A Mural Remembering the Military's Influence on Ardmore's Past and Present Mural Remembering the Military's Influence on Ardmore's Past and Present Ardmore, Oklahoma email to gsimmons
Fast Forward to 2016: The Ardmore Beautification Council recently initiated a program of painting murals depicting Ardmore's earlier history on downtown buildings. The first mural on the Legal Aid building at 14 E. St. SW, depicts the beginning of settlement in and around early Ardmore, the importance of agriculture and petroleum to area growth and overcoming a destructive petroleum railcar explosion.. A time-lapse 9 minute video of the first mural painting can be viewed here. The second mural was painted August 22-25, 2016 on the east side of the Ardmoreite Building, known as the Gilbert Building since 1930 and during WWII and Korean War. It became known as the Ardmoreite Building in 1966 when the Daily Ardmoreite moved there from its longtime established business on North Washington Street. The subject of the second mural is the military's presence here during WWII and the Korean War. This mural serves as a reminder of the military's previous and continuing influence on the Ardmore of today. Many servicemen of both periods married Ardmore and area belles, settled in Ardmore or the area after military service, raised their families, educated their children in Ardmore or area schools and many of both War eras became civic and business leaders. Children from those unions are now parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, citizen participants and leaders in local businesses, government, civic groups, schools and State and National organizations.
Seventy-one years have passed since the WWII base closed. The soldiers and airmen are no longer walking the streets of Ardmore and other area towns. The 2,500+ acre area that served as their home during two Wars still exists. Following the base closures, the area used by the military during WWII and the Korean Conflict was an embarrassment occasionally due to neglect of grounds and structures. Overtime things changed and the Ardmore Industrial Airpark is now home to several important industries providing employment for many. In addition, it serves as an example to other municipalities of the successful use of deactivated military bases. Hopefully, the mural will remind present-day area citizens and newcomers that the acreage occupied by the two important military installations became the birthplace of the Ardmore Industrial Airpark and the employment providing industries that exist there today. It is also home of the Ardmore Municipal Airport providing access to world commerce and additional employment opportunities as other industries are established. Rail access is also available as a supporting asset for future development.
The Ardmore Army Air Field (Base)/Ardmore Air Force Base website online since 2000 was used as an available source of historical information. Several scenes from the website were used in the mural. It is said "a picture is worth a thousand words" but unless something is known about the history the picture represents, a picture is just a picture. We will try to give a short explanation of each scene to help the mural tell the story of military footprints in Southern Oklahoma during two Wars. They changed the area then and continue to be a productive influence these 75 years later. The mural is divided by five unpainted redbrick columns. Brief descriptions of what the various scenes represent within Sections A,B,C,D,E and F, left to right (south to north) follow.
Section A, lower left painting, gives credit and appreciation to the Jerome Westheimer Family Foundation, the organization whose generous donated funds made the mural possible. Without a wall, there would be no mural! Because the Daily Ardmoreite had a highly visible east wall and the veteran publisher was willing to provide it as the canvas, the military mural became a reality.
The scene above the Westheimer recognition is the WWII Headquarters building area identified then with a 65' flag pole. The Base Chapel was located directly across the street. The chapel became the Memorial Christian Church when moved to Ardmore. This Headquarters area was occupied during the 1953-59 Air Force Base period by a red "tile-block" building housing the Base Communication Squadron and a branch of the Exchange National Bank as a convenience for the airmen. The building is still in use in the Airpark.
. Next above is an aerial view of a portion of the WWII base looking east with two Boeing B-17 "Flying Fortresses" above, one with an olive drab paint scheme and the other in unpainted aluminum. Late in the War, time and money were saved by not painting the aircraft. Ardmore had an assigned inventory of 71 B-17s, painted and unpainted. The B-17s on the mural do not have the Ardmore base identifier, AR, on the tail section. A painted aircraft on the Ardmore field had these identifiers. Unpainted planes had black letters and numerals. It was reported that 10,000 soldiers were assigned at peak capacity. Many lived off site in Ardmore and area communities. Ardmore Army Air Field trained hundreds of B-17, 10-men replacement combat crews for overseas duty. They lived and flew together for a 3-month intensified training period before shipping overseas. Most crews were assigned to 8th Airforce bases in England. Some crews flew B-17s to overseas assignment from Lincoln, Nebraska and other crews traveled by ship from Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.
