RECOLLECTIONS OF THE FIRST 551ST WING COMMANDER

COLONEL OLIVER G. CELLINI

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Dear Mr. Northrup.

I have read every word you have written. I don’t know what I can add to your manuscript, because everything you covered occurred after my time [at Otis AFB]. Hopefully, I can fill you in on the period before you arrived in the wing [August 1955].

To set the record straight, I was originally the commander of the 4707th Air Defense Wing at Otis, long before the 551st. In the spring of 1954, I was fired as the commander and became the deputy commander. I was made a project officer for the A. E. W. & C. to be activated. March 10th, 1954, I was given a 1st Lt. and five very good enlisted men. We had our task cut out for us, and we worked our tails off.

At this point a bit on organization: I do not know what changes may have been made after I left. Eastern Air Defense Force (E.A.D.F.) was the parent command responsible for everything. It was located at Stewart A.F.B., New York. The 26th Air Division located at Syracuse, NY was responsible for operations.

The 4707th Air Defense Wing was responsible for operations and training of our area complex. The wing had two bases, Otis and Niagara Falls, NY. It also had a fighter squadron at Westover AFB, at that time a huge transport complex. The fighter squadron was a tenant on Westover. In addition to the above, the wing had five radar squadrons. Unless my memory fails, me, these squadrons were located at Truro (the end of Cape Cod), New Brunswick Naval Air Station, Maine; Albany, NY, Syracuse, and Niagara Falls.

As commander of the 4707th Air Defense Wing, my effectiveness report was made out by the commander of the 26th Air Division. My support came from EADF and from the Commander at Otis. The 4707th was actually a tenant on Otis. However, I made out the effectiveness report for the base commander at Otis, as well as the base commander at Niagara Falls, the Squadron C.O. at Westover, and the C.O.’s of five radar squadrons. Probably a bit confusing, but it worked.

When I became project officer of the 551st, I was really at the mercy of the 4707th, even though I was still the deputy. My full time job was getting things ready for the 551st. The commander of the 4707th, Col. Dick Legg, and I had been friends for many years. I can honestly say that the support from the 4707th was absolutely outstanding.

On October 1st, 1954, I was assigned as a provisional wing commander of the 551st, and on December 18th, 1954, I became the wing commander. I was relieved as of February 20th, 1956, and assigned overseas. Something else that was not recorded was the twelve hour days we put in.

When we finally activated as the 551st, we literally had nothing but the complete support of my ex-wing. Example: we were given office space, vehicles, typewriters, toilet paper, you name it. I had an airplane or airplanes available at all times. I personally made many trips to depots and the 8th Air Division.

In 1942, I activated a pursuit squadron. In 1947, I activated an all weather fighter group, and then the 551st in 1954. I can honestly say that I have had all sorts of assignment in my thirty-two years of service. The 551st required the most hours of work, the fewest (if any) days off, and with so little gratitude.

I was with the wing during most of the formative stage. You came in when things were beginning to roll; you missed the growing pains.

Many people sent into new organizations are often drudges not wanted by someone else. We received our share of both officers and airmen. We also received some absolutely outstanding people, and they became the backbone, or prime movers, of getting tasks done. As an example: Pan American tried very hard to get my panel engineer, Sgt. Crump, to go with them. Crump was super. Without the cooperation of those outstanding few, I could not have gotten the 551st out of first gear.

Our big task, of course, was to get the few aircraft we had operational and train combat crews. At the same time, we had to renovate barracks for incoming people, set up mess halls, office space for different activities, clamor for our organizational equipment list (OEL), tools, spare parts, test gear, support equipment, like vehicles, tugs, etc. The number of detailed time-consuming tasks could fill a few pages. We had to set up schools for pilots, mechanics, electronics people, radio and radar operators, etc. In this respect, we did get some help from the 8th Air Division, primarily in the form of instructors, for which we were grateful.

Sometimes the demands of the 8th Air Division were the same for the 551st as they were for the 552nd. The 552nd had been in business for a few years, and furthermore, was based at a major depot, McClellan AFB, CA.

By the time I left, I don’t recall that we had a single designated combat crew. We did have a number of officers and airmen who individually were ready in their specific field. Example: we had some qualified pilots, navigators, radio operators, flight engineers, scope operators, etc. We sent many made-up crews on patrol, and we practiced quite a bit, controlling fighters from Otis and Westover.

I would have loved to stay with the wing, about another year, in order to see the fruits of all our work. But unfortunately, the service moved us around frequently.

I don’t know if I have helped you or not, but I hope I have. If nothing else, I’ve given you some history. My memory is not what it used to be, so please consider that everything I have written is at least forty-three years old.

In closing, I want to commend and congratulate you for the tremendous amount of work you have done in researching and reviewing history and records, and in putting everything together.

Col. Oliver (Ollie) G. Cellini, USAF, Ret.

3020 E. Fuller Road

Colorado Springs, CO 80920-3630

(719)598-5463

E-Mail through my daughter: BevFay@aol.com

 

NOTE: On December 18, 1954, Colonel Cellini became the commander of the newly formed 551st AEW&C Wing and In January 1955 he flew the first radar version of the Super Constellations, an RC-121D, from McClellan AFB, CA to Otis AFB, MA.

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Pictures left to right (Click for full resolution)

Ceremony at Otis in front of Base Operations. 
[left to right] is The Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts 
Christian Herter. In the center is the then  Secretary of the Air Force (not named) 
and to the right is Colonel Cellini.

 [left to right] Colonel Oliver G. Cellini the Commander of the 551st
AEW&C Wing at Otis AFB; Brigadier General Ken Gibson the Commander
of the 8th Air Force and Colonel Fred Hook the Commander of Otis AFB.

F-94 "Starfire" Interceptors and the RC-121D

F-94 "Starfire" Interceptors and the RC-121D

Colonel Oliver "Ollie" G. Cellini - 1829A taken 22 Nov 60.

"USAF photographs provided by Colonel Oliver G. Cellini, USAF Retired"