Air Force birthday transforms Keesler

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Stephan Coleman
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Knowing the past lends understanding to the present and insight into the future.
Statecraft is the construction of a governing body.

Keesler in particular has a lengthy and diverse history, being established as a military base before the birth of the U.S. Air Force. The transition from Keesler Field to Keesler Air Force Base may offer perspective to today's own sea of change.

With the passage of the National Security Act of July 1947, signed into action by President Harry S. Truman, the Army Air Forces was replaced by the Department of the United States Air Force. This placed our great Air Force on the same tier as the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy.

The official date of the Air Force birthday is Sept. 18, 1947, and Keesler was due for much administrative reconstruction.

No immediate change happened at Keesler. It was a steady transition over the course of nearly two years. Every function of the base, all personnel, property, funds and records, etc., had to be transferred from one branch to an all new one.
First, a simple change: proper designation.

All references to "Army" were eliminated. By Oct. 1, 1947, Keesler became the 3704th AF Base Unit instead of the 3704th AAF Base Unit.

One letter. One word, really, and it had to be accomplished while the base continued its primary mission. Keesler's mission, which did not change and has not changed, was technical training.

Training required much reorganization to continue into the next year. A significant change was the transfer of the Radar School from the 3501st AF Base Unit in Boca Raton to Keesler, announced Nov. 14, 1947, and had an effective transfer date of Dec. 15, 1947.

The process was troubled many times by tropical storms. But once the transfer was complete, Keesler became home to the two largest military technical training schools in the United States, the second school being Airplane and Engine Mechanic Training.

Changes to permanent personnel were swift. The Department of the Army issued transfer orders Nov. 12, 1947, to those military members who would become Airmen. But the transfer of manning wasn't 100 percent, Keesler lost 200 officers and approximately 800 enlisted personnel. These manning changes had to be in effect by Dec. 31, 1947.

To give more scale to the changes Keesler faced, and the urgency of deadlines for those changes, it is important to note that Keesler, at the end of December 1947, was made up of 9 groups, containing 32 squadrons.

With the new year came several more transitional periods as Keesler embraced its Air Force status.

Jan. 13, 1948, Keesler Field was officially renamed Keesler Air Force Base; the administrations of the Radar School and A&E Mechanic Training School were set to merge; and Brig. Gen. Edward Anderson, the commanding general of the base through these historic changes, was given transfer orders.

In a Keesler News article from Mar. 11, 1948, it was noted that Gen. Anderson, "had shown a profound interest in the well-being of the men under his command. As a prominent member of Biloxi society he had also done much to foster good soldier-civilian relations."

Gen. Anderson was the sixth commander of the base and he was only the second general officer to command the station. The Biloxi chamber of commerce hosted the send-off for the commander, which speaks to the cooperative nature Biloxi and Keesler had, and has seemed to always have had.

The city of Biloxi is in fact why Keesler exists in the first place.

A quick flashback: In 1941, city officials formally offered land to the U.S. Army Corps for construction of a base to support the WWII training buildup. Keesler offered basic military training and specialized flying training until 1946.

By 1949, the Air Training Command decided that Keesler's focus efforts on teaching radar, radio, and electronics maintenance and repair. The A&E Mechanics Training was relocated and more training was eventually transferred to Keesler including air traffic service, aircraft approach control, ground radar and the Radio Operations School from Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.

The years of transformation, especially those instigated by the birth of the U.S. Air Force, have formed the Keesler we know today.

(This article was completed with the assistance of Ken Dodd, 81st Training Wing historian)