Fred Henstridge Photography

War Dog Memorial at March Field

Vol.1, No. 6, Dec. 26, 2008

Off The Beaten Track

Do you like vintage airplanes? If you do and you live in Southern California there is great air museum within easy reach where you can take the family for a very enjoyable day. The museum is the March Field Air Museum and its located just off the I-215 in Riverside, California. The Museum is divided into several sections. There is comprehensive display of jet aircraft dating from the Korean War to Desert Storm with a B-52 Stratofortress and SR-71 Blackbird. The other outdoor area displays planes dating from World War II with a B-17 and B-29. There is also a section showing Soviet fighter planes ranging from a MIG-15 to a MIG-23. A converted hanger serves as the museum where there are hanging displays, gift shop, museum offices and a movie theater where you can view an 18-minute film on the history of March Field. In 2000 a War Dog Memorial was dedicated at the museum to honor America’s forgotten heroes. The only other War Dog Memorial in the United States is at The Infantry School, Ft. Benning, GA. I was very moved by this tribute to those dogs who served their handlers and the soldiers and marines with such valor and loyalty. Of course the fact that I own two German Shepherds only adds to the emotional appeal of the memorial.


Control Click on any photo or image for a larger view or link to more information. For an Adobe Flash Slide Show Click Here. To view the images in a HTML Gallery Click Here.

If you are a fan of Air Museums, especially those featuring WWII vintage aircraft, and you are traveling in the United Kingdom a “Must See” is the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, England. This is a fantastic air museum featuring everything from a German ME-109 to a B-52. You can also, for a fee, take ride in one those wonderful WWII Spitfires—what a thrill! Ctrl Click for video

Another Great Air Museum

March Field

The story of March Field began at a time when the United States was rushing to build up its military forces in anticipation of an entry into World War I. News from the front in Europe had not been good as it explained for those at home the horror and boundless human misery associated with stalemated trench warfare. Several European news sources reported significant German efforts at this time to build a fleet of flying machines that could well alter the nature of modern warfare and possibly carry the war to the skies. In response, Congressional appropriations in early 1917 in the neighborhood of $640,000,000 attempted to back the plans of General George O. Squier, the Army's chief signal officer, to "put the Yankee punch into the war by building an army in the air." At the same time the War Department announced its intentions to build several new military installations. Efforts by Mr. Frank Miller, then owner of the Mission Inn in Riverside, Hiram Johnson and other California notables, succeeded in gaining War Department approval to construct an airfield at Alessandro Field located near Riverside, an airstrip used by aviators from Rockwell Field on cross-country flights from San Diego. A parade in Riverside on February 9, 1918, gave notice than an army flying field would soon be coming to Riverside.


The Army wasted no time in establishing a new airfield. Sergeant Charles E. Garlick, who had landed at Alessandro Field in a "Jenny" in November, 1917, was selected to lead the advance contingent of four men to the new base from Rockwell Field. On February 26, 1918, Garlick and his crew and a group of mule skinners from nearby Colton, known to be experts in clearing land as well as for their colorful syntax, began the task of excavating the building foundations at Alessandro. On March 20, 1918, Alessandro Flying Training Field became March Field, named in honor of Second Lieutenant Peyton C. March, Jr., son of the Army Chief of Staff, who had been killed in a flying accident in Texas the previous month. By late April, 1918, enough progress had been made in the construction of the new field to allow the arrival of the first troops. The commander of the 818 Aero Squadron detachment, Captain William Carruthers, took over as the field's first commander and for a time operated out of an office in the Mission Inn. Within a record 60 days the grain stubble-covered plain of Moreno Valley had been partially transformed to include 12 hangers, six barracks equipped for 150 men each, mess halls, a machine shop, a post exchange, a hospital, a supply depot, an aero repair building, bachelor officer's quarters and a residence for the commanding officer. On May 15 when the first JN-4D "Jenny" took off, March Field seemed to have come into its own as a training installation. The signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918, did not halt training at March Field initially but by 1921, the decision had been made to phase down all activities at the new base in accordance with sharply reduced military budgets. In April, 1923, March Field closed its doors with one sergeant left in charge.


