The California Air National Guard and United States Air Force

By: Tony Caruso

During 1954 while attending my last year at Van Nuys High School a friend asked if I would be interested in learning about the California Air National Guard.  Considering our families military history during WWII I said yes without hesitation.  The war in Korea had recently ended, the world was kind of stable and the draft was not a problem.  However I wanted to be connected with the military in some way.  Four of us drove out to the Van Nuys Airport to visit the Air Guard.  The unit had served in Korea (supporting the air war with P-51 Mustang fighter airplanes.)  The P-51 was a great propeller driven fighter aircraft developed for WWII.  When the 146th Fighter Wing returned from Korea the Air Force transitioned the outfit to F-86 Jet Fighters.  Being eighteen-year-old guys we thought these jet airplanes were fantastic (and they were at the time).\

They gave us a tour of the base and told us about the openings they had.  We knew we wanted to do something that would get us close to the aircraft. 

Since we had zero experience, the recruiter said we could sign up for food service since we would be spending at lot of time on “KP” during basic training, 

View of Van Nuys Air National Guard Base - Year 1955 - Field Elevation 799 feet.

after learning about the entire operation we could select and request a permanent job.  Well, I guess even “KP” was acceptable as long as we could get close to those jets. We joined and “KP” was a snap, since the cooks thought we may be working with them when we completed basic training they treated us well. 

After basic training I decided I wanted to be an armorer and tend to the six .50 caliber machine guns that were mounted in the nose of the F-86s. 

The good news was that I was accepted and attended classes to learn about machine guns. 

<>The bad news was that when we were out on gunnery practice in the desert, the pilots would taxi out to the end of the runway and come to a stop; we would then charge the machine guns (load in the first rounds) just before take-off; that was hard work!  The boxes of ammunition were also very heavy. Being a short guy and weighing only about one hundred and thirty pounds (I can’t believe it now), I ran out of steam after servicing the six guns on several aircraft.  These are big guns and they pull back when being loaded.  It took extra time for me to get the first rounds into each of the six machine-guns, I knew the pilots were not having pleasant thoughts since they were burning up precious fuel prior to takeoff.  That extra fuel could save his bacon in an emergency, in most cases it allowed for more fun time in the air.

Gunnery practice was conducted over military ranges, one of them being located near Boise, Idaho.  We would go to Gowen Field, the commercial airport terminal is on one side of the field and the Air National Guard Base is on the other side.  During WWII Gowen Field was a B-24 training facility.  Sometimes we went to Gowen Field by railroad.  Our pilots would fly the fighters and us maintenance people took the train along with our tools and equipment.  Other times they transported us on military cargo planes.    

Looking around the Van Nuys base I notice a shop located in the rear of one of the big hangars, it had a sign over the door that read (INSTRUMENT SHOP).  I visited this shop and liked what I saw.  I was able to transfer into the instrument shop and it was my home for the duration.  We were responsible for the maintenance of all aircraft instruments and auto-pilot systems.  Our shop supervisor was Sgt. Jerry Fletcher; he was a great guy and a smart man.  I really never got to know his family but I do remember he always put them first and smiled when he talked about them.  Our instrument shop training was very informative; it included instrument and auto-pilot trouble shooting and repair and basic electricity and electronics.   

When we first joined the unit, they had two squadrons of F-86 Fighters, a C-45, a C-47s and a B-25.  Later the Air Force switched us over to C-97 transport aircraft.  Many of the pilots were not happy about changing over from fighters to long range transport aircraft.  However I remember one of the senior pilots saying, “well; at least now we can do more than fly around the flag pole and we can get coffee on board”.  We became part of the Military Air Transport Service (MATS).  The 146th has supported the Air Force transporting people and goods all over the world ever since then.  Today they fly C-130 Hercules aircraft.

599 in flight, another C-97 makes a low flyby

Although the big transport aircraft represented a lot more work for us maintenance crews they also gave some of us who were not regular aircrew members the chance to fly more.  We worked on the aircraft on the flight line, in the hangars and on occasion had temporary duty assignments (TDY) at other locations.  We did instrument overhaul work and testing in the shop.  At that time the instrument shop and the base commander’s office had the only authorized air-conditioned spaces in the outfit.  Kind of cool!

I was with the 146th from 1954 to 1963.  One year of that time was active duty with the US AIR FORCE during the peak of the cold war and Cuban missile crisis; the rest was active reserve time.  I met some great people and had a good time; the only reason I left was because I wanted to move to Washington State. 

It was a 146th AIR TRANSPORT WING C-97 aircraft that first brought me to Washington State for temporary duty at McChord Air Force Base and I shall be forever grateful.  Washington State was very attractive to me; I moved to the Seattle area in 1967.  I attempted to join the Washington Air National Guard but they had no openings at the time.  Washington will be my home for the duration.  


When I left the Air Force and the Air National Guard I was a Staff Sergeant. 

Tony's  UNCLE   or    Coast Guard Contacts