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Seventh Air Force History

by Theodore J. Turner

Seventh Air Force is the U.S. Air Force's oldest numbered air force. The Army Air Corps first activated 7 AF on 1 November 1940, as the Hawaiian Air Force, to control the growing number of air units arriving in the Territory of Hawaii that year. The serenity of this idyllic home station which garnered the unit the glib designation "Pineapple Air Force" was shattered on 7 December 1941 when members of the Hawaiian Air Force became America's first Airmen to come under hostile enemy fire--and respond in kind--in the infamous surprise air attack by Japan.

The saga of the Seventh's World War II aerial exploits across the Central Pacific has the "rags-to-riches" qualities of a Horatio Alger story. First, there was the almost complete decimation of the Hawaiian Air Force barely a year after its activation; then its gradual build-up and vast oceanic search missions to keep the enemy at bay, emerging during this period as the Seventh Air Force. Later, the Seventh's long-range heavy bomber attacks softened up strategic islands for amphibious invasions, with greater weight brought against the enemy perimeter defense by the advance of fighter and medium bombers. Finally, after constant consolidation of gains, 7 AF smashed at Japan directly from both Iwo Jima, as escort to the long-range strategic B-29s, and from Okinawa with the Far East Air Forces in the rocky Ryukus, right up to the surrender of Japan.

In the aftermath of World War II the Seventh was briefly a named command (Pacific Air Command) before inactivating on 1 June 1949. Seventh Air Force regained its name and enjoyed a brief rebirth in the second half of the 1950s. Resurrected as an administrative headquarters, 7 AF oversaw Pacific Air Force's area of responsibility east of 140 degrees east longitude, including the Hawaiian Islands. Seventh was also responsible for the air defense of the islands. However, the movement of Far East Air Forces (renamed Pacific Air Forces) from Japan to Hawaii led to the inactivation of 7 AF on 1 July 1957.

The Vietnam War prompted the U.S. Air Force to revive the Seventh to take over the expanding and increasingly complex mission, functions, and activities of the 2d Air Division. When activated on 28 March 1966, 7 AF was designated a combat command at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Republic of Vietnam--the Air Component Command of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. From April 1966 through 1973, the command assumed responsibility for most Air Force operations in Vietnam and shared responsibility with Thirteenth Air Force for operations from Thailand as 7/13 Air Force.

In August 1968, Seventh Air Force Commander Gen. George S. Brown began to oversee the "Vietnamization" of the air war. By 1970, this effort was successful enough that General Brown released the first USAF units from Vietnam. On 29 March 1973, the command transferred to Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, and accepted dual responsibility as the US Support Activities Group and 7 AF. As a result, 7 AF controlled air assets and operations in Thailand. It served in this role until inactivated on 30 June 1975.

On 8 September 1986, Seventh Air Force activated at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, and assumed the mission of maintaining the fragile armistice on the Korean peninsula previously performed by the 314th Air Division. Since then, both as U.S. Air Forces Korea, under the joint U.S. Forces Korea, and the U.S. Air Force component to the United States and Republic of Korea Combined Forces Command's Air Component Command, 7 AF has been an integral part of deterring aggression from North Korea.