March Field remained quiet for only a short time. In July, 1926, Congress created the Army Air Corps and approved the Army's five-year plan which called for an expansion in pilot training and the activation of tactical units. Accordingly, funds were appropriated for the reopening of March Field in March of 1927. Colonel William C. Gardenhire, assigned to direct the refurbishment of the base, had just directed his crews to replace underpinnings of many of the previous buildings when he received word the future construction would be in Spanish Mission architectural design. In time, March Field would receive permanent structures. The rehabilitation effort was nearly complete in August, 1927, when Major Millard F. Harmon reported in to take over the job of base commander and commandant of the flying school. Classes began shortly after his arrival. In the months ahead Air Force leaders such as Hoyt Vandenberg, Nathan Twining, Thomas Power and Curtis LeMay completed their initial flight training at March Field. The base, however, was about to enter a new era.


As March Field began to take on the appearance of a permanent military installation, the base's basic mission changed. When Randolph Field began to function as a training site in 1931, March Field became an operational base. Before the end of the year, the 7th Bomb Group, commanded by Major Carl A. Spaatz, brought its Condor B-2 and Keystone B-4 bombers to the picturesque field. The activation of the 17th Pursuit Group and several subordinate units along with the arrival of the 1st Bombardment Wing initiated a period where March Field became associated with the Air Corp's heaviest aircraft as well as an assortment of fighters.


The attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 quickly brought March Field back into the business of training air crews. Throughout the war many soon-to-be-famous bombardment groups performed their final training at March before embarking for duty in the Pacific. During this period the base doubled in area and at the zenith of the war effort supported approximately 75,000 troops. At the same time, the government procured a similar-sized tract west of the San Diego highway that bordered the base and established Camp Haan as an anti-aircraft artillery training facility. It supported 85,000 troops at the height of its activity. For a time, March Field remained a bust place indeed. In 1946, Camp Haan became a part of March's real estate holding when operations at the base returned to a more normal setting.


After the war, March reverted to its operational role and became a Tactical Air Command base. The main unit, the famed 1st Fighter Wing, brought the first jet aircraft, the F-80, to the base. This deviation from the traditional bombardment training and operations functions did not long endure. In 1949, March became a part of the relatively new Strategic Air Command. Headquarters Fifteenth Air Force along with the 33d Communications Squadron moved to March from Colorado Springs in the same year. Also in 1949, the 22d Bombardment Wing moved from Smoky Hill Air Force Base, Kansas to March. Thereafter, these three units remained as dominant features of base activities.


From 1949 to 1953, the B-29 Superfortresses dominated the flightline at March Air Force Base. For four months, July to October, the 22d saw action over Korea and in this brief period, contributed to the elimination of all strategic enemy targets. Involvement in the Korean Conflict had no sooner ended when the wing converted from the huge propeller-driven B-29s to the sleek B-47 jet bombers and their supporting tankers, the KC-97s. The KC-97s belonging to the 17th and 22d Air Refueling Squadrons represented an amazing jump in technology. Planes and crews from March began breaking altitude and distance records. The new refueling planes introduced a significant advance in operational range. Overall operational capability could now be measured in global terms. This had been demonstrated earlier when General Archie Old, the Fifteenth Air Force commander, had led a flight of three B-52s in a non-stop around-the-world flight termed "Power Flight" in just 45 hours and 19 minutes. Ceremonies upon their arrival at March on January 18, 1957, emphasized the global reach of the Strategic Air Command. In 1960, the first Reserve unit was assigned to March, flying C-119s. The end of the 1960s saw March Air Force Base preparing to exchange its B-47s and KC-97s for updated bombers and tankers. Increasing international tensions in Europe and elsewhere by September 16, 1963, brought March its first B-52B bomber, "The City of Riverside." Soon 15 more of the giant bombers appeared on the flightline along with new KC-135 jet "Stratotankers." March's first KC-135, "The Mission Bell" arrived on October 4, 1963. For the next twenty years this venerable team would dominate the skies over what had come to be called the Inland Empire as the 22d Bombardment Wing played a feature role in the Strategic Air Command's mission.


