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Posted: Friday, September 29, 2017 12:30 am | Updated: 9:24 am, Fri Sep 29, 2017.

This month, (interrupted by Hurricane Irma ) we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Homestead Air Field / Homestead Air Force Base / Homestead Air Reserve Base and the 70th anniversary of the United States Air Force.

Part Three

   In 1953, Colonel Robert S. Kittel and MSgt William E. Walker were ordered to Homestead to provide liaison for Headquarters Second Air Force. 

   Their job was to represent the Air Force in its initial actions to reactivate this station.  John S. Hassell of the Corps of Engineers was a key player; he received orders to Thule Air Force Base, Greenland, in the middle of the next winter.  Since 1953, 1200 additional acres were added to the World War II base.  The capital investment in the base was to exceed $362,000,000.  This resulted in Homestead Air Force Base becoming one of the most important stations of the Strategic Air Command. 

   In February of 1954, the 4226th Air Base Squadron was formed. This forerunner of the Group officially expired when the Adjutant proclaimed the activation of the various squadrons present at that time.  Two B47 Stratojet bombardment wings were assigned to HAFB both of which were capable of delivering more destructive power in one day than did all the allied air forces in all the years of World War II.  That was 90 nuclear armed medium jet bombers.

   Colonel Kittel announced that he was authorized by General Curtis E. LeMay, commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Air Command, to announce publicly that the 379th Bomb Wing was activated with   Lt. Colonel William W. Hosler, Jr. representing the distinguished 379th bomb group of the Eighth Air Force in Europe. It was programmed to become fully equipped with the A-bomb carrying 6-jet B-47 aircraft by late spring.  The 379th Bomb Wing was activated in May 1943 under the old 4th Bombardment Wing and took part in its first mission over Germany on May 13, 1943.  

   General LeMay also announced that the 19th Bomb Wing, then at Pinecastle Air Force Base, would transfer to Homestead.

When the 19th moved to South Florida, Pinecastle was to revert to a single-wing station and the 813th Air Division would be stationed at Homestead Air Force Base to exercise operational control over this two-wing installation.

   The 19th Bomb Wing was one of the oldest organizations in the U.S. Air Force, having been established in 1927.  It saw its first combat action on December 7, 1941.  After Pearl Harbor the 19th fought the Battle of Bougainville, the Battle of the Coral Sea, and many other actions in the Southwest Pacific Theatre.  After transition from B17 to B29 aircraft, the 19th Bomb Wing delivered the first bombardment against the enemy in the Korean War and remained there for 37 months, taking part in all ten of the Korean campaigns.  This unit earned more battle honors and citations than any other unit in the Second Air Force.

   Walter W. Wyatt who arrived on April 20, 1953 as the general engineer recalled the early days in about 1958:

   "Our office consisted of two rooms in Building T-595, which was in dilapidated but serviceable condition.  The office was in the northeast corner of the building, and in the southwest corner was a very small lunch room operated by a Mrs. Watts.  The Dade County firemen were still on duty, the force consisting of two firemen and one engine capable of fighting brush fires.  Also on the base at that time was a small manufacturing company called Southern Metal Works.  This outfit occupied several buildings in what is now the Installations Engineering office compound and was producing mechanical devices for the Army and Navy.  The firm was owned by Mr. Thomas B. Royal, who first came to this installation in 1942 as a first lieutenant with the Post Engineers.  Mr. Royal and his entire family lived in Building T-514 which during World War II was the nurses' quarters.  Royal was also resident manager of the base for the Dade County Port Authority prior to the Air Force's return."

