A base is born
The news was important for Arkansas, justifying its placement on the newspaper’s front page on May 22. The headline read: “Air base chosen for C-130J training.”
Washington History has noted that the 189th Arkansas Air National Guard Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base was selected to house the Air National Guard’s C-130J Super Hercules training program. The 189th will finally receive a dozen transport planes while the old C-130 models will be phased out.
Base Jacksonville is already home to the 314th Airlift Wing of the Air Force, described by the Department of Defense as the “nation’s center of tactical airlift excellence.” In addition to training American pilots, LRAFB personnel train pilots from 47 allied nations.
“This is huge news,” said US Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. “It’s hard to overstate the impact. I am delighted for our Airmen, our Air Force base and our State. We are going to have this man-flying mission for decades to come.”
The positive news for Arkansas led me to research how the base got here in the first place. You have to go back 70 years to 1951. It was at this point that central Arkansas was first considered for a permanent settlement.
“It had been pointed out that Arkansas was like the hole in a donut in that it was surrounded by states that already hosted military installations,” wrote base historian John G. Schmidt. “In addition, Arkansas was strategically located near the geographic center of the United States, almost equidistant from the American coast. This would make such a facility much less vulnerable to attack by hostile forces.
“The first civilian support for such a facility was evident. Arch Campbell, the Pulaski County Judge, and Harry Pfeifer Jr., President of the Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, sent a letter to Thomas Finletter, the Secretary of the Air Force, January 11, 1952. In this letter, they discussed why the Little Rock area would be ideal.
Everett Tucker, industrial director of the chamber, devoted all of his time to the project. He made trips to Washington and to Strategic Air Command headquarters in Nebraska. The Air Force liked Arkansas’ proposal, but members of Congress believed there were enough WWII facilities left. For them, buying a property made no tax sense.
“The Air Force suggested that if the local community bought land and donated it, then such a facility could be built,” Schmidt wrote. “Community leaders accepted this challenge and got to work.
From an economic development standpoint, this was probably the largest team effort at this point in Arkansas history. Amazon’s current attempt to hire nearly 2,000 employees to staff the massive distribution facilities under construction in Little Rock and North Little Rock represents the biggest job creation initiative in downtown Arkansas since the LRAFB announcement.
Air Force officials visited three sites and decided the one adjacent to Jacksonville was the best. The chamber’s defense facilities committee has proposed a property purchase plan. What is now known as the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council has started fundraising. In two months, he raised $ 1.2 million.
Fundraising efforts were led by Raymond Rebsamen and Arthur Phillips. Marcus Lafayette Harris, the president of Philander Smith College, organized a separate fundraiser in the black business community.
“About two-thirds of the money came from large corporate donations,” Schmidt wrote. “The remaining third was the result of individual donations ranging from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars. From the start, it was obvious that the project had the support of the community. His efforts paid off when the base opened in October 1955. his doors. Community support for the project did not end there. In fact, that was just the start.
At the time, it was estimated that 6,000 military personnel would be posted to Little Rock along with 8,000 to 12,000 other family members.
“There would be a lot of problems with the sudden influx of people,” Schmidt wrote. “First, the base would not be able to accommodate that many people for some time, if ever. Moreover, the recreational facilities would only be ready in the future. moral, will have to be found. The Community Council has chosen to focus its efforts on solving problems such as these. “
Part of the land purchased for the base had housed the Arkansas Ordnance Plant during World War II. After the war, most of the AOP’s assets were sold to businesses or resold to former owners.
“Only a small portion of the old AOP site was owned by the US government in 1953,” Carolyn Yancey Kent wrote for the Arkansas Encyclopedia of the Central Arkansas Library System. “When this land was resold to previous owners or sold to businesses, the government had a clawback provision in the contracts, allowing it to reclaim the land if needed.
“The Little Rock District of the US Army Corps of Engineers oversaw the construction of the base. On December 8, 1953, official ground-breaking ceremonies were held. By the time LRAFB was activated on October 9, 1955, 100 officers and 1,134 airmen were at the base An open house was organized for the public, and about 85,000 people attended.
The base is doing well over 65 years after it opened, and more decades of operation now seem certain.
Editor-in-chief Rex Nelson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He is also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.