The USAF’s 335th Fighter Interceptor Squadron “Chiefs,” along with the 334th & 336th squadrons, comprised the 4th Fighter Interceptor Group “Fourth but First.” The 4th FIG and its component squadrons have an august history of accomplishments dating back to their intrepid service in WWII when the initial nucleus of pilots served with the RAF in the famed Eagle squadrons, then becoming the 4th Fighter Group in August 1942, when the USAAF took control due to America’s entry in the war. The 4th was the first USAAF Fighter unit in the European Theater of Operations, hence their official nickname, “Fourth but First.” The Group went on to finish WWII as the highest-scoring USAAF fighter unit from any combat theater (combined air & ground victories; the 56th Fighter Group had the highest number of air victories), a record that may well never be surpassed due to the evolution of aerial warfare as we know it today.
During the Korean War the 4th FIG and the 51st FIG were the only two units to fly the F-86 Sabre jet in air combat. The 335th FIS produced some outstanding pilots that included the legendary ace Capt. Ralph S. Parr, and it was the 335th FIS that went on to gain notoriety as the highest-scoring USAF fighter unit of the Korean War, shooting down more MiGs than any other USAF fighter squadron of the war for a whopping total of 218.5 MiG kills. The 335th squadron’s official insignia worn on flying jackets, flying suits, etc., is an American Indian chief wearing full headdress, which dates back to its service with USAAF in WWII and gave rise to the unit’s official nickname, “Chiefs.” Near the middle of 1952, the 335th FIS adopted a new insignia that still featured the proud Indian chief but the Indianhead was now placed in the center of a large arrowhead (7.75” tall) with a full-length arrow (10.75” long) running diagonally through the large arrowhead; above the chief was a scroll with the squadron designation and below the Indianhead was either a blank scroll or the scroll could have the individual pilots name embroidered into it.
Based on the embroidery style observed on extant original examples of this insignia and knowing many units had their insignias made in Japan while on leave during the Korean War, it is an educated guess that this new 335th FIS insignia was originally produced in Japan. Whatever is the actual history may not ever be known, but what is certain is that this revised 335th FIS insignia appears to be the largest, most colorful and elaborate squadron insignia to emerge from the Korean War. It is in light of both their second-to-none record of accomplishment and the fact that the 335th FIS had this mammoth-size, totally awesome, cool-looking insignia, that we elected to have this embroidered insignia faithfully produced exclusively for us by the Buzz Rickson’s brand.
Buzz Rickson’s are renowned for producing the most accurate-looking vintage embroidered insignia because of their attention to detail and employment of the old shuttle looms from 1940's. Considering that the 335th FIS insignia was probably produced in Japan, it became obvious that the Japan-based Buzz Rickson’s would be the best source for executing this reproduction patch. Original examples of this insignia are nearly impossible to obtain, largely because it was used for just about one year and fighter units have a relatively small number of pilots assigned to them vs. bomber or transport units. After substantial research sourcing out surviving members of the 335th FIS from the Korean War and their giant-size insignia, we scored big time, thanks to acclaimed aviation historian Warren Thompson. Warren had several 335th FIS insignias which he made available to us for precise reproduction work, then he put us in touch with one particular pilot who flew with the 335th in the Korean War – 1st Lt. Richard “Dick” Keener – a really, really swell guy who just happened to have plenty of color film with him at the USAF’s Kimpo Air Base in South Korea.
Dick Keener photographed just about everything and everyone in brilliant color, not the least of which were all of the pilots of the 4th FIG wearing a multitude of different flying jackets and gear. And, not being camera shy, Dick made sure someone took a superb, large close-up photo of himself while wearing his newly issued L-2A nylon flying jacket decorated with the giant 335th FIS insignia; it was this photo, having appeared in one of Warren Thompson’s books that originally stimulated our interest in obtaining this insignia. We had the extreme pleasure of meeting and interviewing Dick Keener on Monday 18 May 2008, whereupon we presented to him a new Buzz Rickson’s L-2A flying jacket outfitted with both the 4th FIG insignia and the 335th FIS insignia that also displays Dick’s rank and name. About half of the pilots in the 335th FIS wore both the 335h FIS and 4th FIG insignias on their jackets and Dick informed us that he added the 4th FIG insignia to his jacket shortly after he grew his mustache that he still sports today. Thanks to Dick and Warren, our dream is reality, and we can now offer this dynamic insignia deftly copied in Japan by Buzz Rickson’s.
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