FORT WAYNE, Indiana (Indiana's NewsCenter)--The next time you face the hassle of air travel through Fort Wayne International Airport keep in mind the part this airport played in the history of this town, and this country.
Roger Myers knows all about Fort Wayne’s airport, he worked here 44 years and he’s written a biography of the place, ‘Fort Wayne Aviation; Baer Field and Beyond’. The story begins with names almost forgotten now; Sweebrock Airport, Flight B Field, Myers Airport…local airfields that were little more than level farm fields. In 1925 Baer Municipal Airport replaced them all...it was renamed Smith Field when the army built a new Baer Field south of town in 1941 to support the war effort. It went up in seven months.
“Three runways, 82 buildings,” says Roger Myers, “hospital, theatre, gymnasium, mess hall, headquarters. It was a little city in itself.”
Baer Army Air Base was a training center for military pilots and later used to retrofit new fighters and cargo planes for overseas flight, its runways often lined with hundreds of new war birds. Baer Field had everything you’d find in any town, including all the social ills. Racism was one of them, Roger says, apparent in the weekly church service schedules.
“Jewish services in the chapel on Saturday evening, catholic services next morning about 7, protestant at nine. And it would say colored soldiers building 68 at nine o’clock so they didn’t even use the chapel. Separate and unequal? Very much so.”
After the war the army sold Baer Field to the city of Fort Wayne for one dollar and the airports commercial aviation story begins…from the golden years of the 1950’s and ‘60’s through the cutthroat years following deregulation. Today there’s very little left of the old army base, a few foundations where barracks once stood. But we’ll remember the story of this place, the whole story, thanks to a man who lived it, and thought the rest of us might like to know. This is Eric Olson reporting.
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