If all goes as planned, a retired F-4 fighter jet gathering dust in New Mexico will have a new purpose in northwest Illinois and serve as the centerpiece of a new aerial combat memorial.
The F-4 Phantom II was originally developed for the U.S. Navy. It entered service in 1960 and has been off duty since 1996. In the quiet village of Lena, a group of dedicated veterans has big plans for a retired jet.
“To memorialize the brave Americans” who risked their lives and in some cases were actually killed defending our country in aerial combat in hostile skies around the world,” said Terry Yount, the President of the Northwest Illinois F-4 Jet Memorial Project.
On a plot of donated land across the street from the American Legion Hall on Main Street, the village of Lena, along with veterans organizations in northwest Illinois are working to establish a permanent memorial.
“We did apply to the GSA and were awareded an aircraft: [the] F-4 Phantom II. 680450 is the serial number,” said Yount. “Right now, it sits at Holloman Air Force Base. The big push now is to try and get it home.”
“It would be put on a truck,” said Mike Brose, who’s also involved in the fundraising effort. “Actually, two to three trucks.”
The plan is to mount the F-4 on a 20 ft. pedestal that resembles Lena’s historic water tower. But, transporting the jet from New Mexico to northwest Illinois won’t come cheap. It’s why the committee has launched an aggressive fundraising campaign to pay for the memorial that means so much to them.
“The F-4… was flown by all three services: Navy, Air Force, [and the] Marines,” said Robert “Bing” Wells, another member of the fundraising effort. “It was the most produced fighter jet of all time.”
“Bing” Wells knows these plans well. In fact, when he was in the Navy as a 19 year-old, he started working on that type of aircraft.
For Henry Saavedra, the memorial means recognizing the brave pilots who flew the fighter jets.
“I am a Vietnam veteran and we were taken care of by these pilots,” said Saavedra. “When we needed help, they were always there.”
With the jet secured, the group understands the hard part now is paying for it.
“If you have anybody in the military or you had anybody in the military and you think you would like to do something, this would be a great project to donate to,” said Brose.
“We want that plane here,” said Saavedra.