, education and training.

"When I think of training, I think of it at both the apprentice and advanced levels, so it's not just training in the jet age or any age," said General Hornburg. "I've often said I've never had a job in the Air Force that I wasn't properly trained to do.

"I can think of no one who has better training capabilities than the U.S. Air Force. Whether it's formal or informal, you're training almost every day. It's very seldom, if ever, that we put someone in a job of increased responsibility, where either people or resources are at risk, and they haven't been given the necessary training to at least have a fighting chance of doing the job right."


"The day I got shot down, I ended up in a room with five guys I didn't choose to be with and I couldn't walk out the door," said Colonel Hanton, referring to the 12 months he spent as a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton and Zoo prisons in North Vietnam.

On June 27, 1972, while he was assigned to the 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Da Nang Air Base, Vietnam, his F-4E was shot down by a North Vietnamese Mig-21. After the first in command was injured and taken away, Colonel Hanton became the highest ranking officer in the group of prisoners.

"As a leader, you have to be able to get along with people and get things done. You have to continue to fight. We were warriors. We didn't give up the fight just because we weren't in the air.

"And communication is key. You have to communicate with the people you work with and work for. And you have to have confidence that they're going to do what they're supposed to do."

General McInerney, who served in the Army enlisted corps as a parachute infantryman prior to commissioning in the Air Force as a fighter-interceptor pilot, held several command positions throughout his career.

A veteran of both the Korean War and Vietnam, he retired at the rank of major general in 1980.

"The most important thing (about being a leader) is to pay attention to what's irking the troops," said General McInerney. "Sometimes it's easy to capture their respect.

"I recall a time when I was given seven days to take over the wing at Zweibrucken Air Base (Germany), and Airmen were getting Article 15s for walking across the grass. When I looked at where they were walking, there was no grass there because it had been walked on so much. So, I had the civil engineers put a sidewalk there. I heard about that for months after every time I visited the NCO club.

"You don't always have the opportunity to do something so easy, but as commanders, you need to seek out those opportunities," he said.