   Major General Frank Armstrong, Second Air Force Commander, spoke to the Redland District Chamber of Commerce in April 1953 saying:  "We may have B29s here, B50s or B47s.  If it is B47s, let me dispel any fears you may have.  They are not going to shake the limes off your trees, and I don't think they'll keep you awake at night."  He may have come in response to a petition that was circulated by local residents hoping to stop the Air Force from returning to the base.  The undated petition was:

We, the undersigned, petition that the Homestead Army Air Base be withdrawn from consideration as a reactivated air base for the following reasons:

   1.  It is only comparatively recently that the majority of the residents of the Redland District– and even members of the small group of local citizens seeking this reactivation – have known that this Base, upon reactivation, would be used as a Jet Bomber Base, a project to which they are unalterably opposed.

   2.  The hazards of such a Base located in a growing community are self-evident, and too numerous to be recounted on this petition.

  3. Those of our citizens who sought this reactivation at no time realized that such a hazardous installation would be proposed for this area, and the majority of residents in this area are definitely convinced that a jet installation of such magnitude at Homestead Air Field is against the best interests of this district and of the United States.

  4. The location of this Base is strategically incorrect in that it is vulnerable to attack from the Atlantic Ocean and from the Gulf of Mexico.

  5. The advance in military aviation makes the existing installations at the Homestead Air Base inadequate and necessitates an unwarranted expenditure in removing almost all existing facilities including runway surfaces before real progress in building a modern USAF Base is possible.

   6. Other sites are available in Florida to which the disadvantages of Items 2, 4, and 5 do not apply.

   7. This reactivation will progressively curtail the agricultural production of this district, a production which in itself is an important factor in National Defense.

  8. This reactivation will preclude the establishment of the Inter-American Cultural Trade Center in what is preeminently its proper location.  This Center, in developing hemispheric understanding and cooperation, has all the potentialities of being a much greater factor in our National Security than any military base that can be built."  The signatories will not be disclosed.

   The additionally needed 1200 acres of land were acquired in 1954 to double the base size.  It took almost a year to solve the land acquisition problem which was created when Congress could not reconcile the Dade Co. Tax Assessor's valuation of $100 per acre, when in some years $1,000 per year in crops had been realized.  The land was partially underwater and in weeds and looked to the visiting officers to be of little or no value.  The House of Representatives Appropriation Committee   Subcommittee on Civil Functions and Military Construction came to Homestead and finally solved the problem.  Base acreage increased from 2,400 to 3,800 in 1959.

   The year 1954 was devoted to construction and repair of facilities. There were 197 buildings on base - 96 had to be torn down and 51 were scheduled for rehabilitation.   The first SAC unit, the 4226th Air Base Squadron, was activated here in February 8, 1955 under the command of now Col. Robert S. Kittel with only one other permanently assigned person, MSgt. William E. Walker.   Until July of 1955 the base was assigned to MacDill AFB as a sub-base for administrative and logistical support.  On July 8, 1955 the base was attached to the 813th Air Division at Pinecastle AFB, Florida.  The 813th would later transfer to Homestead and become the 823rd Air Division.

   The 379th Bomb Wing (Medium) was activated on November 1, 1955 as the base's first tactical unit.  Commanded by Col. Travis M. Hetherington, the 379th was composed of:

- Headquarters Squadron

- 524th, 525th, 526th Bombardment Squadrons (Medium)

- 379th Armament & electronics Maintenance Squadron, Field Maintenance Squadron,

Periodic Maintenance Squadron, Tactical Hospital

   The 379th became the senior unit on the base and the 4226th Air Base Squadron was re-designated the 379th Air Base Group and assigned to the wing.  Col. Twitty remained in command of the air base group, which was composed of: 

- Headquarters Squadron, - 379th Air Base Group, Air Police Squadron,

Food Service Squadron,

Installations Squadron,

Motor Vehicle Squadron,

Operations Squadron,

Supply Squadron.

- 19th Air Refueling Squadron (temporarily attached).

  The 4226th U.S. Air Force Infirmary (later Dispensary) was activated under the command of    Col. John A. Schindler.

   The first aircraft, a C45, was assigned on January 26, 1956.  Later a B25 served as the base utility aircraft.




