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.