87th FIS reunion highlighted Sawyer’s history, importance

On the website for the K.I. Sawyer Museum, there is a patch for sale that serves as an important reminder to our area. It reads: K.I. Sawyer AFB Michigan, Gone But Not Forgotten.

It has been more than two decades since the base closed in 1995 and of course, it’s still an active, living community, but many older folks from the area recall the facility when it was an Air Force facility.

And some Air Force personnel return to keep that memory active, as was the case last weekend when members of the United States Air Force 87th Fighter Interceptor Squadron returned to K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base for a reunion as well as to celebrate the squadron’s 101st year.

From all parts of the country, members of the squadron made the trip to spend time with other former Air Force personnel. But the weekend was about more than the memories of the past.

Four T-38 jets carrying the 87th Flying Training Squadron from Texas flew up for a visit and both groups then gathered at the K.I. Sawyer Heritage Museum to share memories at a dinner and to hear a presentation on the first 100 years of the squadron from Lt. Col. Thomas Allen of the 87th Flying Training Squadron.

In a story by Mining Journal Staff Writer Trinity Carey, some of the participants shared about the gathering.

“It was wonderful,” said Elmer Klein, member of the 87th FIS from 1971 to 1985. “Seeing the people who have been here for all this time and it’s not just while I was here, there were people that came before me, people that left after me, and it was fun to see that and hear the stories and also the continuation of stories from the pilot training squad that came in from Texas.”

The 87th Fighter Interceptor Squadron has a storied history that began in August 1917, making it one of the oldest Air Force squadrons, though it has been deactivated and reactivated multiple times.

During the Cold War, the squadron was reactivated and was stationed at Sawyer from 1971 to 1985.

“When we were stationed here in Sawyer our main objective was a fighter interceptor squad,” Klein said. “Anything that would trigger an alert through the North American Air Defense Command, they would scramble jets depending on where you were. Then those jets would go up and intercept the targets they were designated for.”

For many alive now, the Cold War is part of the history books but for the 130 or so people who attended the reunion, it was a key memory.

We thank reunion organizer Byron Sherman for his work putting the gathering together. Sherman brought up a critical matter: the importance of the K.I. Sawyer Heritage Air Museum, not only for the reunion, but because it preserves memories of the squadron and all other units that were stationed at Sawyer throughout the years.

“The air museum is a wonderful thing to have at Sawyer, but they need help. They need members, donations from (the) public, from people who used to live here, to keep their doors open,” Sherman said. “It’s important not only for the Air Force, but for the heritage of the area. There’s a whole set of people who don’t know what it was like.”

Absolutely correct and we hope people look into helping out. To find out more about donating, visit the group’s website at www.kishamuseum.org.