Those were the headlines of December 2, 1954 regarding the status of the reactivated base.  Plans were for the base to be a permanent two-wing, medium bomber base costing between $50 and $60 million dollars.  Base Commander Col. Robert S. Kittel felt both the base and local economies would benefit, as housing would have to be built for the influx of military personnel and families.  A survey of private builders housing was to be taken to determine the private housing available so it could be determined how much government financed housing was needed under the Wherry Act.  (Housing by the West Gate was built as a result of this new designation and upgraded mission). Col. Kittel estimated that at least 2000 rental units would be needed in the local area.  The Air Force had 700 units in a request before Congress.  Private housing was priced as follows in 1954: four-bedroom house, $105; two-bedroom home, $55.  The base was projected to be fully operational in 1956. Troop strength was expected to increase beginning in the summer of 1955 and continue to grow for the next 18 months. The first families began moving into the Wherry Housing by the West Gate in the fall of 1958.

   Col. Twitty, base commander, met with Homestead residents in January of 1956 to dispel the concern over the noise generated by the B47's.  Residents were surprised to learn from Col. Twitty that B47's had been flying in and out of Homestead for about a week and no one had noticed the noise. He said the northeast-southwest orientation of the runway and a right-hand traffic pattern diverted aircraft away from developed areas.

   The 19th Air Refueling Squadron was activated in February 1956 and tapped to become a part of the 379th Bombardment Wing at Homestead, which it did on July 1, 1956 when its parent organization, the 19th Bomb Wing moved to Homestead.    Lt. Col. William E. Smith from the 10th Air Refueling Squadron at Robins AFB, Ga. was assigned as the commander of the 19th ARS.  The 19th flew the KC97, SAC's mobile gas station, in support of medium and heavy bomber units.  The KC97 Stratofreighter used major sections of the B29 including the B29 wings.  96 troops or 69 stretcher patients could be carried.

   The 19th Bombardment Wing, located at Pinecastle AFB near Orlando, relocated to Homestead AFB on July 1, 1956 with its B47s shortly after just having settled in at Pinecastle. The outfit saw three years of action during the Korean Conflict, flying B29s.  In June of 1950 it delivered the first B-29 blow of the Korean War. The 19th Bombardment Wing (Medium) was commanded by Col. Virgil M. Cloyd.  The 19th was the one of the Air Force's oldest units, dating back to WWI and was the Air Force's most distinguished unit with nine Distinguished Unit Citations.  It served in every major conflict from WWI through the Korean War.  It was composed of: - 19th, 28th, 30th, 93rd Bombardment Squadrons (Medium)

- 19th Armament & Electronics Maintenance Squadron, Field Maintenance Squadron,

Periodic Maintenance Squadron, and Tactical Hospital

The B47 six-engine medium jet bomber could fly faster than early jet fighters.  Three plants turned out B47s to meet an Air Force order for 2,289 B47s.  The B47 first became operational with the 306th Bombardment Wing at Mac Dill AFB on October 23, 1951.  B47s pioneered inflight refueling.  The use of RATO – rocket assisted take off – made for some spectacular short runway takeoffs.  At one time the Air Force had 28 wings of 90 B47 bombers each.  At about the same time, it had 16 wings of F100 Super Sabre fighters.

   19th Wing commanders were: on arrival, Col. Virgil M. Cloyd; January 1958, Col. John W. Livingston; March 1958 Col. James H. Thompson; May 1960 Col. Roland Bergamyer; June 1961, Col. Richard W. Steward; and December 1963, Col. Edward D. Edwards.

   With the arrival of the 19th Bombardment Wing, the 19th Air Refueling Squadron was detached from its temporary assignment to the 379th Wing and joined the 19th Wing.

