In 2018 Aviation Heritage Park broke ground for a wish-list item- an aviation museum that would recognize and celebrate areas aviators so that future generations might be made aware of and motivated by their extraordinary achievements.
Along the fund-raising path, the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association, better known as “The River Rats,” asked Aviation Heritage Park for space in AHP’s proposed 11,000 sq ft museum to call their permanent home. The 4500-member organization, originally formed in 1967 by combat pilots serving in Vietnam, wants to honor their members and display significant artifacts from their service. No such place currently exists.
One of the original founders of the River Rats was one-time Kentucky resident and Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame honoree USAF Col. Howard “Scrappy” Johnson. Several of the distinguished aviators honored at Aviation Heritage Park are members. AHP was founded to tell such stories, and we welcome the River Rats to our park.
In November of 1966, fighter pilot legend Col. Robin Olds, the commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, hosted a tactics conference at Ubon Air Force Base, Thailand. It included United States Air Force, Navy, and Marine aircrews who were flying combat missions over the Red River Valley of North Vietnam. Following the great success of this conference, five more “practice reunions” were held throughout the Southeast Asia theatre of operations.
In 1969, then Brig. Gen. Robin Olds met with Col. Howard “Scrappy” Johnson to discuss the formation of a permanent organizational structure for the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association, leading to incorporation in Kansas. Later that year, Col. Larry Pickett held the first stateside practice reunion at Wichita, KS. It was a great success. When POWs began to return in 1973, the first “real” reunion was held.
In the beginning, RRVFPA efforts were directed toward generating awareness of the Prisoners of War (POW) and aircrews Missing in Action/Killed in Action (MIA/KIA) and supporting their families, especially the children of the members. The program was later expanded to provide scholarships to children of United States military personnel MIA/KIA in armed conflicts from Southeast Asia through the present.
In 2019, the River Rats expanded their mission to support aircrew (both active duty and veteran) and their families with health issues and to preserve the Red River Valley Fighter Pilot’s Association’s history by partnering with Aviation Heritage Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky to build an 11,000 sq ft museum that will include a dedicated River Rats exhibit.