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Medical Wing celebrates 15 years at Wilford Hall

The float version of the L-1F was an ambulance conversion.The 59th Reconnaissance Group  flew the L-1 Stinson Vigilant light two-seat observation plane.  (Courtesy photo)

The float version of the L-1F was an ambulance conversion.The 59th Reconnaissance Group flew the L-1 Stinson Vigilant light two-seat observation plane. (Courtesy photo)

P-39 Aircobra in flight. Pilots began training with the P-39 Airacobra when the 59th Reconnaissance Group was redesignated as a fighter group in 1944. (Courtesy photo)

P-39 Aircobra in flight. Pilots began training with the P-39 Airacobra when the 59th Reconnaissance Group was redesignated as a fighter group in 1944. (Courtesy photo)

O-52 also known as the Owl was used by the 59th Observation Group for training. (Courtesy photo)

O-52 also known as the Owl was used by the 59th Observation Group for training. (Courtesy photo)

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- In early 1993, Air Force officials informed the Wilford Hall Medical Center commander, Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Edgar R. Anderson, that the hospital was to be redesignated as a numbered wing.

The general asked his staff to look into the possibility of assuming the designation and lineage of an inactivated unit. Since the new wing would be the Air Force's first medical wing, the search for a unit with an acceptable insignia took some time. According to the 1993 59th Wing history, "The attractive design of the 59th Observation (later Fighter) Group's insignia was a major reason for requesting that designation, particularly since it stressed aviation and sky and was without warlike symbols which would have been inappropriate to a medical unit." The insignia may have been without warlike symbols however, the unit was born on the eve of war.

The 59th Observation Group came into existence on Aug. 21, 1941, a few months before America's entry into World War II. The unit was redesignated the 59th Reconnaissance Group on April 2, 1943, and again as the 59th Fighter Group on Aug. 11, 1943, and finally disestablished on May 1, 1944. On July 31, 1985, the unit was redesignated the 59th Tactical Fighter Wing, but remained inactive. Finally, it was reactivated and consolidated with the Wilford Hall U.S. Air Force Hospital on July 1, 1993.

Throughout World War II, the 59th was assigned to various commands including the First Air Force, Third Air Force and the Third Fighter Command. According to the Wing's Lineage and Honors Statement, "Following the outbreak of war, [the unit] engaged in anti-submarine patrol along the East coast of the United States [from] Dec 1941-Oct 1943. During 1943-1944 [it] trained pilots using P-39 aircraft. Began conversion to P-40s in Apr 1944, but inactivated the following month." In fact, the 59th flew a number of different aircraft during the war years including, the BC-1A, L-59, O-46, O-47, O-49, O-52, P-39 and P-40 while stationed in Newark, N.J., Fort Dix, N.J., Fort Meyers, Fla., and Thomasville Army Air Field, Ga. For its wartime service, the unit received the right to display the "World War II: Antisubmarine, American Theater" campaign streamer.

A hospital assuming the designation and lineage of a wartime unit was not without controversy, however. According to the 1993 history, one AF official stated, "When a medical unit gets the lineage of a combat unit, Christ will descend on a cloud and tell you so." The report goes on to say, "The degree of supernatural intervention was not clear, but on July 1 the organization was redesignated the 59th Medical Wing, and made heir to the lineage, honors and heraldry of the World War unit."

And it remains so ... happy 15th anniversary.

 
  
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