23rd Bomb Squadron’s patch commemorates volcano response

23rd Bomb Squadron’s patch commemorates volcano response

Submitted Photo A B-52 Stratofortress from the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, flies on Dec. 28, 2015, during a heritage flyby done during a training mission, shown in this courtesy photo. The flyby was part of the 80th anniversary of the 23rd Bombardment Squadron using bombs to divert lava flow from the volcano that threatened the town of Hilo, Hawaii, in 1935.

The men and women of the 23rd Bomb Squadron at Minot Air Force Base have a tie with military action conducted many years ago when a volcano on the island of Hawaii was erupting. The volcano Kilauea currently has been wrecking havoc on that island.

Richard Hickman, a former B-52 bomber aircraft commander at Minot Air Force Base, recalled when he was assigned to the 23rd Bomb Squadron, the patch they wore commemorated the volcano eruption and military action done to stop the flow of lava.

Hickman, who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., dug out his 23rd Bomb Squadron patch to take a look at it and on Thursday called the Minot Daily News about the patch and its story.

In the phone call to the Minot Daily News, Hickman said the incident occurred in the 1930s when planes dropped bombs to re-direct the flow of the volcano to save a city in Hawaii. “It was quite an event,” he said.

Hickman was referring to the eruption of Mauna Loa, located on the same island as Kilauea, the volcano now erupting.

Submitted Photo The 23rd Bomb Squadron patch, shown in this Air Force photo, displays bombs falling into a volcano, commemorating years ago when planes dropped bombs to disrupt the eruption of Mauna Loa volcano on the island of Hawaii.

The patch design includes a volcano in black silhouette with red lava flowing from the crater and black bombs falling over the volcano.

Hickman served in the U.S. Air Force years and was assigned to Minot AFB’s 5th Bomb Wing’s 23rd Bomb Squadron from 1970-73. He had the rank of first lieutenant. Hickman, whose military career included a tour in Vietnam, was discharged from the Air Force in July 1973 and then began work as a pilot for Northwest Airlines, retiring in 2006.

The 23rd Bomb Squadron originated during World War I as the 18th Aero Squadron June 16, 1917, in Texas. The unit was assigned to Oahu, Hawaii, in the early 1920s.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Mauna Loa began erupting on Nov. 21, 1935. When lava flows were threatening the town of Hilo, advancing a mile per hour, in an attempt to divert the flows, then Lt. Col. George S. Patton, later a famed World War II general, was called on to oversee a U.S. Army Air Corps operation suggested by volcanologists Dr. Thomas Jaggar and Guido Giacometti. Military planes were used to drop bombs near the eruptive vent on Dec. 27, 1935. The operation was thought to be a success.

“But because the eruption ended just six days later, the efficacy of disrupting lava channels with bombs or other explosives remains disputed,” the U.S. Geological Survey also said.

Over the years the squadron, one of the oldest in the U.S. Air Force, has undergone several name designations. It moved from Travis AFB, Calif., to Minot AFB in July 1968. In 1991, the squadron’s name was changed from the 23rd Bombardment Squadron to the 23rd Bomb Squadron.

In December 2015, two B-52 Stratofortress aircrews with the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron while assigned to Andersen AFB, Guam, for the U.S. Pacific Command’s continuous bomber presence, conducted a heritage flyover of the Mauna Loa volcano during a training mission. Expeditionary is the name used when units are deployed abroad.

The flyover was done as part of the 80th anniversary of the squadron using bombs to divert lava flow from the Mauna Loa volcano that threatened the town of Hilo, Hawaii, in 1935, according to the 36th Wing Public Affairs at Andersen AFB, Guam.

“One of the great things about this mission is that it illustrates the vast heritage our squadron has,” said Capt. Craig Quinnett, 23rd EBS aircraft commander. “It’s awesome to be a part of a squadron with so much history and to participate in a mission commemorating it.”