Thursday, January 24, 2013

A History of George Field Part 1

The Lawrence County Historical Society erected and dedicated a marker commemorating George Field Army Air Training Center on November 4, 1984.  Dr. Isaac K. Beckes,  President Emeritus, of Vincennes University gave the Invocation, and Dr. June Dollahan, then the President of the Society gave the welcome and introduced the guests.  Mr. Stoy Fox,  Mayor of Lawrenceville from 1945-1949,  gave the dedication speech and presented the Memorial.  Comments were made by Gerald Harper, then the Mayor of Lawrenceville, William Rose, Mayor of Vincennes and Mr. Jim Elliott, Manager of the Mid-America Air Center.  The Benediction was given by Rev. Philip R. Richardson of the First United Methodist Church of Lawrenceville. The following is from the insert in the Program presented to guests on that day. 

A History of  George Field

World War II had progressed into 1942 when the training of pilots was to become part of Lawrence County, Illinois’ history.  Early in the year Army personnel were known to have inspected and become interested in Allison Prairie in the East section of the County. This location was selected, according to a history of George Field for the varied weather conditions prevailing in this section of the country – long clear days interspersed with days and weeks of snow, rain and fog which afford the variety of flying conditions needed to prepare pilots for combat. The official selection, finalized on April 16, 1942, was publicly announced the next day.

Over 3,000 acres were eventually approved and purchased for a training field. (The land was appraised at the rate of $94.50 per acre for improved land, and $71 for unimproved land.)  Farm houses and buildings, roads, a church, and a settlement at Centerville were all removed; trees and foundations were dynamited, fence rows  bulldozed, and the land leveled in order to construct runways, housing, and other buildings. This post became the first training field of the Southeast Air Corps Training Center north of the Mason – Dixon – Ohio line.

By June 17, 1942, grading was underway; concrete runways and aprons were laid; housing and offices were being built; and a spur to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had been built into the Field. On August 10, 1942, at 8:30 AM, Col. George W. Mundy took command of George Field; and it was officially dedicated on October 16, 1942. The first contingent of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps arrived at the field by special cars on the spur of the B & O railroad in May of 1943. By that time several classes of pilots had been trained and graduated. The sky was their highway and that highway led to overseas assignments.

The name of the field was a matter of much interest. This training school was first referred to as “Lawrence Army Flying School” by Congressman Laurence Arnold. Shortly thereafter Col. George W. Mundy, the commanding officer, released the following information: “The airfield 5 miles east of Lawrenceville, Illinois is now designated George Field in honor of the late Harold H. George.”  General George, born in New York, September 14, 1892, had been killed in Australia when a pursuit plane crashed into the plane he was boarding. (It had been the policy to name airfields for deceased flying officers of the regular Army reserve corps.)   Part II --continued tomorrow Jan 25, 2013