Air Force best
By Mary Jo May
56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs A Luke fighter squadron and a former Ger-man flying squadron pledged to maintain their common heritage Saturday during an F-16 basic pilots course graduation.
Lt. Gen. Peter Vogler, German Air Force Command commander, and Gen. John Jumper, Air Combat Command commander, signed the Decree of Honor cementing the relationship between the 63rd Fighter Squadron and the Luftwaffe's Cactus Starfighter Squadron during Class 00-IBG graduation.
Luke trained German fighter pilots from 1964 on the F-84 Thunderstreak to 1984 on the F-104 Starfighter.
The Cactus Starfighter Squadron was formed in 1957 after Germany joined NATO and needed to rebuild its air force. Each Luftwaffe pilot trained at Luke two years and more than 1,800 Luftwaffe pilots received their training at Luke on the F-104 alone.
Former Arizona Gov. Jack Williams established the Arizona Cactus Starfighter Squadron in 1965 to bestow honorary Arizona citizenship on the German pilots and to acknowlege the ties between the German pilots and their Arizona hosts.
"We needed the help of the U.S. Air Force and Luke to train our German pilots and get us back
room is the "Starfighter" which displays
photos and memorabilia.
During the graduation ceremony,
Vogler presented the Cactus Starfighter Squadron's "Spirit of Attack" award
to 1st. Lt. Bryce Hardy.
The Cactus Starfighter Squadron keeps the spirit of the F-104 training at Luke alive in other ways such as reunions, supporting local charities and promoting and financing the Arizona State University student exchange program.
"I hope the young folks realize the true meaning of this relationship," Vogler said. "We want the young generation of fighter pilots to learn from our mistakes. We are proud of what we are. We are proud of being fighter pilots."Staff Sgt.Aaron Marcus
Lt. Gen. Peter Vogler, German Air Force Command commander; Gen. John Jumper,
Air Combat Command commander, and Lt. Col. Rob Topp, 63rd Fighter Squadron
commander, look at
the wing of a German F-104 in the 63rd FS.
on our feet during
four decades of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain," Vogler said. "Bombs
didn't only destroy my country, but the selfrespect of the German people.
The American people helped us regain our selfrespect and gave us back our
dignity." The training built a solid foundation for everlasting
friendship between two countries.
"We tend to look at our differences easily, and we forget how much we are alike," Vogler said. "It's important ! to keep alive what unites us in spirit, attitude and objectives."
In 1998, the 56th Fighter Wing commander accepted a proposal by Vogler, the elected Cactus Starfighter Squadron commander, to explore the feasibility of joining the former Starfighter pilots with Luke once again.
After a year
of study, the formal relationship between the 63rd FS and the Cactus
Starfighter Squadron began.
"We join ranks in everlasting friendship as a visible symbol of the strong bonds between the American and German people," said Lt. Col. Rob Topp, 63rd FS commander. "Although the 63rd FS never trained German pilots, we have strong ties because of two brothers currently assigned to the squadron. Maj. Franz and Capt. Steve Plescha's dad,
Frank Plescha, was an F -104 instructor pilot in the Cactus Starfighter Squadron."
A display of an F-104 aircraft wing with the German Iron Cross and signed by Cactus Starfighter Squadron members covers the back
wall of the Panther's main briefing room. Another briefing