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McChord brings airpower to NW

From a field to a base

McChord became an Air Force Base in 1947. U.S. Air Force photo

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McChord Field became the headquarters of the GHQ Air Force Northwest Air District in 1940.  The mission was to defend the Upper Great Plains and the Pacific Northwest.  The first military group to arrive at the new Air Force field in mid-June 1940, was the 17th Bombardment Group from March Field in California along with the 89th Reconnaissance Squadron.  They flew Douglas B-18, B-18A and B-23 bombers.

McChord Field celebrated its grand opening to the public July 3, 1940.  Thousands flocked to see the newly constructed hangers, grounds, buildings and bombers.  As the ceremonies ended, 100 Army Air Corps bombers took to the air with a fly-over of the field.  After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941, the 17th Bombardment Group flew anti-submarine patrols off the west coast of the United States with the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber. As the first unit to operate the B-25, the 17th achieved another "first" December 24, 1941, when one of its Mitchells destroyed a Japanese submarine near the mouth of the Columbia River.  In February 1942, the 17th Bomb Group was moved to Columbia Army Air Base in South Carolina.

Not only did McChord become one of the largest U.S. bomber training installations, McChord's military personnel went from 4,000 to more than 7,300 by January 1942.  McChord also became a central point for airplanes and their crews moving to the Pacific theater and Alaska. As many as 600 civilians were hired to support McChord and to work on modifications to the various airplanes including P-38 & 39s and B-24s & 25s.

Col. Jimmy Doolittle came for a special visit to McChord and selected 10 aircrew members from McChord to participate in the April 1942 Doolittle raid.

When the 17th Bomb Group departed from McChord Field, the McChord mission was to support the Army Air Forces Training Command.  The newly named Second Air Force bases, of which McChord was one, was responsible for the training of individuals, crews and units for bombardment, fighter, and reconnaissance operations, and resulted in deployments all around the world by II Bomber Command operations training units (OTU). McChord also had large maintenance facilities for Air Technical Service Command during the war.  These maintenance facilities served as a P-39 Aircobra Modification Center April 1944 to May 1945.  And during this time, "lend-lease" aircraft was sent through Alaska to Russia.

Cold War

In 1945, McChord Field became a "permanent station" and was the headquarters of the 1st and 2nd Bomb Wings, part of the Continental Air Forces upon their return from combat in Europe.  In August 1946, McChord was assigned to the Air Defense Command with the mission to defend U.S. soil.

McChord Field continued to grow after the war to about 3,000 acres and because of it's location, resulted in the Air Force transferring P-61 Black Widow Fighters (425th Night Fighter Squadron).  The National Security Act of 1947 resulted in the creation of the Air Force.  McChord then separated from Fort Lewis, and on January 1, 1948, McChord Field was renamed McChord Air Force Base.  McChord AFB received three new missions: air defense, humanitarian support, and transport and airlift.

Because of McChord's strategic location to Alaska and Asian countries, 1947 was a busy year for McChord as the Tactical Air Command moved the 62d Troop Carrier Group to McChord Field.   McChord became a vital route to Alaska and to Asia.  The 62nd also continued supplying humanitarian aid to flood victims throughout Oregon and Washington.

Because of an extremely cold winter in 1948 and 1949, the 62nd made national news because of their participation in operation "Hayride." Their mission was to drop hay to livestock that were stranded throughout the Pacific Northwest.  

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