On Nov. 4, 1953, the National Guard's first and only precision aerial demonstration team, the Minute Men, was formed by pilots of the Colorado Air National Guard's 120th Tactical Fighter Squadron.
The vision for the team had actually been born years earlier, after COANG Maj. Walt “Redeye” Williams observed an F-80 Shooting Star aerial demonstration in Arizona.
He returned to Colorado motivated to start a COANG demonstration team, but his efforts were slowed by the Korean War. After a year-and-a-half of flying F-86 Saber jet combat missions over the Korean Peninsula, a newly promoted Lt. Col. Williams returned, determined to prove his proficiency with different aircraft by transitioning the Colorado Air National Guard from P-51 Mustangs to the new F-80.
Jerry Bowling, the unofficial historian of the Minute Men, described the birth of the unit:
“On a beautiful afternoon in the skies over Eastern Colorado in the fall of 1953, Walt William’s vision for an aerial demonstration team for the COANG became a reality.
“Walt, along with Majors Ranger ‘Arch’ Curran, Warren P. ‘Satch’ Harvey and 2nd Lt. Dick Heuholt took four of the COANG’s new F-80 Shooting Stars up for some formation flying.
“After spending the afternoon practicing steep and tight diamond formation turns, rolls and loops, it was the Minute Men who landed back at Buckley.”
Three years later, the National Guard Bureau established the Colorado Air National Guard’s Minute Men as the official aerial demonstration team of the Air National Guard. A mere 10 years after the COANG was federalized, the team had emerged as the standard for coordinated flying excellence.
This took a lot of help from “Friends in High Places,” a term of endearment ascribed to a group of philanthropists and activists who assisted in the funding of, and advocating for, the Minute Men to keep their status. In addition to the official sanctioning and ample funding from the Friends in High Places, well-known leaders in Colorado aviation such as Stanford Gregory, Joe Moffitt -- and of course Walt Williams -- added legitimacy to the Minute Men.
The efforts of these individuals were paramount to the rapid growth of the Colorado Air National Guard, which was barely six-years-old when the Minute Men were formed. The popularity of the Minute Men encouraged enlistment into the COANG and as a result, the 120th Tactical Fighter Squadron was fully manned and equipped. It was the first and only Air National Guard unit to deploy as whole to Vietnam.
However, the history of the Minute Men had its share of tragedy. On June 7, 1958, Minute Men Capt. John T. Ferrier entered his F-86 Sabre and took off for a performance for West Point cadets. While flying over a residential area, his jet malfunctioned during a dive. However he maintained his aircraft to the end, narrowly missing several houses by the time of impact. Ferrier, who was posthumously awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, left behind a wife and three young children.
The Minute Men were eventually disbanded in 1959, to the disappointment of many who had taken a great deal of pride in the state’s aerial team. For six years the Minute Men performed hundreds of shows all over the world – not bad for a brand new unit in a brand new branch.