By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – An Air Force F-105 Thunderchief may begin keeping watch over Veterans Park on Memorial Day, less than three months away.
Veterans, supporters in Tupelo and surrounding areas could have a new the newest addition land at the east Tupelo park in time for May 26 events planned to recognize men and women who died while serving in the military.
Andrew Robertson, a member of the volunteer group leading the project, informed the Veterans Council, a division of Tupelo’s Sports Council, Tuesday that the more than four-year effort could end by Memorial Day if weather conditions cooperate as the project continues.
“This is important for our community and for our country,” said Robertson, northern region director for U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker. “This will be the signature display at the park.”
Jet Volunteers, a group that has worked to bring the fighter plane nicknamed “Thud” to the park, has focused on logistics, planning and private fundraising for the project of special significance to this area and region.
Retired Air Force Col. Carlyle “Smitty” Harris and late Navy Cmdr. Douglas “Doug” Clower of Tupelo, along with retired Air Force Lt. Col. Richard “Gene” Smith of West Point each flew the F-105 fighter plane during the Vietnam War. All three men spent years as prisoners of war after crashing in enemy territory.
The city of Tupelo allocated $25,000 in the current budget to assist with the project’s completion. Contributions from businesses and individuals have generated $18,000 toward an estimated $60,000 cost of refurbishing and repainting the bomber and mounting it at the park.
Veterans Memorial Park already has flags displayed and monument and brick memorials for fallen soldiers. Even after the Thunderchief lands, veterans groups will continue planning future memorials at the park.
Fundraising continues for a replica Vietnam Memorial Wall, estimated to cover the length of three football fields and cost about $850,000. Tupelo has already set aside $150,000.
As discussion lingered Tuesday among veterans and supporters, Harris emphasized the F-105 is similar to what he flew but not the exact aircraft.
“The one I flew is in little bitty pieces,” he said.