JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- Service members, civilians, and families gathered on Sept. 17 to celebrate and honor Air Force history in the Pacific during a 74th Air Force Birthday Celebration event hosted by Pacific Air Forces.
Starting from humble beginnings after World War II, the U.S. Air Force became an independent branch on Sept. 18, 1947, after the 33rd President, Harry S. Truman, signed the National Security Act of 1947.
The celebration included an opening ceremony, a cake-cutting ceremony, and various presentations by the 15th Wing and PACAF History Offices.
“The cake-cutting ceremony is one of my favorite traditions from the standpoint that we get our youngest Airman to help the most senior Airman cut the cake,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. Ken Wilsbach, PACAF commander. “We bring the youngest Airman up, and every one of us who’s been here, whether it’s me since 1985, or our youngest Airman who enlisted in 2021. It’s the symbol of how we’re passing the torch to the next generation.”
In addition to the cake-cutting ceremony, the event included five stages of presentations. Each representing different components of PACAF history that honored fallen heroes.
“It’s not the machines and the buildings that make history; it’s the people,” said Don Fenton, PACAF Command Historian. “The idea behind all of this is that you’re surrounded by history here day in and day out but we’re often times too busy to pause and read the storyboards or view the photos and artifacts.”
Fenton highlighted that participants were able to see physical representations of Air Force history while hearing the stories behind them. The relics of PACAF’s history consist of storyboards, plaques, artifacts and time capsules from the Dec. 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor attacks.
“You’ve got the bullet holes on the walls that you see every day; you have bullet holes inside the building,” Fenton said. “You’ve got over 450 pieces of Air Force artwork depicting history on the walls of this building and the Air Operations Center that we walk past every day.”
Additionally, the presentations told the stories behind the significant events and fallen heroes of PACAF’s history. They also educated participants on the collective strength of alliances and partnerships that PACAF & Far East Air Forces have amassed throughout America’s history.
Fenton added that a living example of the collective partnerships that developed throughout the last 74 years would be the recent Pacific Air Chief’s Symposium 2021 (PACS-21) that hosted more than 15 air chiefs and senior enlisted leaders throughout the Indo-Pacific region. PACAF also hosted a time capsule event to commemorate the location of the first bomb that hit the headquarters building during the 1941Pearl Harbor attacks.
“At the very end of PACS-21, we had our current PACAF commander, our previous PACAF commander, and the Australian Air Chief all right here at the time capsule encasement,” Fenton said. “And it just goes to show that right there is 70+ years of that one alliance built on what we began in WWII following the attacks.”
During the event, COMPACAF also highlighted how Airmen throughout PACAF’s history were able to break barriers through promoting a culture of leadership at every level.
“When you think about what’s happened in the Air Force in 74 years, it’s pretty amazing how we’ve transitioned,” Wilsbach said. “Now we’ve got [4th and 5th] generation aircraft. Weapons that they couldn’t have even imagined in the 1940s now are very commonplace.”
Wilsbach also highlighted how unmanned aerial vehicles such as the MQ-9 Reaper and the MQ-1 Predator would not have existed without the creative minds of Airmen.
“That was an innovation that Airmen thought of,” Wilsbach said. “Our service counts on the innovation of our young people.”
Before closing his remarks, PACAF’s commander had one final message of gratitude for his Airmen.
“As we celebrate our 74th birthday, I want to thank you for all of the members who are working here at PACAF for supporting all the Airmen that are out in the field and doing our nation’s business and sometimes putting themselves at risk to accomplish our objectives,” Wilsbach said. “Thank you for being a leader here at the headquarters, and thank you for coming to work and always trying to make it just a little bit better. It’s really awesome to work with you and be on your team.”