Posted on June 23, 2017

Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Field

I was scrolling through the Alaska Historical Society’s “This Month in Alaska History” list (http://alaskahistoricalsociety.org/discover-alaska/this-month-in-alaska-history/) for something I haven’t blogged about yet, and noticed this item:

June 27, 1940 – Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Field were activated near Anchorage.

Of course, looking at the date you can assume this occurred as the United States was getting ready for possible entry into World War II, and you’d be right about that. Many military leaders and others realized that our proximity to Asia would make Alaska a good location for launching our military forces, and create a need for defense here.

According to My Base Guide (http://www.mybaseguide.com/joint_bases/6-1151/joint_base_elmendorf_richardson_history_of_the_military), construction of the Fort Richardson airfield began on June 8, 1940 (Richardson after Wilds P. Richardson, who came to Alaska at the turn of the century to scout locations and survey roads and became the head of the Alaska Roads Commission). The first Army Air Corps personnel arrived in August of that year. On Nov. 12, 1940, the War Department formally designated it Fort Richardson. “The air facilities and flying field on the post were named Elmendorf Field in honor of Capt. Hugh M. Elmendorf, who was killed in 1933 while flight testing an experimental fighter, the Consolidated Y1P-25, near Wright Field, Ohio. Though he apparently had no tangible ties to Alaska, Elmendorf was a contemporary and friend of many of the leading Army Air Forces commanders before the war and would have doubtless figured prominently in the command hierarchy.” 

Fort Richardson was a key base for the Eleventh Air Force, which defended Alaska in the Aleutian Campaign and other important missions during the war. It was also one reason that Anchorage grew from a sleepy little town to a boomtown during the war. Later, Elmendorf Field became Elmendorf Air Force Base. Now the two are combined as JBER, Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson.

The place has personal significance to me, as well. I grew up on Fort Richardson, since my dad was stationed there when I was six, and extended his tour so most of my elementary school years were spent there. Growing up on Fort Rich was like living in a small town, where everyone looked out for each other and there were always kids nearby to play with. Plus, we were in Alaska, so we had the mountains, moose, and all, too. No wonder we stayed!

 

Fort Richardson postcard: By Jim Balog – Scanned from own archive, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22428731

2 Responses

  1. Robyn Echols says:

    My uncle served in Alaska during World War II, probably based here since he was Army. I’m still trying to piece together his story while he was there. Thanks for sharing.

  2. What a cool thing, that you’re preserving his story. Thanks for writing, Robyn.

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