Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas
Origin of current name: Named in honor of Capt John August Earl Bergstrom (1907-1941). An administrative officer killed on December 8th 1941 during a Japanese bombing attack on Clark Field in the Philippines, Captain Bergstrom became the first native of Austin, TX, to die in World War II.
Date current name was assigned to base: June 24, 1948
Previous Names: Del Valle Airfield (aka Del Valle Army Air Base; Del Valle Field), September 19th 1942; Bergstrom Army Airfield, March 3rd 1943; Bergstrom Field, November 11th 1943.
Date Established: September 19, 1942
Date Occupied: August 27, 1942
Construction Began: May 23, 1942
Changes in Capability: Two additional runways completed April 15th 1944; though Bergstrom was established to provide photographic and observation training, it was used primarily as a troop carrier base during World War II and for several years after; some of its units participated in the Berlin Airlift, 1948-1949; facilities adapted to accommodate F-84s equipped for in-flight refueling September 1951; new runway with blast pads and a jet refueling system completed October 1958; operations shifted to B-52s and KC-135s upon return to SAC 1958-1966; after assignment to TAC, new Twelfth AF headquarters facilities occupied November 1968; a new control tower opened July 17th 1973; major warehouse modifications December 1981; rocket checkout and assembly and F-4C and RF-4C aircraft support and maintenance facilities, aircraft maintenance dock, and flight simulator added and major taxiway and apron repair projects were scheduled for late 1982.
Changes in Status: Subbase of De Ridder AAB, LA, September 12th 1942-1945.
World War II: From Austin soil grows a new Army airfield
Eight days before the Imperial Japanese Navy attacks Pearl Harbor, U.S. Army officers visit Austin, indicating to the chamber of Commerce and the City their interest in establishing an air base. They choose a 3,000-acre site in Del Valle. City bonds buy the site, activated as Del Valle Army Air Base, September 19, 1942, and "loan" it to the U.S. government with a tacit agreement that the property would revert to Austin when the U. S. government abandoned it.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is accompanied December 8th by an attack on the U.S. base at Clark Field, the Philippines. Captain John August Earl Bergstrom, 34, a reservist serving as an administrative officer in the 19th Bombardment Group, is killed in the attack. Captain Bergstrom, born on August 25, 1907, a graduate of Texas A&M, is the first Austinite killed in the war. Urged by Captain Bergstrom's former employer, the Austin National Bank, Congressman Lyndon B. Johnson prevails on the U.S. Army Air Force to rename the air base after Austin's fallen son. On March 3, 1943, it becomes Bergstrom Army Air Field.
Throughout World War II, troop carrier units of I Troop Carrier Command, flying invasion gliders and the twin-engine Douglas C-47, train at the airfield, renamed Bergstrom Field in November 1943. Among the troops who support their training are members of the Woman's Army Air Corps. The WAACs perform administrative duties, including service in the airfield control tower. In June 1944, Bergstrom-trained crews fly in the D-Day invasion of Normandy. They participate that August in Operation Anvil-Dragoon, the invasion of southern France, and in the September invasion of Holland, Operation Market-Garden. In March 1945, they pierce the German frontier, dropping troops in Operation Varsity.
Ninth Troop Carrier Command replaces I Troop Carrier Command in November 1945. In March 1946, the base is assigned to the Tactical Air Command's 9th Air Force. With the establishment of a separate air force, the base is renamed Bergstrom Air Force Base in 1948. That year control of the base passes from Tactical Air Command to Continental Air Command.
With Europe still in rubble, the Soviet Union moves to seize Berlin in June 1948, closing all ground access to the city. Berlin, occupied by American, British, French, and Soviet forces, will be lost to the Allies unless access is regained - a ground thrust through Soviet-occupied Germany is proposed, but risks could mean renewed war. An airlift of unprecedented proportions is possible, but it too is risky: Will the Soviets fire on Allied airplanes? Will they yield to an airlift unsupported by ground forces? Named Operation Vittles, the airlift is launched in June 26, 1948. Bergstrom AFB units flying this "Berlin Airlift" help deliver up to 7,900 tons of food and supplies to Berliners each day. In June 1949 the Soviets permit access. The blockade ends. In 1949, Bergstrom AFB is transferred to Strategic Air Command, charged with the defense of continental U.S. and the projection of American air power in its most potent form - the delivery of nuclear weapons. Bergstrom pilots fly the F-51 "Mustang" and F-82 "Twin Mustang."
1950 - 1959
The Korean War, the jet age, and command changes
In June 1950, North Korean troops attack and nearly overwhelm U.S. and South Korean ground forces. Bergstrom deploys its 27th Fighter Wing. By December, newly acquired Bergstrom F-84E fighters dogfight Soviet-built MiG-15s over North and South Korea. In more than 18 months of aerial combat, the Austinites fly 13,110 sorties.
The days of SAC fighters at Bergstrom are limited. Designed to protect the slower, propeller-driven B-29 and B-36 bombers, the F-84Es can barely keep up with the newer jet-engined B-47 and B-52.
In 1957, Bergstrom AFB is briefly assigned to Tactical Air Command. Its F-84Fs are replaced by F-101 "Voodoo" fighters. That year, a Bergstrom Voodoo sets a world record, flying at 1,212.8 mph over the Mojave Desert. Bergstrom returns to SAC in 1958, its fighters replaced by B-52 "Stratofortress" bombers, equipped to carry nuclear weapons. The B-52s are accompanied by KC-135 "Stratotanker" aerial refuelers. These flying gas stations are military versions of the new Boeing 707 airliner, adapted to refuel the eight-engine bombers on their transcontinental missions.
