When one travels this great country the unexpected can be expected to be found almost anywhere- around the corner or roadside. Many of the Veteran of Foreign Wars (VFW) and American Legion posts around the country display military hardware to be appreciated by anyone who is compelled to stop and take a gander. One such American Legion post is Post 533 in Bastrop, Texas. Located along Highway 21 just outside of town, adjacent to highway 150 and Bastrop State Park, Post 533 has an M115 8 inch howitzer sitting out in front. That monster could throw a 200 pound shell almost ten and a half miles. Impressive enough, but that wasn’t why I stopped.
Also outside the post is McDonnell Douglas F-4D-31-MC Phantom II 66-8768 (CN 2620). The jet’s paint is faded and it has seen better days, but it’s identified as a Phabulous Phantom easily enough. This particular F-4 was a gate guard at the former Bergstrom Air Force Base (AFB) near Austin in Texas, where it last served with the 704th Tactical Fighter Squadron Outlaws of the 924th Tactical Fighter Group (TFG). The jet actually belongs to the National Museum of the United States Air Force and is on loan to Post 533.
66-8768 was built at the McDonnell Douglas plant in St. Louis Missouri in 1966. The jet was first assigned to the 25th TFS Assam Dragons of the famed 8th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) Wolf Pack. From there the jet was flown by the 492nd TFS Blue Bolars of the 48th TFW Statue of Liberty Wing. Between 1976 and 1979 the 23rd TFS Fighting Hawks of the 52nd TFW had 66-8768 on charge. Then 66-8768 was flown by the 307th TFS Stingers of the 401st TFW. Up to this point after return from Vietnam the jet had been flown primarily in Europe. When the Outlaws began flying 66-8768 they rotated to Korea several times and attended Gunsmoke competitions at Nellis AFB in Nevada. The paint scheme last worn by the Phantom was applied for the 1987 version of Gunsmoke, where it was a huge hit at the meet.
When the Outlaws jets were switched from F-4Ds to slightly younger F-4E models in 1989, 66-8768 became a candidate for gate guard duty. Many of the 704th TFS F-4Ds were transferred to South Korea. Host to several Phantom-phlying fighter and reconnaissance squadrons at one point, the AFB portion of Bergstrom closed down in 1993 leaving the fourth busiest commercial airport in Texas to enjoy only hum-drum airliner flights. 66-8768 sat outside a gate at Bergstrom for roughly six years until 1996. It was then that she was partially disassembled and trucked about 31 miles to her present location. The jet shows no signs of vandalism due at least in part to the stout fence that completely surrounds it. She needs some fresh paint and a cover to protect her from the relentless Texas sun and heat wouldn’t hurt either. But she’s all Phantom and still beautiful in a difficult to define way.