Governor Whitcomb, distinguished members of the 71stSOS, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. As former commander of Bakalar Air Force Base and the 434th Troop Carrier Wing, it is a real pleasure for me to welcome you to your second homecoming, this special ceremony of recognition. My mission is simple - to set the stage for today's activities.
The 71st members are here for their reunion, and we are assembled to witness this historic marker dedication for their combat duty in Vietnam. I first want to thank the Columbus Board of Aviation for providing these stone markers for the various military organizations that were based here through the years. Two historical markers have been previously dedicated - one for the Tuskeegee Airmen, and the other for the World War II glider pilots. Those dedications have pleased our friends Louis Hill(Tuskeegee Airman) and Bruce Dalton(glider pilot) very much, and I see they are both with us today. In July of next year, I hope to gather here again with you to dedicate two more historical markers; one for the former landowners, and one for the 434th Wing that was based here for 20 years - 1949 to 1969. Three recalls to active duty have taken place here - Korea, the Cuban missile crisis, and the 71st Squadron to Vietnam. The names of the families who owned the 2,000 acres (7 miles around the border) that became Atterbury Army Air field in January 1943 will appear on the landowners historical marker in their memory.
As a special note, Tom Vickers, our Museum Board Chairman, has redesignated this part of the Peoples Trail from the rotating beacon to the Bakalar Wall, as the Veterans Promenade - a memory walk honoring veterans. I firmly believe the placement of these markers along this Peoples Trail are, or will be in time, significant markers of history that describe just what took place at this airport during the wars and many training years.
Today, while we are honoring the 71st SOS and their duty in Vietnam, I'll briefly reflect on the past military operations that took place on the base. During WW II this base provided extensive training for glider pilots so there would be sufficient number for the very large D-Day invasion. The 434th Troop Carrier Group was a part of that force. Tuskeegee Airmen were training here in B-25 bomber crews to meet and fulfill requirements of bomber crews meeded during WW II. After WW II, Atterbury Army Airfield was placed on stand-by status in 1946. After being closed three years the base was reopened in 1949 as Atterbury Air Force Base. The base then operated for 20 years as a major training base for the Air Force Reserve - not just for the 434th, but for the five other troop carrier wings in the 10th Air Force area in the middle third of the United States. The base had a big job when all of the wings transitioned from C-46s to C-119s as the active force picked up C-130s and the reserves received C-119s. Three recalls to active duty took place here; Korea, the Cuban missile crisis, and the 71st Squadron to Vietnam.
The base was renamed Bakalar Air Force Base in 1954 in honor of Lt. John Bakalar, a P-51 pilot from Hammond, Indiana, killed in action over France in World War II. His memorial wall located at the flag pole was dedicated November 11, 1991. At that ceremony, this area was also named 'Bakalar Green'.
Back to the historical markers. I think of them as military semifores of history, reminding all who pass this way that the training and military operations at this base, and the Air Force personnel who served here, should be remembered in a special way. They all served a great nation for many years in a time of war, and a time of peace.
I want to thank the Mayors and Aviation Boards, past and present, for their interest and support of three things; an air museum, the historic chapel, and the Bakalar Green. You have been truly people of vision, for these two buildings and this area have, in my judgement, made our airport a very special place. At the same time paying tribute to the thousands of airmen who once proudly passed through the main gate of this base every day, year after year in the name of freedom.
In conclusion, I want each member of the 71st Special Operations Squadron to know that we are both proud and thankful of their service in Vietnam, and that is the main reason we are assembled here today. I pray that God will in future years continue to bless your lives as well as the lives of your family in a very special way with lots of good fortune, good health, and happiness.
Lastly on this Armed Forces
Day, 2002, I would hope that we and all Americans will take a
moment to be thankful for all of our armed forces, and to remember
those currently serving - Active, Guard, and Reserve, serving
this great nation of ours - the United States of America - the
home of the Brave, and the land of the free. We must never forget
those who made it that way and those that keep it that way -
God Bless the USA.