The Section B low scene depicts the marriage of an Ardmore based soldier to an Ardmore belle with a view of Hotel Ardmore, now the First Bank and Trust, in the background. Many local women married soldiers and left Ardmore or area communities when he was transferred elsewhere. Many returned with their former soldier husband after the War was over and lived the remainder of their lives in the area. A large percentage of the WWII returnees are deceased but their progeny remain as citizens and community participants in schools, churches and businesses. As you read this as a long-time Ardmoreite or area citizen, former servicemen like Jon Hargrave, Jim Williams, George Kallio, Carrol Hendershott, Charles "Chuck" Shannon, Earl Davis, Wilbur Whittle, John Williams, George Graham Dickens, Rick Feiler, Charles "Chuck" Fitch, Domenic G. "Dommie" Marchesani, Joe Mooney, Joe White, Jack McClanahan, Robert "Bob" Farrington, Franz J. Alm, Lee Evers, Todd Colclasure, Harry Williams and many others will come to mind as these few came out of the "cobwebs" to me. Did a WAC stationed at Ardmore AAF win the heart of an Ardmore male and take him away or return to Ardmore to raise a family when the War was over? Maybe!
Fast Forward Note: Sally Malloy, a young "Daily Ardmoreite" reporter, a Stillwater native and just out of A&M College, met and married a young bombardier officer, Lt. Bjarne Tangen, with the 394th Bomb Group during their short stay at Ardmore. She accompanied her husband to Kellogg Field, Michigan, their next assignment before the 394th was assigned overseas to Boreham, UK. More than likely, when the War was over, they would reside in Ardmore, her adopted place of residence. Her world changed, August 9, 1944, when her husband's B-26, hit by anti-aircraft flak over La Boissiere, France, crashed and exploded killing all aboard. They were parents of a six-week old daughter. Her remembrance of this tragedy is reported here.
Hotel Ardmore became a popular living, dining, drinking and dancing area. The first troops to arrive in late 1942 were training to be glider pilots. As a wise business move, a basement area in the hotel was opened November 21, 1942, as the Glider Room and was initially managed by Barton Hettick and later by Dutch Wilson for several years. The glider training phase only lasted four months but the hotel kept the Glider Room name as long as the club was open. Oklahoma was a dry state, but liquor flowed freely and pilots, intoxicated the night before, might have taken their crews' "lives in their hands" during formation training flights the next morning.
The scene above Hotel Ardmore was copied from a picture of four B-17 gunners of the Rollins Crew at the Ardmore Depot, a popular gathering place for soldiers. The soldier on the left, is Sgt. Edward R. Etzel, Jr, ball turret gunner; the other unidentified men are two waist gunners and the tail gunner. Another popular place for photos was the Palacine Indian statue at the Wirt Franklin Building. These men and the entire Ralph K. Rollins crew of 10 died on their 17th mission, Jan. 1, 1945, when their badly damaged B-17G, 43-38932, dropped out of formation over Stendhal, Germany and exploded at 12:19 PM. They trained here as Crew 139 in Sept-November, 1944. The P-51s that were to rendezvous with them for protection were late and they were strafed by German FW-190 fighter aircraft. The Rollins crew was flying with the 407th Squadron, 92nd Bomb Group out of England. Their mission targets that day were oil refineries deep in Germany at Magdeburg and German tank factories in Kassel. Many crews or crew members from Ardmore lost their lives, were seriously wounded and/or became POWs on bombing missions to Germany and German occupied territories. Sixty-three WWII men died in training accidents while stationed here. Twelve military personnel from other stations and six Ardmore crew members perished during the Korean War period in a crash in Maryland. Many of the WWII training instructors at Ardmore had served in active aerial combat overseas before assignment here. This was a definite plus as their combat experience could be passed to the Ardmore crews that would soon be in combat. Several of the pilots here during the Korean War period were in WWII and as AF Reservists were recalled to serve again in the Korean War.