   The 823rd Air Division was activated at Homestead under the command of Brigadier General Keith K. Compton; it was formerly the 813th Air Division when it was at Pinecastle.  With the activation of the 823rd, the 379th Bombardment Wing ceased to be the senior unit at Homestead so the 379th Air Base Group was re-designated the 823rd Air Base Group and reassigned to the 823rd Air Division.  The mission of the 823rd was to monitor and coordinate the manning, training, equipping and operational readiness of the two wings assigned to it, specifically for conducting strategic air warfare on a global scale.

    A Redland District Chamber of Commerce brochure published in 1956 gave an outstanding detailed account of the economic and social impact of the newly activated Homestead Air Force Base. 

   "By the fall of 1956, Homestead Air Force Base, now reactivated by the Strategic Air Command, will have a personnel strength of 7,000 to 7,500 with an annual monthly payroll of some two million dollars.’

   The big new SAC base represents, according to official estimates, capital investment in land, buildings, equipment, aircraft and personnel of a staggering $362,000,000.  As division headquarters for the 823rd Air Division under Brig. Gen. K.K. Compton, the installation is home base for two medium bomber wings, the 19th and the 379th, each equipped with 45 B47 Stratojets.

   What does such a 'little city' and such a huge investment mean to a community like the Redland District?  Jerry Greene, in the March 1955 issue of Pegasus, uses official Air Force statistics to draw a graphic picture of the spending potentiality of a typical bomber wing.  He refers to it as a "ten million dollar family."

   The 'little cities', says Author Greene, 'are here to stay and they are full of very nice families...the whoosh of jet engines...is entwined with the chuckle of the rent collector, the soft hum of new refrigerators, the whir of gas pumps at the filling station, and the happy tinkle of cash registers.'

   Heading the author's list of yearly expenditures for his 'ten million dollar family' is $1,925,000 for food.  One B47 wing, it is estimated, will spend $324,470 each year for new and used cars, $229,500 at local gas stations, $80,750 for tires and tubes, and $68,850 for repairs and greasing.

   Landlords and builders can figure on annual outlays of $760,350 in rent and mortgage payments for one B47 wing.  The families of one wing average about $125,500 for new furniture and $86,950 for TV and radio sets, and so on down a long list of human needs and luxuries.

  Such figures, however, do not tell all the story of the Air Force little cities.  Officials at the Homestead base emphasize—and the community's experience thus far proves that today's airman is a family man, vitally interested in the community where his career has placed him, the community which is his home.  More often than not, he and his family join a local church.  They are interested in local politics and community problems.  They are ready to work for better schools and better roads, along with other local residents.

   Of the 7,000 men stationed at Homestead Air Force Base it is estimated that over 85 per cent will be married and their families will live in the Homestead area as soon as there are houses enough to meet the big increase in population.  Meantime, the influx of Air Force men and Air Force families is adding a bright new flavor to the Redland District."

   Homestead Air Force Base was reopened officially on June 23, 1956 with a dedication ceremony and an air show featuring the finest aircraft of the Strategic Air Command.  Brig. Gen. Keith K. Compton, Commanding General of Homestead's 823rd Division, introduced U.S. Senator Spessard Holland, U.S. Representative Dante Fascell, Major General Francis H. Griswold (Vice Commander of SAC) and Maj. Gen. Frank A. Armstrong (Second Air Force Commander).  In his remarks, Representative Fascell stated that the dedication of HAFB was a tribute to the memory of the late former Congressman, J. Mark Wilcox who many years earlier had envisioned the need for a string of strategic air bases around the United States. An estimated 40,000 people toured various aircraft static displays including a KC97 tanker, a B47 Stratojet and the giant B36 intercontinental bomber.  Four F84s passed over the crowd and then showed what they could do.  Other air power demonstrations included B47's in refueling, a V formation of three B36's and a B47 in a maximum performance take-off.  

  The 379th Wing attained combat-ready status on November 15, 1956 three and one half months after the arrival of the 19th Wing and Homestead Air Force Base became a full-strength SAC base with two combat-ready wings at that time.


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