James Connally Air Force Base

With the possible entrance into World War II on the horizon, McLennan County officials and local city leaders lobbied the federal government to build a military installation in the Waco area. By August 14, 1941, officials learned about the construction of a military base seven miles north of Waco. From the 1940s onward, James Connally Air Force Base was used for multiple purposes and underwent several name changes. Throughout its use, thousands of airmen learned basic training and pilot skills there. Today, the former James Connally Air Force Base is the location of Texas State Technical College.

After receiving news of the commission of a military base, the county acquired 1,162 acres for the construction of Waco Army Air Field. The attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 sped up the construction of the base, and Waco Army Air Field welcomed its first basic training pilots in the spring of 1942. Citizens of Waco accepted the establishment of the base with high hopes for the future and welcomed the soldiers to the community. During World War II the air base trained 236 soldiers in basic military skills and tactical flying. After the conclusion of conflict, the facility remained inactive for three years.

After the establishment of the United States Air Force in 1947, the military base reopened as Waco Air Force Base in 1948. Waco Air Force Base acquired a new training mission in response to the international tensions building during the Cold War. A year later, the base changed its name once more to Connally Air Force Base, and then was finalized as the James Connally Air Force Base in 1950 in memory of James T. Connally. Connally was a Waco native killed during a bomb raid in World War II over Japan when his aircraft was hit by artillery and exploded.

Throughout the 1950s, the focus of training taught at James Connally Air Force Base changed frequently. The facility trained soldiers in helicopter and liaison piloting that was soon replaced with navigation, radar observation, and bombardier training. Later, training of single-engine pilots began. In 1958, the United States Air Force Instrument Pilot Instructor School moved to James Connally for three years with a mission to train air force students from many different countries. During this time, James Connally took pride in its active force of Mitchel B-25s that helped to train radar intercept officers.

Along with long hours of training, soldiers called Connally home. Men and women from every state as well as around the world lived, socialized, and carried out their daily routine on the base. Equipped with classrooms for high school and college education courses, residents could fulfill their academic needs. Men and their families lived in housing on or off the base, used on-base facilities such as the cafeteria and dining halls, commissary, laundromat, barbershops and salon, and more. Residents received news through a weekly published newspaper, and had access to clinics and hospitals for any health-related needs. For leisure, residents enjoyed locations such as the library, snack bar, malt bar, and theater, as well as recreational activities that included baseball, bowling, swimming, and more. Children of soldiers attended Teen Town, a Saturday night chaperoned event, and wives of soldiers formed the Air Force Wives Club to get acquainted with one another and the community.

In 1965, to meet the state of Texas’ workforce needs, the James Connally Technical Institute was founded on the base through Texas A&M University. Soon after the establishment of the technical institute, students of navigation training moved to Sacramento, California, and the state purchased the base for $5.2 million and the technical institute thrived. In 1969, the school separated from Texas A&M University and changed its name to Texas State Technical Institute, and finally named Texas State Technical College in 1991.

Through its years of operation, the James Connally Air Force Base served as a setting for the training of thousands of soldiers, as well as a place where citizens worked and families mingled. The base made a great impact on the training of military soldiers and the Central Texas economy, and classes are continued today under the operation of Texas State Technical College.

Images

Flying High (c. 1940)

Flying High (c. 1940)

Students who underwent training during World War II flew a collective 750,000 miles and filled up twenty-nine classes of cadets. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Recreation Facilities (1949)

Recreation Facilities (1949)

The air force base provided many facilities for residents that came at no expense to tax payers. Even though the base was a nonprofit institution, operational funds for facilities such as recreation centers came from the sale of items like cigarettes and candy, as well as from club dues. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Work-Oriented Community (c. 1940)

Work-Oriented Community (c. 1940)

The James Connally Air Force Base was a community of soldiers, wives, children, and many Wacoans who worked various jobs all over the base. Wacoans worked to keep facilities such as the nursery and recreational center operating for residents. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Tools of the Trade (c. 1940)

Tools of the Trade (c. 1940)

James Connally Air Force Base housed various types of air force training. The air force base provided soldiers with courses to learn many skills such as how to perform maintenance on aircrafts. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Audio

Long Missions

John Morris Hawes Jr. tells of how many hours pilots spent on flying missions. | Source: Hawes Jr., John Morris, interviewed by Lois E. Myers, April 23, 2013 in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX.View the full interview View File Details Page

Commencement Speaker

Henry Jackson Flanders Jr. describes his experience as a commencement speaker at James Connally Air Force Base in 1963. | Source: Fladers Jr., Henry Jackson, interviewed by David Bruce Strickland, March 21, 1989, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX.View the full interview View File Details Page

Cleanup After the Tornado

Mary Ellen Bullock speaks of her husband who was recruited from James Connally Air Force Base to help clean up after the tornado of 1953. | Source: Bullock, Mary Ellen Nix, interviewed by Lois E. Myers, February 15, 1996, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX.View the full interview View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Sarah Miller, “James Connally Air Force Base,” Waco History, accessed May 23, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/167.

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