Thursday, March 20, 2014

Dale Mabry Airfield Project Paper #6

Until I began researching Dale Mabry Field, I wasn’t aware that every day as I walked to class I was walking by a piece of World War II history. 

In 1928, the city of Tallahassee, FL purchased a 200-acre plot of land for $7,075. That land would be used to build Tallahassee’s first municipal airport. The airport was named in honor of Army Air Service Captain and Tallahassee native Dale Mabry who was killed in 1922 when the airship he was piloting, Roma, crashed in Norfolk, VA. From it’s opening in 1929 until 1938, the airfield was used primarily to give flight lessons by it’s manager Ivan Munroe. In 1938, Eastern Airlines became the first to offer commercial service flying four times daily to Memphis, Birmingham, and Montgomery. National Airlines followed suit later that year flying to Jacksonville, Pensacola, Mobile, and New Orleans. The historic value of Dale Mabry Field came with the United States’ entry into World War II.

Around 1940-1941 as war tensions in Europe rose, U.S. Senator Claude Pepper and Florida Governor Spessard Holland tried heavily to persuade Dale Mabry Field to join the military effort. On January 24, 1941 they were successful and Dale Mabry Field officially became a U.S. Army Base. In May of 1941 troops and aircraft arrived at the base including P-47 Thunderbolts , P-39 Airacobras, and P-40 Warhawks. The United States had not yet entered the war. On December 8th, 1941 the U.S.officially entered the war after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. During World War II the base served as training grounds for over 8,000 American, French and Chinese troops. In 1942, the 99th Fighter Squadron, also known as the Tuskegee Airmen, trained at the base. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African Americans to fly and carried out critical missions during World War II. They were notorious for “fighting enemies abroad, and fighting racism at home.” The Tuskegee Airmen played a prominent role in the battle for civil rights and their accomplishments for black pilots can be compared to what Jackie Robinson did for baseball. The P-51 Mustang would also be used by the Tuskegee Airmen and based at Dale Mabry Field later in the war around 1944.

After the War had come to an end in 1945 the base was no longer active. Veterans who returned home and pursued an education at the University Of Florida via their G.I. Bill were told there was no more room. Instead, they attended the Florida State College for Women and stayed in the military barracks at Dale Mabry Field. The Florida State College for Women was later made coeducational and is now present day Florida State University. Dale Mabry Field is now the location of Tallahassee Community College.

 The next time I walk or drive down Appleyard Drive, I know I’ll be doing so on what was once a runway at Dale Mabry Field; a piece of World War II history.