Big Country Bastion, Abilene Army Airfield ca. 1944
As the saying goes, "The Air Force wasn't born in West Texas, it got here as quickly as it could." Roots of Air and Space power in the Big Country can be traced back to Abilene Army Airfield.
World War II saw the blossoming of "tent camps" throughout the United States and Abilene was no exception. Camp Barkeley, a few miles south of Abilene, became an Army infantry training camp for thousands of recruits. Army inductees were trained for various duties while there.
Army Air corps cadets learned to fly trainers and P-47 Thunderbolt fighters while stationed at Abilene Army Air Field, a Camp Barkeley adjunct. When both installations were closed at the end of World War II, the deed to Abilene Army Air Field was sold to Abilene for $1. The Texas National Guard used 1,500 acres of the former Army Air Field as a training facility.
Following the outbreak of the Korean crisis, Abilenians called for a military installation. Armed with 1,500 acres and determination, civic leaders besieged Washington, D.C., and Pentagon officials with their request for a military installation. Proving beyond a shadow of a doubt they meant business, Abilenians raised $893,000 to purchase an additional 3,500 acres to provide a home for the military base they hoped would be in Abilene.
Several prominent men were instrumental in convincing authorities of the suitability of Abilene. Oliver Howard, the late W.P. Wright Sr. and others worked in the city to promote interest in the military facility.
Together with Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and Congressman Omar Burleson, civil leaders persuaded military and civilian officials to put a military base in Abilene.
After letters and visits had been exchanged, the Department of Defense announced in July 1952 Congress had approved the $32,273,000 needed in appropriations for constructing a base in Abilene.
The local community was interested in providing for the Air Force an exemplary relationship between the community and an Air Force base. After initial groundbreaking ceremonies on Sept. 24, 1953, construction of the base progressed rapidly.
The red brick ranch-style architecture boasts a Texas influence throughout the base. A unique feature of the base is all buildings are permanent structures.
Known as Abilene Air Force Base, the Strategic Air Command base was dedicated by the city fathers at the end of Abilene's Diamond Jubilee April 15, 1956. On Dec. 6 that same year, the base was renamed Dyess Air Force Base in honor of Lt. Col. William Edwin Dyess.
The Early Years
The 474th Headquarters and Air Base Squadron was activated Dec. 12, 1942, and Abilene Air Field was formally dedicated on June 3, 1943. The airfield served as a proving ground for pilots who trained mainly on the P-47, but also saw time in the B-18, UC-78, L-5, T-6, C-3, and ANT-18. Upon completion of training, the pilots were shipped to all theaters of operation during World War II. Base personnel continued to train pilots until the last P-47 departed Abilene Jan. 7, 1946, and officially, the base was inactivated Dec. 31, 1945. AAAF personnel remained, but the base operated at minimum levels and supported National Guard training until the end of the Korean War.
On Jan. 1, 1955, the 4021st Air Base Squadron was activated at Abilene Air Force Base and worked to complete construction efforts on the base. The squadron's support and engineering efforts set the stage for the future. The 341st Bombardment Wing activated Sept. 1, 1955, and forged the mission of the Strategic Air Command. Equipped with the B-47, the 341st flew, trained, and exercised until its inactivation June 25, 1961.
The 96th Bomb Wing (later called 96th Strategic Aerospace Wing) activated at Dyess Sept. 8, 1957, and for a short period coexisted with the 341st BW. For 36 years, the 96th battle cry, "E SEMPRE L'ORA" (It Is Always The Hour), dominated the Big Country.
The 96th saw many missions during its tenure. Bombers, refuelers, and missiles all supported the nuclear mission of SAC during the tense, Cold War period. It's B-47, B-52, and B-1 crews and support personnel trained for war and stood ready on nuclear alert. West Texans frequently watched KC-97's and later KC-135's taking off or landing after long endurance flights to refuel bombers. The 578th Strategic Missile Squadron, outfitted with the Atlas Missile, activated July 1, 1961, and for four years gave the Big Country an unmanned yet guided missile dimension.
Numerous times during the Vietnam War era, wing members and aircraft deployed to Southeast Asia and carried out vital mission objectives. The refuelers supported operations around the globe.
The 96th received the first B-1B in June 1985, and in October 1986, the Lancer took over the nuclear alert duties for which it was produced. On Oct. 1, 1993, the 96th was forced to fold its flag, but that gave birth to the newest addition to West Texas' rich military history - the 7th Wing.
The 7th moved from Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, and soon flourished at Dyess Air Force Base. The unit operated both the B-1B and C-130. Flying over 29,000 hours it's first year, the wing's diverse mission made it one of the most active units in the world. The airlifters navigated the globe with numerous airlift missions to Europe and the Persian Gulf region. The bomber crews and support people dedicated themselves to enhancing and innovating bomber operations for the 21st Century.
The 7th WG was redesignated the 7th Bomb Wing April 1, 1997. The wing relinquished operational control of the C-130's to Air Mobility Command, which reorganized the Hercules under 317th Airlift Group.
Today, Dyess B-1Bs and the 7th BW make up a large portion of the U.S. Air Force bomber force. Dyess has played a vital role in both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The B-1B continues to produce effective sorties at Dyess and the "Bastion in the Big Country" continues to flourish and remains one our nation's most revered bases. The men and women of Dyess serve our great nation and Abilene community proudly.