World War II veteran pilot returns to celebrate unit's 70th year

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot
  • 185th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
During the September, 2016 training weekend, retired Air National Guard Wing Commander, Col. Warren "Bud" Nelson returned to his old unit in order to help commemorate the 185th Air Refueling Wing's 70th year as a member of the Iowa National Guard.

Now in his 90's, Nelson, who still resides in Sioux City, Iowa was one of the original pilots of the 174th Fighter Squadron when it was first organized on Dec 2nd, 1946.

After returning from the 2nd World War, Lt. Warren Nelson eventually made his way to the Iowa National Guard, after initially being rejected. Nelson said he joined the Air Reserve Unit, also located at the Sioux City Air Base, which had been used as a B-24 and B-29 bomber training base during the war.

"I wanted to join the Iowa Guard," said Nelson "but they would not let me join because I was not a resident of the state."

The veteran pilot's desire and persistence to join the National Guard eventually paid off and he was allowed to join the Iowa Guard's 174th while it was still in its infancy.

During his tenure with the unit, Nelson would pilot eight different aircraft and be recalled two additional times before ending his National Guard career in 1980 as the 185th Wing Commander in Sioux City, Iowa.

Pilots of the 174th initially flew World War II era P-51 Mustangs but by 1950 the unit received its first jet powered aircraft, the newer F-84 Thunderjet.

At the same time, nearly every Air Guard flying unit had begun receiving notice that they were being recalled to active duty as part of a massive call up due to the Korean War. Official notice for the 174th would come in the spring of 1951.

"It was April fool's day 1951," Nelson said, "we were recalled and sent to Bangor, Maine in order to set up the base."

In just 4 years, the small unit had grown from 9 pilots to 26 at the time of the recall. Almost all the pilots were World War II Veterans. According to Nelson, the pilots didn't know if they were being called to a police action, or if this was the beginning of another world war. The only difference this time, as members of the National Guard, they were all volunteers.

Pilots and crew were eventually parceled out to different areas in the United States and abroad. Nelson, along with several other 174th pilots, spent their time in Europe on the front lines of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, quite literally with their fingers on the nuclear trigger.

Nearly two years after vacating the base at Sioux City, some of the 174th unit members began to return home. Even though some pilots would stay on active duty, Nelson returned to Sioux City where he remained an active member of the Iowa Air Guard.

The 174th continued to grow and eventually became the 185th Tactical Fighter Group which was assigned the F-100 Super Saber in the early 1960's.

In 1968 the Air Force was again looking for pilots and aircraft to send to yet another war. Pilots and crew from the 185th TFG were recalled and became one of only four Air Guard units to be activated for service in Vietnam.

After the squadrons return in 1969, Nelson would stick with the group for the better part of another decade. He went through his final airframe change as the 185th Wing Commander, when the unit transitioned to the A-7 Corsair in 1977. Nelson commented that the A-7 was one of his favorite airplanes to fly 2nd only to the P-51.

Nelson was a member of the 185th from the beginning and remained so for more than half the units' history. He was also the unit's last World War II veteran to serve as Wing Commander before retiring in 1980.

While at the September open house event Nelson commented that the biggest change he has seen in 70 years is the high quality facilities.

"We were living in old WW II Buildings. Said Nelson. "Old wooden Tar-paper shacks and look at the facilities that you have now."

Nelson said he remained in the Air Guard for so long because he liked to fly, but it eventually had to come to an end.

"They let me fly for 37 years," said Nelson, "I figure that was a pretty good career."

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