Following the end of hostilities in Southeast Asia, the 22d returned to its duties as an integral part of the Strategic Air Command. For the next eighteen years until 1982, March effectively supported America's defensive posture. The occurred through several post-Vietnam adjustments. One of these brought the retirement of the wing's last B-52 on November 9, 1982. This event signaled yet another era for March Air Force Base and for the 22d. The 22d Bombardment Wing , so long a key ingredient in March's long history, would become an air refueling wing with the new KC-10 tanker. The new tankers, able to accomplish considerably more than the KC-135s, promised a new tomorrow for the Strategic Air Command. Within months after the first KC-10 arrived at March on August 11, 1982, crews quickly realized the ability of the new aircraft to carry cargo and passengers as well as impressive fuel loads over long distances. Air refueling for March Air Force Base had entered a new age. The California Air National Guard also arrived in 1982, bringing with them the F-4C's.

Beginning in the early 1980s the KC-10 became the vehicle carrying March Air Force Base into a new technological epoch. The large KC-10s with their versatility and their dependability again gave the base a featured part in America's efforts to retain a strong and flexible military air arm. The utter importance of the KC-10s in conventional operations became a particularly apparent during Desert Shield and Desert Storm where their outstanding service contributed measurably to the success of American forces in the defense of Saudi Arabia and the liberation of Kuwait.


In 1993, March Air Force Base was selected for realignment. In August 1993, the 445th Airlift Wing transferred to March from Norton AFB, Calif. On January 3, 1994, the 22d Air Refueling Wing was transferred to McConnell AFB, Kansas, and the 722d Air Refueling Wing stood up at March. As part of the Air Force's realignment and transition, March's two Reserve units, the 445th Airlift Wing and the 452d Air refueling Wing were deactivated and their personnel and equipment joined under the 452d Air Mobility Wing on April 1, 1994. On April 1, 1996, March officially became March Air Reserve Base.


From the dusty stubble that once was Alessandro Flying Strip to today, March, for over 70 years, has been a key element in the advance of aviation and in the growth of the modern Air Force. As the Air Force restructures and prepares for new challenges, March seems destined to remain as an important base for the air operations of tomorrow.

The Museum

On December 19, 1979, Lt. General James P. Mullin, 15th Air Force Commander, delivered an address at the dedication ceremony for the new March Air Force Base Museum.  


The new museum was initially housed in the March Air Force Base's 1930-vintage base theater (shown above) located just north of the base's parade ground. There, the museum's 2000 square foot main exhibit area was filled with photographs depicting the history of the base from its founding in 1918. Model airplanes and paintings were also original display items. An aircraft park, to feature aircraft that once flew from March, was also established near the main gate at Cactus and Graham. "It's important to capture the essence of our past and to portray and illustrate the history of March Field." said Major Brian Daly, the museum's first director.


In 1980 three important museum events occurred. One --- the March Field Museum was officially recognized as an Air Force Facility in March 1980. Two --- the March Field Museum Foundation was established in May 1980. Three --- in November 1980 the display area for museum aircraft (featuring three aircraft) was open to the public.  The March Field Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to support the museum with fund raising and volunteer help.  The Foundation operates a Gift Shop, holds golf tournaments, annual Santa Maria Barbeque's and other events to raise money.   $400,000 was raised to build the current hangar building.


During the early years the March Field Museum grew by leaps and bounds, so much so, that within a year the museum quickly doubled the number of artifacts in its possession and filled the theater building to capacity. So rapid was the growth that the museum outgrew its original building and needed to be moved to new quarters. 

