COLONEL BEN J. “BENJO” WELCH
Inducted November 2, 2019
Born in 1934 in Bon Air, Tennessee, Ben Welch grew up determined to be a pilot. His first flight in 1946 in an Aeronca Champ at Crossville, Tennessee cost $2.00. Completing two years at Tennessee Tech, he was employed by McDonnell Aircraft as an Engineering Draftsman, leaving the company in 1956 to join the USAF Aviation Cadet program. Flying the T-34, T-28 and T-33 he graduated in December 1957, earning his pilot wings and a 2nd Lieutenant Commission.
During his 38-year career as a USAF and Tennessee Air National Guard officer and pilot, he would pilot a multitude of aircraft, including the RF-101, EC-47, C-124, C-130A, C-130H and KC-135.
Returning from Misawa, Japan where he flew the RF-101, “Benjo” was assigned to SAC as a non-flying Minuteman Missile Launch Officer. In 1966 he was returned to flying duty and volunteered for Vietnam. Flying the EC-47, he was tasked with locating, identifying and targeting enemy operations and command locations, including during the Tet Offensive and the Battle of Khe Sanh in 1968.
Returning from Vietnam in 1969, he left Air Force active duty and joined the Tennessee Air National Guard. ANG assignments included – Flying Safety Officer, Wing Chief of Safety, Wing Training Officer, Squadron Operations Officer, Squadron Commander and Wing Director of Operations. Flying with the ANG, “Benjo” amassed over 5,000 flight hours in the C-130A and C-130H. Promoted to Colonel in 1989, he returned to Active Duty as the Air Guard Advisor to the Commander of 21st Air Force.
Assigned as the 21st Air Force Crisis Action Team Commander, Col Welch was responsible for command and control of airlift in support of Operation Desert Shield. Additional assignments while at 21st Air Force included Egypt (Operation Restore Hope, Somalia) and Antarctica (Operation Deep Freeze).
Col Welch’s awards and commendations include – Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with Five Oak Leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal.
Col Welch retired from the US Air Force in July 1994. At the time of his retirement, he was the oldest active duty officer on flying status in the US Air Force. He continues to fly, and is a pilot with the Civil Air Patrol.
For extraordinary achievement and service in aviation for Tennessee, our nation and the world, and for his service to our country, Col. Ben Welch is honored by and inducted into the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame this 2nd day of November 2019.