Section C low scene is the battleship "USS Oklahoma" reminding us that Ardmore and Carter County's first war casualty occurred when Seaman First Class Billy Turner, 19, died December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the "USS Oklahoma" was hit by four torpedoes and capsized, trapping and taking the lives of 429 seamen. Turner joined the Navy, January 4, 1940. Ardmore's Turner Street is named in honor of Turner. Two other Ardmoreites who died in WWII, Billy Freeman and Ralph H. Cason, also have streets in NE Ardmore named to honor and remember their sacrifice. Billy Turner was my brother's close friend and visited frequently in our Springdale rural home when I was 5 or 6 years old and he was 15 or so.
The scene above the battleship is the entrance to Ardmore Air Force Base, 1953-59. The 463rd Troop Carrier Wing, 16th Troop Carrier Squadron, 309th Troop Carrier Group, 456th Troop Carrier Group and 419th Troop Carrier Group of the 18th Air Force were stationed here all or a portion of the six years of the base's existence. Military and civilian personnel on the base numbered from 2000-3000 depending on when some units served elsewhere on temporary duty. The base occupied approximately 2,500 acres. During WWII, when considering the five bombing ranges, the air to ground firing range, radio ranges and ground firing range used in training, the total acreage associated with the base was approximately 27,000 acres.
The aircraft represents the Lockheed "Hercules" C-130A,"City of Ardmore", 55-023, the first C-130A assigned to the US Air Force, December 9, 1956, at Ardmore. Ardmore was also the first USAF base to receive 48 C-130As replacing the 48 Fairchild C-119s they had flown since moving to Ardmore from Memphis, TN. Many of the "first" world records for the C-130 were set by Ardmore crews. The "City of Ardmore" was deactivated, October 9, 1989, after 33 years of service. It participated in the Lebanon crisis and later received considerable damage in Vietnam. After the War, it served with the Air National Guard and Airforce Reserves. Its last assignment was to the 463rd Airlift Wing at Dyess AFB, Abilene, TX, the same unit it was assigned to at Ardmore in 1956, designated then as the 463rd Troop Carrier Wing. It is on permanent static display in Linear Air Park at Dyess AFB.
Section D, low, depicts soldiers in combat referencing WWII and the Korean War in progress during the time of each base. Thousands died in both conflicts to preserve our freedom to enjoy the benefits of being an American citizen living within the boundaries of our Constitution. The American flag at the top of the mural is the symbol of our nation. Most of us were raised to respect, defend and die for what it signifies. Some use the freedom it stands for to shred, stomp, urinate, defecate on and burn without fear of reprisal. What a country!
The four men above the soldiers in combat represent the crew, that delivered the "City of Ardmore" to Ardmore AFB, December 9, 1956. They were L to R, Joe Garret, pilot, Lockheed Corporation, Capt. H. E. Chaney, co-pilot, Capt. R. L. "Stumpy" Coleman and TSgt. Al Marchman, flight engineer, of Ardmore Air Force Base. It was a big day for the entire USAF, the 18th Air Force in particular, the 463rd Troop Carrier Wing, Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, local, State and National dignitaries who were here to celebrate the occasion. The crew departed the super modern cabin of the 15,000 total hp "City of Ardmore", 55-023, and boarded an 1856 4 hp stage coach to be transported to the dignitaries grandstand. It was great demonstration as to how transportation methods had changed! Probably no one in attendance imagined how important the C-130 was to become. To date, more than 2,500 C-130s have been ordered and/or delivered to 63 nations around the world. Seventy countries operate C-130s. And it all started at Ardmore!
