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.
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.
Political and military leaders recommended building bases in Alaska for several years
prior to World War II. Ladd Field was intended originally as a bulwark against growing
Axis ambitions in the Pacific region. Finally, in 1939, with war threatened, Congress
granted $4 million to construct an Army Air Corps cold weather experimental station at
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
The Air Corps bought two homesteads near Fairbanks for a building site. Construction
began in the summer of 1939. Little was known then about building on permafrost, so
problems quickly became evident.
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
The Air Corps Arrives
The first Air Corps detachment assigned to Alaska arrived in Fairbanks in April 1940.
Another 118 soldiers joined them in October. They were housed in temporary shelters until
the permanent barracks could be constructed.
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
With the outbreak of war with Japan in late 1941, Ladd Field became more than a cold
weather test station; it became a critical link in the Alaska-Siberia Lend Lease route.
The Lend Lease Program enabled the Russians to pick up a plane from the United States for
their continued flight to the East. Ladd became the turn-over point for large numbers of
aircraft and pilots who made the arduous trip from Montana, through the Northwest
Territories and into the Interior.
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.
After the war cold weather testing resumed. During the war, in 1944, the U.S. first
prototype jet was sent to Ladd for testing.
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).
In 1960 it was announced that the installation would go back to the Army. In 1961
Wilber M. Brucker, then Secretary of the Army, dedicated the post as Fort Jonathan M.
Wainwright (in honor of a World War II hero of Bataan [Corregidor]).
Field is listed in the Register of National Historic Landmarks.
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
In 1996, Fort Wainwright was honored with the Green Star Award for
environmental stewardship in the Fairbanks area.
Today there are nearly 4,600 soldiers and 6,100 family members who call Fort
Wainwright home. The major unit at Fort Wainwright now is the 1st Brigade, 6th Infantry
Division (Light). There are many other subordinate commands, and the Arctic Support
Brigade, headquartered at Fort Richardson, also has units at Fort Wainwright. They have
their own web page.
They also give tours - even in winter. Our latest information (Dec. 2011)
was that email requests could be sent to
Pao.email@example.com- Public Affairs Officer .
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.
A reader sent this information on Clear.
"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
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