From Iwo Jima in WWII to Tucson Today: 47th Fighter Squadron flag still flies

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alexis Orozco
  • 944th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

On December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, members of the 47th Fighter Squadron rallied and engaged in dogfights with the Japanese as part of the first American victories in World War II.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, many of the members deployed to Iwo Jima, Japan, where the heavy fighting continued. On this small Pacific Island there was a flag greeting these troops that read “Welcome to the 47th Fighter Squadron.”

In March of 2022, a few of these WWII 47th FS alums traveled to Tucson to visit their old squadron and donate some items they had collected throughout their time as servicemembers.

During the tour the alums took a stop at the squadron’s clubhouse where the pilots and aircrew unwind after long days. Reserve Citizen Airman Lt. Col. Tim Mitchell, former commander of the 47th FS, encouraged everyone to take a seat to talk about the past. The alums, looking around, noticed something.

“That’s our sign, that was from the O-Club in Iwo Jima,” Mitchell said the alums explained.

One of these alums was WWII veteran ret. Capt. John Googe, visiting from North Carolina. Googe joined the Air Force in 1943 and was a P-51 Mustang pilot. The sight of the flag had a profound effect on Googe who decided to gift the 47th FS funds to help expedite the flag restoration so its legacy continues to fly.

“If we weren’t on a mission, we would congregate – [at the Officers’ Club] to enjoy company,” said Googe. “It makes me feel really great to give back to the squadron now.”

This flag today, nearly 80 years old, was displayed alongside old squadron photos and above a popcorn machine in the clubhouse. The squadron knew the flag had been around for some time but had no idea it dated back to WWII.

“Maybe the popcorn oil helped preserve it,” Mitchell said facetiously.

Jokes aside, upon this discovery, Mitchell quickly reached out to Ms. Jessica Lawson, 944th Fighter Wing Historian, to assist with restoring this part of the unit’s WWII history and to prevent future deterioration.

“The squadron got a hold of me and let me know they had the flag and that it was in a very sad state,” Lawson explained. “I do not have experience in restoration, I was a little intimidated.”

For some assistance, Lawson reached out to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. They helped her coordinate an introduction and partnership between Mitchell and local Tucson Art Conservators, Ms. Matilde Rubio and Mr. Timothy Lewis of Tohono Restoration who offered to assist in restoring the flag.

Rubio remembered the day they were contacted and how humbled Lewis was to be chosen.

“We’ve been on the restoration list with the DoD [Department of Defense] for a long time and this was our first project with them,” Rubio said. “When we accepted the request, we were both quiet and shocked. [Lewis] hasn’t served in the military but he’s always respected what [servicemembers] do and being picked to give back doing what we do was one of his life’s goals. If this was our last assignment, he’d leave this world happy knowing he was able to serve the military in his own way.”

Lewis recalled the condition of the flag when he first saw it.

“It was in terrible condition,” Lewis said. “It looked like somebody painted over the top of a gauze band aid; it was that delicate.”

Tohono Restoration uses a rabbit fat mixture as an adhesive to protect canvas material during transport and it is more flexible than typical glues.

Lawson, although inexperienced, was invested at this point and explained the importance of the flag maintaining the aesthetics of hits battle hardened roots.

“The squadron wanted the age of the flag to still show,” said Lawson.

After the Pearl Harbor attack, the squadron mission remained combat related during WWII. During the war, they deployed to the Pacific Theatre flying many missions from 1940 to 1945.

“The biggest sense of pride we have in our unit really goes back to those Pearl Harbor days,” explained Reserve Citizen Airman Col. Abel Ramos, 924th Fighter Group commander, which the 47th FS falls under. “That is why we teach every student that comes through here about [our] history, because we have such a deep fabric of history in our squadron.”

Rubio and Lewis managed to fulfill the request of the unit. The weathered pieces still show but are now protected to prevent deterioration in the future. Their efforts and many man hours will allow the 47th FS to hang the flag for years to come.

“You still see all of its history and everything that it’s been through, but now it is protected, and it is preserved,” explained Lawson.

Lewis, a member of the Tohono O’odham nation, a Native American people of the Sonoran Desert, was familiar with the military community in the area and shared how much the project meant to him.

“It was an honor to do it for you guys.” Lewis said during the celebration and unveiling of the restored flag, March 3, 2023.

To commemorate the unveiling the 47th FS hosted a family day and barbecue competition centered on gathering around the same flag their WWII alums once did in Iwo Jima.

“The thing I remember about the 47th [Fighter] Squadron was the fact that all the people, pilots, navigators, everybody was there because they wanted to have a good time and relax after a mission,” said Googe.

The flag was placed back in the 47th FS clubhouse to hang as a symbol of the long-standing heritage of the squadron, piece of Air Force history and squadron morale.

“It is such a huge honor to be able to unveil this again and now preserve it for the future,” said Ramos.