1960 - 1969
Simmering cold war and combat in Southeast Asia
The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 brings the Cold War to a simmer. Bergstrom AFB, considered a prime target, goes on alert. With President John F. Kennedy's assassination, Lyndon Johnson becomes commander in chief. Throughout his presidency, LBJ frequently visits his Johnson City ranch from the White House, landing at an ever-verdant Bergstrom (before his visits, base personnel paint green all dead grass visible from the runway and Presidential Boulevard, leading off the base).
In 1965, with the Department of Defense trimming its budget, Bergstrom narrowly escapes closure. It loses its B-52s and in 1966 returns to Tactical Air Command, where it remains until 1992. Twelfth Air Force RF-4C aircraft, tactical reconnaissance versions of the "Phantom" fighter, now make Bergstrom home.
By 1967, Bergstrom RF-4C reconnaissance jets assigned to the 75th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing are in combat over Vietnam, having departed from Bergstrom in November. One squadron of the 75th TRW is the last U.S. reconnaissance unit to leave Vietnam, in 1971.
Bergstrom's unique, circular building is completed in August 1968. Called "The Roundagon" and "The Doughnut," the building not only becomes home to Headquarters 12th Air Force, but attracts colonies of Mexican Freetail bats which frustrate all efforts by base engineers to discourage them by plugging every hole and crevice. By 1969, construction is underway on a 55-bed hospital to augment the original WWII facility.
1970 - 1979
Austin grows; Bergstrom adapts
During the 1970s, Austin continues to grow, and new housing encroaches on the end of the runways. Noise becomes a problem as does safety. Flight paths from Bergstrom and Robert Mueller Airport converge. In an informal agreement between the Air Force and the FAA, departing aircraft bank sharply left before reaching the Colorado River, avoiding collisions.
Combining Bergstrom and Austin's municipal airport for joint use is considered but rejected by the Air Force in 1978. The City of Austin decides to improve its existing municipal airport and studies a move to Manor, Texas. In 1976, two Air Force Reserve units, Central Air Force Region Headquarters (later redesignated 10th Air Force) and 924th Tactical Airlift Group (later redesignated Tactical Fighter Group) move to Bergstrom from Houston's Ellington AFB.
1980 - 1989
War in the Caribbean, and drug surveillance at home
In 1981, NASA lands the space shuttle Columbia on its Boeing 747 carrier, enroute from Edwards AFB, California, to the Kennedy launch facility in Florida. In 1985, the shuttle Discovery and its carrier pass through as well.
The City of Austin Aviation Department proposes a new runway west of Highway 183 as the best alternative for its municipal airport in 1981. Dubbed "Bergstrom West," it falls victim to conflicts over joint-use control between the City and the Air Force, and fails to win City approval. The following year, Bergstrom is recognized as the "home of U.S. Air Force tactical reconnaissance training." Sunday sorties are cancelled in response to noise complaints from surrounding residents in 1983. That October, Bergstrom RF-4s deploy to Key West, Florida, to fly reconnaissance over Granada in preparation for a U.S. invasion. That same year marks the beginning of 12th Air Force's and Bergstrom's involvement in President George Bush's war against drugs. Bergstrom aircrews collect intelligence from aloft, providing it to federal law enforcement agencies in an effort that will last until the unit leaves Bergstrom.
In 1984, the Air Force rejects the idea of moving Austin's municipal airport to Bergstrom, stating it has no intentions of closing the base. Once again the City looks to Manor. In 1986, Bergstrom hosts the first of several worldwide reconnaissance air meets, bringing together teams from the U.S. Air Force, Air National Guard, Navy, Marine Corps, and foreign air forces. Bergstrom's reconnaissance wing places second. In 1988, Reconnaissance Air Park is formally dedicated to commemorate 20 years of reconnaissance flights. By the end of the decade, Bergstrom contributes $339 million to the economy of Central Texas.
1990 - 1995
Bergstrom jets sortie in the Gulf with base closure on the horizon
By 1990, the end of the Cold War lands Bergstrom on a list of 75 military facilities under study for closure by the Base Realignment and Closure Committee (BRACC.) In spite of spirited local protest, the closure list is approved in July by President Bush and endorsed by Congress. A question of ownership emerges when officials discover that no contract was ever signed between the City of Austin and the Air Force. In a January 1992 announcement, the Justice Department clears the way for transfer of all Bergstrom land and facilities to the City of Austin.
War interrupts the closure. In early January 1991, Bergstrom RF-4s of the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron "Blackbirds" deploy to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield. It will be their last mission under the BAF insignia. At home, Austinites rally around a "yellow ribbon" campaign. The Blackbirds fly 476 sorties over Iraq, photographing targets before and after they are struck. They return to Austin in May 1991, and are treated to the city's first victory parade since WWII.
As closure activities proceed, the base is transferred to Air Combat Command. Units are combined or reassigned. Headquarters 12th Air Force moves to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, in Tucson, Arizona. The familiar "sound of freedom" from twice-daily sorties ceases as the last of the RF-4Cs depart. Buildings are vacated, personnel reassigned. In September 1993, the Stars and Stripes on Presidential Boulevard is struck a final time.
Where the Texas Air National Guard is currently quartered, a single U.S. Air Force Reserve fighter wing operates its F-16s until the fall of 1995, when it is inactivated. With its departure ends more than 50 years of military aviation at Bergstrom Air Force Base.