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Lt. Col. Eric Simonsen, 32nd Air Refueling Squadron commander, coined Harold Schmidt, bombardier, and Dr. Sidney Gitlin, radio operator, both were aircrew members together on a bomber attached to the 32nd during WWII. Simonsen thanked them for their contributions and talked about the history of the 32nd ARS during their visit Dec. 13. (U.S. Air Force photo/Wayne Russell)
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32nd ARS honors squadron WWII heroes

Posted 12/21/2010   Updated 12/21/2010 Email story   Print story


by Airman 1st Class Bryan Swink
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs

12/21/2010 - JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- The 32nd Air Refueling Squadron hosted distinguished visitors during a memorial ceremony at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Monday.

The honored guests were a part of the 32nd Bomb Squadron which flew in numerous missions during World War II. Lt. Col. Erik Simonsen, 32nd ARS commander, presided over the ceremony and recounted the history of the squadron and the many changes of names, commands and missions throughout the squadron's history.

Dr. Sidney Gitlin, 32nd BS radio operator, and Harold Schmidt, 32nd BS bombardier, were the two veterans in attendance along with Gitlin's family. Also in attendance was Richard Schonberg whose father was in the administration section of the squadron.

Both Gitlin and Schmidt hadn't seen each other since the war and weren't sure what had happened to the other.

"They were on the same crew and hadn't seen each other since the end of the war, said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Becnel, 32nd ARS boom operator instructor and unit historian. "Gitlin was under the impression, until a couple of years ago, Schmidt had been shot down and killed. The daughter of one of his other crewmembers contacted him and filled him in on the story."

Along with showing photos from the squadron's history, Simonsen walked guests through the squadron's inception and discussed major events they faced throughout their history. The squadron originated in June 1917 as the 32nd Aero Squadron and earned its guidons first battle streamer during World War I. The 32nd BS was activated in 1932 and made its way to the European theater, flying in approximately five missions from England prior to being reassigned to the North Africa campaign with the 12th Air Force.

"The squadron was essential to the end of the war, achieving numerous awards for distinction," said Simonsen.

The squadron began conducting air refueling missions after the war using a variety of different planes. The squadron was deactivated in 1979 and was reactivated in 1981 as the 32nd ARS flying the KC-10 Extender.

"Since then, our Airmen have been making history, whether in Kosovo, Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom," said Simonsen. "When we look back on the history of the 32nd and what the 32nd Bomb Squadron did during World War II, it's a true testament to the courage and dedication displayed by the men and women of this squadron."

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