By Robert Palmer
FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) — One of the most iconic military aircraft of the 20th century can be seen, albeit in a rough state of repair, in Veterans Park.
An F-4D Phantom jet is being reassembled at the Veterans Memorial as part of the growing collection of decommissioned military equipment on display. The City Council, working with American Legion Post 11, contracted with Worldwide Aircraft Recovery to disassemble and transport the plane from Fort McClellan in Anniston and put back together again in the park. Most of the reassembly was finished earlier this month.
"We've got some minor repairs to make on it, and then we will paint it," said Randy Chapin, a member of the Sons of American Legion, Post 11, in Florence. He has helped lead the effort to get the vintage fighter and other aircraft to Florence.
The Phantom they obtained went into service in 1966, with most of its service in Europe, Chapin said. It was later turned over to the Alabama Air National Guard, which retired it from service in 1986. It has since been on display at Fort McClellan, he said.
The F-4 Phantoms saw heavy combat service during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 1970s. Nicknamed the "lead sled" because of its size and weight, it was one of the most photographed and filmed aircraft of its day.
Chapin said it will be painted in the color scheme of the Alabama Air National Guard — dark blue at the back and a lighter blue along the front and top.
Already on display at the memorial is a Cobra helicopter, several missiles and light field artillery. Inside the memorial is a collection of military memorabilia. The memorial is open to the public during the warm months on Saturdays and Sundays, Chapin said.
The F-4D is the latest effort by Chapin and others to improve the memorial.
"When I first came out here about 10 years ago, there were not even any flags flying," he said. "I started working with the Parks and Recreation Department and the mayor's office, and we've added a lot of things through the years."
Disassembling the plane and putting it back together again was a two-week process, not counting weather breaks and transportation time, said Marty Batura, one of the owners of Worldwide Aircraft Recovery, who was on site to help with the work.
"Each aircraft has its own personality," he said, "depending on how hard it was flown and its condition. This one is a pretty good bird, but it has its quirks."
Batura said his Omaha, Neb.-based company has been in business for 16 years, and he has travelled around the country many times. He said the Florence veterans memorial is one of the best of its size he has seen.
"I'm really impressed with the pieces here," he said. "This is really dedicated to the men and women in service. It's important to give them their due credit for their sacrifices."