Within Section E is the Ardmore Air Force Base's 84' Control Tower still in operation as a FAA approved facility. A formation of WWII B-17s is in the background with a Lockheed P-38 flying nearby as a protective escort against enemy aircraft attack. Other aircraft that served as protective escorts on bombing missions included Republic P-47s , North American P-51s and British Westland/Submarine Spitfires. A similar flight of B-17s flew over the crowd visiting the Army Air Field, August 1, 1945, during the last "open house" before the base closed, October 31, 1945. The control tower used during WWII was patterned after similar towers used on English airfields, a building with a glass enclosed unit on top. The WWII control tower was used for 18 months during the Korean War period until the new tower began operation, 1:05 pm, February 22, 1955. The WWII control tower was located where the present Municipal Building south of the control tower is today. During WWII, a smaller tower on stilts was located half-way down the parking ramp south of the main tower.
Section F is the present Ardmore Industrial Airpark water tower, the one erected for the Air Force Base, 1953-59. It supplies water for the various industries located on the former bases. The Remembrance Memorial Park, not depicted on the mural, is located just inside the entrance of the Airpark, a few yards west of the present water tower. The RMP remembers and honors those who died in training accidents during both base periods and the soldiers and crew that died in the American Flyers crash, April 22, 1966. The WWII red-white checkered, silo-shape water tower was located in the NW corner of the base next to the hospital area. It was also used during the 1953-59 period. The Jordan Ironworks presently occupies the area where the water tower, hospital and associated buildings were during WWII and the Korean War period.
Most people refer to the former military installation as Ardmore Army Air Base, but it was only officially a Base for several months in 1943. For the remaining time, it was designated as Ardmore Army Air Field.
The Ardmore Development Authority (ADA) logo is below the water tower. Following the 1959 closure of the base, the need for securing industry resulted in the formation of two community funded organizations, the Ardmore Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) and the Ardmore Development Authority (ADA). AIDC is no longer active. ADA and City officials have been successful in acquiring several important industries through their combined efforts.
Section F also contains either a WWII Willys MB or Ford GPW series "Jeep", a workhorse during WWII and later. The soldier passenger is reading a copy of a Daily Ardmoreite "EXTRA" declaring the end of the war. The Daily Ardmoreite has previously used a similar large ad showing a "somewhere" soldier reading the "local". Fast Forward Note: The Ardmore Army Air Field's weekly paper, "Bombs Away" was printed by the Daily Ardmoreite. Copies were to be kept to preserve history locally and weekly papers were to be sent to the Oklahoma Historical Society. The OHS was to receive copies from each military entity in Oklahoma and they would be bound later by the organization. This compiler contacted the Ardmoreite 16 or so years ago and no copies, bound or otherwise, of "Bombs Away" were found. If they were bound or kept at all, they no longer exist. The Ardmoreite passed from local owners who were a part of Ardmore's history to an "outsider" owner in the 60s. When the move was made to the present location in 1966, if the papers were available, it might have been a time to decide what to keep or what to discard? Who knows? Regardless, the Oklahoma Historical Society is in the same situation as they could not find bound copies of any Oklahoma field, base, station, hospital or recruiter publication that should be there. Sprekelmeyer Printers, Ardmore, printed "Carrier Wings", for Ardmore Air Force Base, 1953-59. Similar story, new proprietors with no copies or knowledge that they were printed by Sprekelmeyer. The 394th Bomb Group, only at Ardmore five weeks, also had a weekly, "Propwash". It is doubtful that it was printed while they were here. The son of one of the glider pilots stationed here, FO James Larkin, November 1942-February 1943, provided a digital copy of "The Cockpit" an eight page mimeograph publication of the 418th Headquarters and Air Base Squadron. FO James Larkin remembers his time at Ardmore in this video.
