How can two wings activated after 1945 carry streamers on their flags from World War II operations?
During World War II, the Army Air Force’s basic organization for aerial warfare was the Group. The Group was a fighting component with specific capabilities based on the type of aircraft assigned. They were aligned and realigned as often as the prosecution of the war demanded. For example, the 86th Fighter-Bomber Group was realigned from the Second Air Force, to the Twelfth Bomber Command, to the Third Air Force, to the Third Bomber Command, to the Third Ground Air Support Command, to the Northwest African Training Command, in just one year. The difficulty in honoring the achievements of these Groups later came from trying to link that fluid Army Air Force organization to the more rigid independent Air Force organization that followed.
After World War II there was a massive demobilization. In 1946, Army Air Force leadership began to reorganize the force to support steady-state ongoing missions and to counter new threats. New Commands were established; many old ones were inactivated; and the Air Force developed a Squadron—Group—Wing—Numbered Air Force—Command structure.
In 1947 the Air Force became a separate service and the reorganization process continued. The old wings were elevated to Air Divisions under Numbered Air Forces and many new Wings were activated for the first time—Wings like the 86th Fighter Wing and the 435th Troop Carrier Wing. Generally, the World War II era Groups were aligned under these new wings. The heritage problem arose with the Air Force reorganization in 1952 when many of these Groups were inactivated and their squadrons were realigned directly under their respective parent Wings. Without those Groups, the U.S. Air Force would have broken its connection to its Army Air Force history.
The solution was to “bestow” or share the honors of the Groups with their like numbered Wings. While this decision has created considerable lineage confusion over the years; it has enabled us all to continue to honor and display our proud World War II heritage through all the Air Force reorganizations that followed.
(Courtesy of 435th Air Base Wing and 86th Airlift Wing History offices)