As Nevada prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the United States Air Force at “Aviation Nation” scheduled to take place at the Nellis Air Force Base on Saturday, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada marked the anniversary with a speech in the U.S. Senate.
Below are his remarks:
“I rise today to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the United States Air Force. As you are well aware, the Air Force was created by the National Security Act of 1947, the very same law that established the Department of Defense, the National Security Council, and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Like many of my colleagues in this distinguished chamber, I represent a state with a rich history of involvement with and support for the United States Air Force.
Less than six months after the Air Force was officially founded on September 18, 1947, the Las Vegas Air Force Base was reactivated to host a pilot training wing.
With the onset of the Korean War, it’s mission changed from an advanced single-engine school to one of training jet fighter pilots for the then Far East Air Forces.
And thus began a long tradition of air combat training programs held at this site that has earned this Air Force base the proud nickname “Home of the Fighter Pilot.”
No single airman in Nevada history exemplified the meaning behind this slogan more than Lieutenant William H. Nellis.
Born in Santa Rita, New Mexico in 1916, as a young man Lt. Nellis moved to my hometown of Searchlight, Nevada, where his father—like so many other respectable Nevadans—worked as a hard rock miner.
When World War II began, Lt. Nellis was already married with two children, but this passionate young man knew he could not remain uninvolved in America’s effort to rid the world of foreign oppression.
After seeing a newsreel about the Army Air Corps, the precursor to the United States Air Force, he decided to enlist.
During the course of his valiant service, Lt. Nellis flew sixty-nine missions over Europe and was shot down twice, surviving each crash and making his way back to Allied lines.
Unwavering in his patriotism, he continued to volunteer to fly, doing what he saw as his duty for the great cause. Sadly, Lt. Nellis’ last flight would come on December 27, 1944.
During the Battle of the Bulge, an engagement that would cost the lives of nearly 20,000 Americans, Lieutenant Nellis was killed in action while flying with the 513th Fighter Squadron, 406 Fighter Group over Bastogne.
To honor this great Nevadan and a true American hero, the Las Vegas Air Force Base was renamed in his honor on May 20, 1950.
Ever since, Nellis Air Force Base has been a stalwart of Nevada’s military infrastructure and has provided United States airmen with the very best aerial combat training in the world.”