The mural, due to space limitations, does not reflect the WWII, short, four-month, initial glider pilot training phase using 15 two-place light aircraft and at least one CG4A combat glider. Also not depicted is the short, five-week 394th Bomb Group's Martin B-26 "Marauder" Combat Crew Training School that followed. They originally had 33 B-26s, losing two to crashes killing seven men while at Ardmore. The crash killing seven occurred near Port Vincent, Louisiana on the flight of aircrews to Ardmore from MacDill Field, Tampa, Florida. Ardmoreites hardly knew the 394th Bomb Group was here due to their short stay. Fortunately, the book, "Bridge Busters", by Captain J. Guy Zeigler, 1949, details their Ardmore experience as well as the total history of the 394th through War's end.
Not many Ardmoreites were/are aware that Major Thomas W. Ferebee and Captain Kermit K. Beahan, bombardiers that dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were stationed at Ardmore before being selected to train with Col. Paul W. Tibbets on the highly secret atomic bomb project. Not depicted also was Brig. General Frank A. Armstrong, Jr. who was stationed at Ardmore as commander of the 46th Bombardment Operational Training Wing. As a Colonel, he commanded the 306th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, Thurleigh, UK, January 4, 1943 to February 17, 1943. The novel, movie and television series Twelve O'Clock High was based on the fictional 918th Bomb Group (B-17) stationed in England. The principal fictitious character of the novel, Brigadier General Frank Savage, was patterned after Brigadier General Frank A. Armstrong, Jr. He, by the way, lived in Hotel Ardmore with wife and infant son, Frank A. Armstrong, III. Major Frank III died on a 1967 combat bombing mission with the 1st Air Commando Squadron in Vietnam. His remains have not been recovered.
Also not represented were nine, Chase YC-122 hand built aircraft stationed at Ardmore, the only ones existing in the world. They were the forerunners of the Fairchild C-123B "Provider" assault transport. After receiving the C-123Bs, the YC-122s were assigned to Kingman AFB for "mothballed" storage, the last one, August 30, 1955. They were sold later and all eventually were destroyed. One became the first experimental vertical takeoff and land aircraft (VTOL), the Hiller X-18.
On July 8, 1955, Ardmore was the first AF base to receive the Fairchild 123B and introduced them to Europe a year later when the 309th Troop Carrier Group with 55 aircraft was transferred to Dreux, France. Two Ardmoreite reporters, Joanne Steward and City Editor Ed Carter, accompanied the airmen to record the newsworthy event. The 123B, like the YC-122, had the ability to land and takeoff on short, unimproved landing strips making it ideal for transporting troops and supplies to remote areas.
No room was available on the mural to tell the story of the 100 WACs who performed various duties on the field during WWII or the 200 German prisoners of war that were confined on the WWII base from June 1945 till the base closed. No WAFs were assigned to Ardmore Air Force Base during the Korean War period.
No space available to depict the monument erected Memorial Day, May 26, 2003, in Remembrance Memorial Park remembering members of air crews and support personnel killed while stationed at Ardmore during WWII and the Korean Conflict. The Park was dedicated, June 17, 2000, with the unveiling of the American Flyers monument remembering the 77 military and six crew members killed in the, April 22, 1966, Lockheed Electra crash in the Arbuckle mountains east of the base.
The mural was painted by Dr. Bob Palmer, Ed.D, retired Professor of Art, University of Central Oklahoma, President of Palmer Studios, Inc. and a crew of three muralist, Shane Cox, C. Presley and Joel Randell. The images in the mural were projected on the wall at night with an overhead projector, outlined with paint and filled in during the days that followed. Printed pictures were available and used by the artists to fill in the details. The height and size (approx. 4,500 sq. feet) of the mural presented a few problems in obtaining adequate scaffolds and lifts . Palmer and company have painted 1,400 plus murals in Oklahoma, Canada, Mexico and Eastern Europe. RADM Wesley V. Hull, NOAA (Ret), Director, Greater Southwest Historical Museum, was coordinator of the mural projects, representing the Ardmore Beautification Council.