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By Airman 1st Class Seth Watson
2nd Bomb Wing
The 2nd Bomb Wing recently welcomed back a 95-year-old retired Air Force engine mechanic whose story intertwines with the enduring legacy of Barksdale’s premiere bomber, the B-52H.
On the sunny autumn day of October 18, 2023, Senior Master Sgt. John McNeece, a distinguished veteran who served in the Air Force from 1952 until late 1975, returned to the very base where his journey began.
Amidst the Korean War, many Americans were drafted into military service, but McNeece elected to enlist in the Air Force of his own fruition. As a member of a patriotic family with four brothers who had served in World War II, he said he felt a duty to follow suit. His initial decision to join the Air Force was driven by the desire to avoid being drafted into the Army. He wanted to serve but had a strong preference for the skies.
Upon completing his basic training, McNeece was sent to Barksdale Air Force Base where he worked in the mess hall while he awaited technical training. Recollecting his arrival, he described the base as awesome and marveled at its size. The live oak trees that lined the streets left a lasting impression on him.
Following his stint at Barksdale, McNeece's journey took him to Chanute Air Force Base, Illinois, where he received training in engine maintenance.
Initially, he worked on the B-36, but that changed with the introduction of the B-52 Stratofortress.
When McNeece switched to the B-52 he became part of the first-generation of B-52 maintainers and specialized as an engine mechanic.
He said he vividly recalled the first time he laid eyes on the B-52.
"I thought it was the biggest thing in the world," says McNeece. For a young man hailing from a modest farm in Mississippi, it was a breathtaking experience.
McNeece's dedication to his job was relentless, and he excelled at it. At one point he held the record for the fastest tear-down and rebuild of a B-52 engine.
While McNeece will always have his memories to reflect on, he wanted to visit Barksdale to meet the present-day maintainers of the B-52H bomber. As he shared stories from his time in service, he said he was awestruck by the longevity of the B-52. He never envisioned that the iconic aircraft would continue to serve the nation for so many decades.
McNeece said he noticed subtle differences in the B-52 since his time, some bulges here and there, but most notably the growth in engine size. However, the essence of the aircraft and the camaraderie he cherished remained unchanged.
"I'd crawl across that runway if I could work on it again,” says McNeece. “I miss the work. I miss the camaraderie of the guys I worked with. It's still there today, I could feel it, I could see it."
Before he left, he spoke of the immense pride he felt standing alongside a group of young Airmen.
"When you stand among a group of uniformed servicemen, you've got to be proud,” says McNeece. “No way in the world you could stand there if you're not. You're proud, and you should be."
McNeece's visit to Barksdale Air Force Base serves as a reminder of the lasting legacy of the B-52 bomber and the commitment of those who work so hard to keep it flying. His journey, from a farm in Mississippi to the flight line at Barksdale, encapsulates the spirit of service and dedication that has defined both the base and the iconic B-52 for generations.