On February 20, 1981, the March Field Museum opened its doors to the public in another facility shown above (Building 420--the former commissary building). The building was 26,000 square feet and allowed for two or three aircraft to be put indoors plus the relocation of the collection and office space. Prior to 1993, most of the approximately 50 airplanes were located on a flightline parking ramp.

The March Field Museum remained in the commissary building until 1993 when the museum moved to its current location on the west side of the runway. The 26,880 square foot facility allowed for more and better displays on aircraft and March Field history.  The aircraft are now parked at the new museum location and can be seen from the freeway.  Before 1996, the museum director's office had been staffed by either civil service or military personnel under the Vice Wing Commander's office.  In April 1996, upon the realignment and downsizing of  March Air Force Base, the museum  (all but the airplanes, which remain on loan to USAF) was turned over from the USAF Museum at Wright Patterson AFB, through the Joint Powers Commission, to the March Field Museum Foundation, to be run as a private, non-profit institution. Since that time, the P-38 National Association and the 475th Fighter Group have added museum buildings to the grounds.  On June 15, 2000, a dedication ceremony for the new Dick Van Rennes Restoration Hangar was held. The restoration hangar is located right next to the P-38 buildings.  Currently, the March Field Air Museum has a 12,000 square foot hangar under construction and is conducting a capital campaign to construct another 26,000 square foot display hangar.  In May, 1999, the Board of Managers approved changing the name of the museum from "The March Field Museum" to "The March Field Air Museum".    

The War Dog Memorial


The year is 1969, and America is at war in Vietnam.  Near Danang, a soldier and his “war dog,” a German Shepherd named Bruiser, silently creep forward searching for any sign that the enemy is near.  Bruiser suddenly stops dead in his tracks, his nose up and ears twitching — signaling danger.  His handler makes the pivotal decision to fire and seconds later, enemy bullets and grenades rain violently down on the soldiers. 


Bruiser’s handler, John Flannelly, is gravely wounded — most of his left side a gaping wound.  Ignoring John’s order to leave him on the battlefield, Bruiser drags John to safety while taking two rounds in the process.  Other brave soldiers die that day, yet with Bruiser’s advance warning, many survive including John, who was later reunited with Bruiser in a field hospital. 


Reflecting on the profound bond that existed between he and Bruiser during the war, John Flannelly said, “Bruiser saved not only my life, but the lives of the other Marines I was working with.  I never would have made it without him.  I will never be able to thank him enough.  I owe my life to that dog.”


Bruiser was among more than 4,000 dogs recruited to serve and protect U.S. troops in Vietnam, preventing 10,000-plus American casualties in the process.  Yet, only a few of these dogs returned to America at the close of the war.  Since these canine heroes were classified by the military as equipment, they were declared “surplus armaments” and either unceremoniously euthanized or left to unknown fates in Vietnam.  None of the dogs, however, have ever been honored for their bravery and service — until now — through a compelling documentary called “War Dogs, America’s Forgotten Heroes,


“There would be a whole lot more than 50,000 names on the Vietnam Wall without these dogs ... and I don’t think the average American even knows the role these dogs played,” said Dr. John Kubisz, a veterinarian who served with the 764th Veterinary Detachment in Vietnam.  “There is no memorial to honor them, except the living testament — children who were born because their father survived a distant, violent dream, thanks to his best friend.”  .


“These dogs deserve more and have the right to be honored and treated like any other American that served in Vietnam,” said Jeffrey P. Bennett, executive producer of “War Dogs, America’s Forgotten Heroes,” and Founder, President and CEO of Nature's Recipe Pet Foods, which played a paramount role in the development of the documentary.  “Unlike other soldiers, and unlike the dogs that served in other wars, these dogs never received medals or any other kind of recognition for their heroic efforts.  America has never sufficiently thanked these dogs, and this documentary finally gives us the opportunity.”

Ctrl Click on image to see the classic underside and elliptical wings.

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. Ctrl Click on photo to see larger image.