The 3rd Wing, in one form or another, has served the United States on a continuing basis since its activation as the U.S. Army Surveillance Group on 1 July 1919. Including squadrons active in World War I (the 19th and 90th Fighter Squadrons) the wing and its organizations have participated in virtually every major U. S. conflict of the 20th century. The U.S. Army Air Service emerged from World War I with three distinct missions, pursuit, bomber, and attack/observation. These organizations became today's 1st Fighter Wing, 2nd Bomb Wing, and 3rd Wing.
As the first organized attack group to form within the Army Air Service, the 3rd Attack Group was instrumental in developing close air support doctrine in the inter-war period. The group pioneered dive bombing, skip-bombing, and parafrag attacks in the 1920s--the earliest forms of precision guided attack from aircraft--and put this work to good use in World War II. Notable alumni include the immortal Hoyt Vandenberg, Jimmy Doolittle, Lewis Brereton, Richard Ellis, John "Jock" Henebry, Paul I. "Pappy" Gunn, and Nathan Twining. As an attack bomber group during World War II and the Korean War, the wing was honored by the selfless service of two posthumous Medal of Honor recipients, Maj Raymond H. Wilkins and Capt John S. Walmsley.
Nicknamed the "Grim Reapers," the group forged a peerless record in World War II, and emerged the most highly decorated unit in the Pacific Theater. Under the inspired engineering improvisations of Maj Paul "Pappy" Gunn, the 3rd Group converted conventional medium bombers into fearsome, deck-level commerce raiders that struck terror wherever the group appeared in combat. In attacks on Japanese freighters and troop transports in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, 3-4 March 1943, the 3rd Attack Group's aircraft scored one of the most decisive aerial victories of all time sinking at least 12 Japanese ships on the way to relieve beleaguered New Guinea garrisons. From that time forward, the 3rd Wing has never ceded air supremacy in its operations.
After the formal independence of the United States Air Force, 18 September, 1947, groups were realigned into a new wing structure; the 3rd Attack Group became the 3rd Bombardment Wing (Light, Attack). Its impressive records continued to mount. Flying A-26 Invaders, the 3rd Wing participated from the first bombing sortie to the very last during the Korean War. The first Americans to lose their lives during the Korean War, 1Lt Remer L. Harding and SSgt William Goodwin, were assigned to the 13th Bomb Squadron, 3rd Bombardment Wing when they lost their lives 28 June 1950 returning from a sortie on the Korean Peninsula. In recognition of the wing's distinguished service, the 3rd Bombardment Wing was granted the privilege of conducting the last bombing mission over North Korea minutes before implementation of the ceasefire of 27 July 1953.
After the Korean War, the wing transitioned to B-57 jets in 1955-56. The wing stood nuclear alert in Japan and Korea for 10 years during the height of the Cold War. As the conflict in Southeast Asia escalated in 1964, the 3rd Wing transformed into a light attack unit flying primarily F-100 Supersabres along with other attack aircraft from Bien Hoa AB, South Vietnam. From 1965-1970, the wing flew thousands of sorties in support of allied forces, and conducted the combat acceptance testing of the A-37 Dragonfly--as it had done with the A-2, A-3, A-8, A-12, A-17, A-18, A-20 and A-26 in previous years.
After its withdrawal from Southeast Asia in 1971, the wing transitioned to F-4 Phantoms and moved to Kunsan, Korea, scene of much of its success during the Korean War. By 1975, the wing moved to Clark AB, Republic of the Philippines, helping that nation transform into a stable democracy. The Wing deployed six F-4Es to Turkey for Operation Desert Storm in early 1991 where they flew some of that aircraft's last combat sorties. The wing remained at Clark AB, though treaty negotiations with the Philippines broke down, and it was decided to move the 3rd Wing beginning in 1992-93. The Mt Pinatubo eruption in June 1991 changed these plans and forced the wing's hasty relocation to Elmendorf AFB on 19 December 1991.
Pioneering dive and attack bombing in the early 1920s, becoming adept commerce raiders and preempting enemy air power in World War II; attacking relentlessly in daring, low-level missions from the start to the finish of the Korean War; undertaking hazardous and disparate ground support missions in Vietnam, ushering a new era of democracy in the Philippines, conducting ground-breaking cooperative exchanges with Russia--the lasting legacy of the wing is so extensive that it far exceeds the limits of abridgement. The wing has won five Distinguished Unit Citations, two Presidential Unit Citations, twelve Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards (three with the combat "V" device), 33 campaign and service streamers, and four foreign government citations.