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Digging into MacDill's past reveals much

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Blaze Lipowski
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
I never knew I enjoyed history until I was stationed at Charleston Air Force Base, SC with the 1st Combat Camera Squadron. It took one trip to Fort Sumter, and then realizing that it was on that very ground, the beginnings of the Civil War began. I envisioned the soldiers frantically reloading the cannons. The blast must have been incredible. 

In December 2007, I worked with Mr. Bill Polson, the base historian, on a project from our previous commander, Col. Robert Thomas. The project was to get the official photo, or any photo, of every commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing, as well as all the previous base commanders of MacDill. I thought I would be able to get most of them on Air Force Link biographies page, plus what the Public Affairs multimedia center had on file. I was in for a surprise. The electronic files of the PA multimedia center only went back to 1995 and the AF biographies were a sporadic hit and miss. 

MacDill was originally known as Southeast Field and later renamed MacDill Field. Finally, in 1947 it was named MacDill Air Force Base. MacDill had 53 previous commanders, starting in September 1939 with Lt. Col. Lynwood B. Jacobs. 

The history of the wing is much more interesting, as well as challenging. It started out at France Field, Panama, as the 3d Observation group in 1919 and in 1920 was later renamed the 6th Observation group. Not only was it next to near impossible to find a photograph of a commander from a newly established base from Panama, but there were also "unknowns". No one knew who the first commanding officer of the 6th at France Field was. Within approximately the first 24 years the 6th existence, there are 16 years of missing names. What bothered me most was that there was an unknown person (s) in command from 1919 until 1923, then Major Follet Bradley in command from 1923 until 1926 and then another unknown from 1926 until 1931. I couldn't understand how someone did not have a change of command and why wasn't it recorded? Well, my mission was to find photographs, but it bothered me just to find all the "knowns", knowing that there are men out there deserving their rightful place in command history. 

After I exhausted all that I could on base and at home, I was sent to Maxwell Air Force Base, AL to the Air Force Historical Research Agency to locate these commanders' photos. I was given three weeks. After learning the process on acquiring the information I needed to check on photographs, I searched for all the knowns that I could. While I waited for a set of volumes to be pulled, I researched another on France Field in the early days. Again, I just needed the photos. During one of my searches, I found the portraits and names of commanders of France Field from start to finish. Aggravation set in. The commander of the 6th was now separate from the base commander of France Field. The eight names of the history report started with Lt. Col. Millard F. Harmon, with the 3rd Observation Group. My wife has an account with an ancestry program on the web, and I found the 1920 census from France Field, 3rd Obs Group, and it listed Lt. Col. Millard F. Harmon at the top, just a few months before they changed the name to the 6th Obs Group. His occupation was listed as an Air Corps Officer. 

When I showed my finding to Dr. Dan Haulman of the AFHRA, I made sure that I presented my case so as it wouldn't be discounted. When I finished, Mr. Haulman did take the information into account, but before "history could be changed", hard facts were needed, like the General Order #1, appointing the person to the post from the war department. A history report wasn't enough, nor a newspaper article. Had the U.S. census said Commanding Officer for occupation that may have sufficed. But, I figured, when it comes time for updating the lineage and honors for the 6th, the AFHRA will have names to work from. 

MacDill was easier. There were names, but of course no photographs. I would search the web for the surname, and usually came up empty. The ones I did have success on were Col. Jean R. Byerly, WWII POW, who's granddaughter Lynda Byerly Sturges had supplied me with a vast amount of photographs when he was base commander here from February 1951 until June 1951. Mrs. Warren Waddell, whose first husband Col. William Bent Hoynes, commanded MacDill from August 1951 until October 1951. Col. Louis Leibel's son, Robert, supplied me with a photograph of his father when he was in command two separate times from September 1958 until October 1958 and November 1958 until August 1959. These relatives still hold true to an Air Force family, and I thank them for their time, stories and, of course, the photos they have shared. 

Finally, my most exciting find was one that was thought never possible, even by me. It was the very first MacDill commander, Lt. Col. Lynwood Baines Jacobs. I assured Mr. Polson that I would not retire until he had an official photograph of Colonel Jacobs. We only had one photograph, and it was a profile at best from the Tampa Tribune. I searched for him on my wife's ancestry program and traced his career (since he was a civilian just before WWI) as well as the trips his wife took on a steamer with the two children. I found his parents and I found his great grandparents from 1805. The Jacobs family dominated Delaware for well over a century, but no pictures. My 20 years in the Air Force was approaching quickly, and in a last ditch effort, I put a "want it now" ad on Ebay. These are ads you can place if you do not see it for auction on Ebay. And, should someone enter in that object you're looking for, then a transaction can be made. Time went on, and I forgot about placing the ad. One day, in my E-mail, there was a response to the ad, which said, in effect, "I am the great granddaughter of Colonel Lynwood Jacobs. What do you want with his picture?" Of course, my heart stopped and I couldn't breathe for a minute, but I regained my composer and replied. She called me later at work, and I explained the situation. I sent her the only known newspaper photo of her great grandfather. Her father, Lynwood T. Jacobs, then e-mailed me his grandfather's official photo. This was relatively important, as he assumed command Sept. 8, 1939. This year will mark 70 years since Southeast Field, MacDill, was born. 

I am happy to say, I can retire now.