On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Navy attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and almost simultaneously throughout the Pacific. The United States’ response was quick and decisive. The United States Army Air Force (USAAF) under command of General Henry Halsey “Hap” Arnold was authorized to equip, man and train itself into the world’s most powerful Air Force. By early 1942, the USAAF had committed to building scores of air bases across the United States. A little delegation from Casper, Wyoming traveled to Washington D.C. to lobby for one of these proposed air bases. According to local sources, they marketed the “zephyr wind” that whips around the western end of Casper Mountain.Put Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum at the forefront of your travel plans using our Casper day trip planning tool.
In March 1942, the Army Corps of Engineers leased the old Casper City Hall in preparation for the construction of the new Army Air Base at Casper. The site they selected was a high, flat, sagebrush covered terrace located nine miles west of town on old Highway 20-26 and adjacent to the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad.
Ground was broken in April and a scant six months later, on September 1, 1942, the sprawling base that consisted of four, mile long runways and around 400 buildings was opened for business as a Combat Crew Training School for B-17 Flying Fortress high altitude training. Sixth months later, the base transitioned from B-17 to B-24 crew training.
The air base was hastily erected and the image of row upon row of black tarpaper buildings stood starkly against the freshly bladed tan sediment. The base was a self-contained city with enlisted, officer, Womens’ Army Corps, and segregated “colored” soldier barracks areas, a bank, a bowling alley, theater, recreation hall, post exchange, hospital, parade grounds, maintenance facilities, rail road spur and warehouses, fire station and crash house, parachute riggers shed and tower, celestial navigation and link trainers to name a few.
The base grew to over a third the size of its host city of Casper. Manning the base on an average day would be around 2,250 Air Force personnel and around 800 civilians. They served a constantly fluctuating class body of bomber crewmen that during peak training times increased the base population to over 6,000. This large population attracted World War II era entertainers such as Bob Hope, Frances Langford, Jerry Colonna, Gene Autry, Clark Gable, Walter Able, and pin-up girl Jinx Falkenburg.
Arriving at Casper typically via train, the newly assembled crews, each consisting of two pilots, a navigator, a bombardier, a radioman, and five gunners began a strict regimen of training. According to several personal accounts, some of the crews could not get off the base at all other than a furlough home. Other crews visited Casper regularly and spend time on Casper Mountain or hunting or fishing. Many of the eligible local bachelorettes found themselves married to the airmen of the base.
The training was tough and realistic. The crews endured countless hours of advanced instruction in navigation, gunnery, bombing, armaments, flight engineering and flying. Aerial gunnery, air-to-ground gunnery, formation flying, night navigation, and of course bombing were standard flights. In one record month, crews flew over 7,500 hours at Casper Army Air Base. The remains of these activities are scattered across the high plains of Wyoming in the form of spent .50 caliber bullets, shells and links, 100 lb. practice bomb fragments, and the wreckage of over 70 aircraft.
By the end of World War II, at least 16,000 crewmen trained at Casper Army Air Base. A total of 90 plane crashes at and around the air base occurred between September 1942 and March 1945; 141 men lost their lives in those wrecks.
Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum Reviews
This museum USED to be a "hidden gem." The focus is on telling the stories of Wyoming veterans from all the branches of the armed forces, throughout Wyoming's history - which means everything from... more »
Visited here recently. If you are going to or from the airport, it is very nearby. Free parking in lot. No fee to enter, but you really should put a few bucks in the donation box. Knowledgeable... more »
Very inspiring museum. Bunch of relics and story's that make it feel genuine and meaningful.
Great stories about local veterans and local history about airforce base. Great displays.
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