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Remember when ... Travis Air Force Base beginnings

by John Lacomia, 60th Air Mobility Wing History Office

The origins of every military installation are always designated with a start date. May 17, 1943 signifies the start of Fairfield-Suisun Army Air Base known now Travis Air Force Base, Calif.

It was on this date that the Air Transport Command formally activated this base with the intention of making it the jumping off place for the Pacific theater of operations. When ATC took over the base Feb. 8, 1943, there were only a few temporary buildings and a small runway.

That would change during the next year.

The daunting task of turning Fairfield-Suisun AAB into the major port of embarkation and debarkation in the Pacific was given to Lt. Col. Arthur Stephenson of the 23rd Ferrying Group, when he assumed command of the base May 29. The colonel's background made him one of the most suitable leaders to get the new base off and running.

Colonel Stephenson's military career began Oct. 5, 1917 as a flying cadet. After finishing flying school, he was sent to France with the Fourth Pursuit Group, 25th Aero Squadron for the duration of World War I. Between the two world wars he worked in commercial aviation and had flown almost every type of aircraft. After the United States entered World War II, Colonel Stephenson would serve in all three theaters of operation prior to his command at Fairfield-Suisun AAB. He played a role in organizing Air Transport Command stations throughout the Pacific.

On June 1, 1943 with the 23rd FGs arrival at the base, it was time to get down to business. Colonel Stephenson's scientific planning and genius for organization accelerated the growth of the base. By July 8, 1943, the base sent the first B-24 Liberators on their way to combat in the Pacific Theater of Operations. The men and women of Fairfield-Suisun AAB would go on to prepare more than 2,000 military aircraft for movement overseas.

Over the next year and a half, wartime necessity transformed ranch land into one of the nation's largest and most important military air trans-shipment points. Construction of the base expanded to more than 150 buildings that included 14 administration buildings, a control tower, 97 barracks, nine mess halls, three movie theaters, four hangers, four Post Exchanges, two Chapels, a swimming pool, a bowling alley and a base hospital. The number of personnel assigned to the base surged from a handful in May 1943 to more than 2,000 enlisted men and 173 officers by the fall of 1944.

The first Women's Air Corps personnel arrived at the base Aug. 22, 1943. Within a year, more than 200 WAC officers and enlisted were assigned to the base. African American soldiers also contributed to the war effort on the base. On Feb. 19, 1944, members of the first black unit of the Pacific Wing arrived at the base. By September, the unit which would be known as "Section D" totaled 328 enlisted troops.

When Colonel Stephenson relinquished command of Fairfield-Suisun Army Air Base April 5, 1945, he was able to boast, "mission complete." Under his leadership, Fairfield-Suisun played a major role in the United States victory in World War II. His enduring legacy of persistence, effectiveness and excellence still influence the personnel and this base 65 years after its activation.




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