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Kunsan Air Base

The history of Kunsan Air Base dates back to 1938, when Japanese forces occupying Korea built a base near Kunsan for fighter-interceptor aircraft. The United States first used the base in 1945, but on a very small scale. From 1945 to 1950, the Army and later the Air Force intermittently operated small detachments from Kunsan, with these detachments maintaining liaison aircraft. At most these detachments contained a handful of people. When the United States pulled its combat units out of the Republic of Korea in 1949, it left only a Military Assistance Advisory Group in the country, and the periodic detachments at Kunsan became even more infrequent.

When the Korean War broke out on 25 June 1950, Kunsan Air Base still had no United States flying unit assigned. In their rapid advance, the invading North Koreans captured Kunsan Air Base on 13 July 1950. Over the years, stories have been passed on about large-scale hangings of Americans at Kunsan. Records are scarce pertaining to Kunsan in the early days of the war, but evidence seems to indicate that there were no Americans present when the North Koreans occupied the base. As mentioned, the base contained at most a small detachment at the outbreak of the war, if in fact there was a United States presence at the time. If there were Americans at Kunsan, they likely pulled back to the Pusan Perimeter before the North Korean People's Army arrived. There are no records of any atrocities against Americans at Kunsan, and without a doubt there were no mass executions of Americans at the base.

The 24th Infantry Division retook Kunsan in October 1950, and the Communist Chinese intervention that winter failed to push far enough south to put Kunsan in jeopardy. United States forces first operated in significant numbers from the base in 1951. Before the Air Force assigned a flying unit to Kunsan, however, engineering units had to prepare the base's facilities. The first Air Force unit assigned to the base, the 27th Air Base Group, arrived on 1 April 1951 and oversaw construction. The Army's 808th Engineer Aviation Battalion built a 5,000-foot runway to replace the sod runway constructed by Japanese. This runway is now known as Taxiway Charlie (06/24). By August, construction had progressed to the point that the Air Force assigned the 3rd Bombardment Wing to Kunsan.

The 3rd Bomb Wing flew the B-26 bomber during the war, remaining at Kunsan from August 1951 until October 1954. A Marine aviation squadron, VMF(N)-513, arrived in April 1952, and a few months later the base added the 474th Fighter-Bomber Group, which included three squadrons of F-84 fighters, bringing the total size of the operation to one wing, one group, and a Marine fighter squadron. In April 1953, the 474th Fighter-Bomber Group left and was replaced by the 49th Fighter-Bomber Wing, also flying the F-84.

During the Korean War, the large number of locations used for bases and the similarity of some geographical names prompted the Air Force to use alphanumeric identifiers for bases in addition to their proper designations. Under this system, each base in Korea received a "K number," simplifying positive identification when referring to the various bases. Kunsan received the number K-8, while Osan Air Base was also known as K-55.

After hostilities ceased, the base began to draw down. The F-84 forces of the 49th Fighter-Bomber Wing left in November 1953, and by October 1954 the host unit of the base, the 3rd Bombardment Wing, also departed. This left the base with a much-reduced mission. From 1953-1954, the 808th and 841st Aviation Engineering Battalions constructed what is today’s main runway. For the next several years Kunsan merely hosted periodic rotations of fighter and light bomber squadrons, with base facilities maintained and operated by an air base group. In 1957 and 1958, the 6170th Air Base Group began to upgrade base facilities, increasing the runway from 5,000 to 9,000 feet and building new dormitories.

Until the late 1960's, though, Kunsan remained relatively dormant, hosting temporary deployments of flying units and serving as a safe haven base for aircraft evacuated from Okinawa and Guam during typhoons. In 1965, the Republic of Korea Air Force assigned a squadron of F-86 fighters to the base. This ROKAF unit was the only permanently assigned flying contingent at Kunsan until after the Pueblo incident in 1968.

The 354th Tactical Fighter Wing, flying the F-100 Super Sabre, arrived at Kunsan in July 1968, as part of the buildup of forces in Korea in the wake of the February 1968 seizure of the USS Pueblo by the North Koreans. In 1969 the wing began a transition from the F-100 to the F-4 Phantom. The 354th remained until June 1970, when the base again returned to hosting temporary deployments, such as the four-month deployment of the 54th Tactical Fighter Wing from June through October 1970.

The 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing—previously known as the 3rd Bombardment Wing, stationed at Kunsan in the early 1950's—arrived in March 1971 to assume control of the base. Like the 354th and 54th, the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing flew the F-4 Phantom. When it first arrived in May, the wing contained the 35th and 36th Tactical Fighter Squadrons. In September, the 80th Tactical Fighter Squadron replaced the 36th.

In September 1974 the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, the "Wolf Pack," moved from Ubon Air Base, Thailand to replace the 3rd at Kunsan. The move took place in name only, as the 8th moved without personnel or equipment, absorbing all assets of the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing. This included the two flying squadrons, which continued to operate as the 35th and 80th Tactical Fighter Squadrons, reuniting the wing with two of its original squadrons. Since then, the 8th has continued to serve as host unit of Kunsan Air Base, continually improving the base’s facilities over the years.

Major Air Force Units Assigned to Kunsan Air Base
27th Air Base Group:
April 1, 1951 - June 24, 1951
3rd Bombardment Wing: Aug. 22, 1951 - Oct. 1, 1954
474th Fighter-Bomber Wing: July 10, 1952 - April 1, 1953
49th Fighter-Bomber Wing: April 1, 1953 - Nov. 6, 1953
6170th Air Base Group: Sept. 1, 1954 - April 8, 1956
6170th Air Base Squadron: April 8, 1956 - March 25, 1959
6175th Air Base Group: March 25, 1959 - Aug. 1, 1969
354th Tactical Fighter Wing: July 5, 1968 - June 15, 1970 
54th Tactical Fighter Wing: June 15, 1970 - Oct. 31, 1970
6175th Air Base Group: June 15, 1970 - March 15, 1971
3rd Tactical Fighter Wing: March 15, 1971 - Sept. 16, 1974
8th Tactical Fighter Wing (later 8th Fighter Wing): Sept. 16, 1974 - Present

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