Even today, you may still hear some sourdoughs (old time Alaskans) refer to the Ft.Wainwright Army Post as Ladd Field or Ladd Air Force Base.
From a small cold-weather test station, to a 50-man detachment in the 1940's, to one of the Army's largest training areas, Fort Wainwright has come a long way.
The new base was called Ladd Field, in honor of Maj. Arthur K. Ladd, an Air Corps pilot killed in a plane crash in South Carolina in 1935.
Building the Test
In addition to the airstrip, housing and office space, workers also had to build a rail spur into Fairbanks to transport equipment and supplies. The railroad was built first. Dynamite was used to blast out huge chunks of permafrost which were pushed into a big pile to build the road bed on. When spring came, the permafrost had melted, and the rails were twisted in all directions.
But the men learned from the experience. Repairs were made and they took the advice of old miners in the area, thawing the permafrost using steam before building the airfield.
The Air Corps Arrives
The men stationed here tested clothing and equipment during the bitter cold winters until World War II. (Example; would all the rivets on a plane pop out if it was brought in to a warm hanger from a temperature of 40 below?).
A New Purpose
In August and September of 1942, the first Soviet pilots and civilians of the Soviet Purchasing Commission arrived in Fairbanks and were housed at Ladd Field. They were checked out in aircraft ranging from P-39 Air Cobras to B-25 Mitchell bombers, before they were transferred to them. The Russians then flew the aircraft to Siberia via Galena and Nome where they were eventually used in the Soviet war effort against Germany. The first lend-lease flight took place Sept. 3, 1942, and the last in September 1945. In all, American crews delivered almost 8,000 aircraft to Soviet aircrews for their war effort.
In 1947, Alaska became home to the first U.S. unified command when the Joint Chiefs of Staff established the Alaskan Command. This opened the way for the Army, Navy and Air Force elements in Alaska to work together, although each branch reported to its respective headquarters in Washington, D.C. Even though ALCOM was in overall control, Army elements also fell under a subordinate command, U.S. Army Alaska.
With the reorganization of the War Department into the Defense Department, Ladd Field became Ladd Air Force Base.
By the 1950s, military personnel in Alaska were engaged in a peacetime training routine with troops from all over the Lower 48 and Canada. The troops participated in large-scale winter exercises, while at the same time guarding against the Cold War threat of Soviet aggression. The terrain, climate, and over 870,000 acres of available training land make it an ideal location for conducting training from the squad through joint task force level.
There were still Army troops at the base. In 1955 the Yukon Command was born, and given responsibility for Army troops at Ladd and at nearby Eielson AFB.
The 9th Infantry returned to Alaska in 1956, charged with the mission of defense of the Fairbanks area. (Incidentally, it was an element of the 9th Infantry that raised the first American flag over Alaskan soil on the transfer of the territory from Russia to the U.S. in 1867).
Since then Fort Wainwright has been home to several units. In 1967 Fort Wainwright soldiers aided the community with manpower and equipment to help evacuate their civilian neighbors during the Chena River flood. They, with their families, have volunteered their services and skills at churches, schools and civic organizations. They have worked side-by-side with the people of Fairbanks to solve problems and to celebrate good times.
In 1996, Fort Wainwright was honored with the Green Star Award for environmental stewardship in the Fairbanks area.
Wainwright AAF (Army Air Field) is home to the 4th/123rd Aviation Regiment, 23rd Aviation Intermediate Maintenance, 283rd Medical Detachment, Detachment 1, Company A, 1st/207th Aviation Regiment, and 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron Weather.
Fort Wainwright is home to Medical Activity-Alaska and Dental Activity-Alaska and to Bassett Army Community Hospital, named for Captain John Bassett, a doctor killed while trying to evacuate wounded soldiers during the Battle of Attu during World War II. The Bureau of Land Management is now a major user of Wainwright AAF, with the stationing of the Alaska Fire Service and the Alaska Smoke Jumpers on the airfield.
"I was there in 1950 when the Korean war started. It was then the AC&W center for Alaska. A bunch of us were sent to Clear with a radar set to monitor Russian flights. At Clear was a railroad siding, a gravel runway and tarpaper covered buildings where we spent frigid hours tracking radar blips. The story was that the facility was built for the Russian ferry pilots to keep them out of Fairbanks. The Clear facility was rebuilt into the present Clear AFB and and the railroad was relocated to accommodate the expansion." Ted Schmelzer, USAF 1949-1955