Shortly after its silver anniversary in 1966, Walker Air Force Base (WAFB) near Roswell, New Mexico, was phased out as an active military installation. Considerable history had been packed into those action-filled years. Famous units were destined to be stationed at the base. Many notable Air Force leaders were assigned over the years, quite a number of whom attained the general ranks during their careers (See appended list of units and commanders).
As the war clouds lowered over Europe in 1939, plans were underway in the US Army Air Corps to expand its pilot training program. With the worsening of the Allied position after the fall of continental Europe in 1940 and Far Eastern losses in 1941, the training program was expanded to provide 30,000 pilots. Many new training centers were needed. The West Coast Training Center soon found that acceptable sites for training fields were fast becoming scarce. By June 1941, there was no alternative but to locate new stations in Arizona and New Mexico. According to the official Army Air Force history of World War II, it was expected that there would be problems of heat, dust and insufficient civilian housing at these sites; nevertheless, the Roswell Army Flying School was established at Roswell, New Mexico, along with four other in the Southwest area. As with its new sister stations, the Roswell School was not ready for all-out training prior to Pearl Harbor, but all of them were brought into full operation early in 1942.
For almost four years, the Roswell Army Flying School was engaged in primary flight training. According to the official list of Air Force Combat Units in World War II, no tactical organizations were ever stationed at Roswell prior to the fall of 1945. After the war, many bases were utilized for the inactivation of combat groups. Only one did so at Roswell—the 468th Bombardment Group which phased out during the first three months of 1946.
In the immediate postwar period, the 509th Bombardment Group (Wing) was assigned to Roswell Army Air Field (AAF) on November 6, 1945, and remained for almost 13 years. Its stay overlapped with that of the 6th Bombardment Wing (BW) after 1951, and these two tactical units formed the backbone of the Strategic Air Command’s (SAC) occupation of the installation for over 20 years. The Sixth remained for over 16 years.
On March 21, 1946, the Strategic Air Command was activated as the retaliatory bombardment organization of the Army Air Force. Its first numbered air force was the Fifteenth, which was stationed continuously at March Air Force Base, California, after November 9, 1949, following its move from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Roswell AAF was on of the original installations assigned to SAC and Fifteenth on Mfarch 31, 1946. The base was transferred to the jurisdiction of Eighth Air Force on November 1, 1946, but it was reassigned to Fifteenth after April 1, 1955, and remained in that status for the last 12 years of its existence as an active station.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, quite a number of bases changed their names to honor heroes of Air Force history. This was in keeping with the newly established United States Air Force as an independent defense agency on September 18, 1947. Accordingly, Roswell AAF became Walker AFB on January 13, 1948, named for Brig. General Kenneth N. Walker, a native of New Mexico. Gen. Walker was commander of the 5th Bomber Command in the Southwest Pacific and was lost on a mission to Rabaul, Solomon Islands, in January 5, 1943. He had repeatedly taken part in combat missions against the Japanese after September 5, 1942, and had developed an effective technique for bombing when opposed by enemy interceptors and anti-aircraft fire. For his valor and daring, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
A number of units with fighter aircraft were positioned around the nation as the world entered the era of the Cold War. To Roswell came the 33rd Fighter Group with P-51s on September 16, 1947. This unit had originally been activated on January 15, 1941 at Mitchel Field, New York. It operated in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, 1942-44, and received a Distinguished Unit Citation for action over central Tunisia on January 15, 1943. The unit finished out the war in India and participated in the Burma campaign. After a brief period of postwar inactivity, the 33rd was reactivated in Germany on August 20, 1946. It moved to Andrews Field, Maryland, a year later and thence to Roswell. It converted to F-84 aircraft in June 1948, and moved to a permanent assignment at Otis AFB, Massachusetts, on November 16, 1948.
Of the two bombardment units exercising a lengthy tenure at Roswell/Walker, the more famous one was the 509th BW. Its 393rd Bomb Squadron was the only combat unit ever to have dropped atomic bombs on enemy targets. This wing had originally been activated on December 17, 1944, at Wendover Field, Utah. It moved to Tinian Island under the Twentieth Air Force in the spring of 1945, and flew only practice missions until July. On August 6, one of the wing’s B-29s, the “Enola Gay,” piloted by the wing commander, Col. Paul W. Tibbetts, Jr., dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, a B-29, “Bock’s Car,” piloted by Major Charles W. Sweeney, dropped a differently configured atomic bomb on Nagasaki. These two drops quickly brought the Japanese Empire to her knees, and the war ended. The unit returned to the United States at Roswell AAP on November 6, 1945. Assigned to SAC upon that command’s activation, it provided the nucleus for an atomic striking force. During the summer of 1946, the 509th participated in atomic tests (Operation CROSSROADS) in the Marshall Islands.
It returned to the United States in the fall and resumed a normal training regimen for the next two years. It converted from B-29 to B-50 aircraft during 1949-50 and converted again to B-47 aircraft in 1955. The 509th’s corresponding air refueling squadron underwent a similar transition from KB-29 to KB-50 to KC-97 aircraft.
Meanwhile, the Korean War crisis had created a demand for expansion of the Air Force. The number of wings doubled during 1950-51. In keeping with this development, the 6th Bombardment Wing was reactivated at Walker AFB on January 2, 1951, and equipped with B-29s and KB29s. This famous unit was one of the oldest ones in the inventory, having been originally activated in the Panama Canal Zone on September 30, 1919. One of its assigned squadrons had been activated two years earlier during World War I and had been commanded by (the) Capt. Henry H. Arnold. During World War II, the Sixth had also been assigned to the Twentieth Air Force and had earned two Distinguished Unit Citations for action against Tokyo and the Japanese Empire.
The assignment of two large wings on the same base necessitated the creation of another echelon of command to administer such extensive and diverse affairs. Consequently, the 47th Air Division was reactivated on February 10, 1951 and remained in place for over eight years. This unit had originally been activated on December 18, 1940 at Mitchel Field, New York. It operated from North African and later Italian bases, 1942-45, before its postwar inactivation.
After one year, the Sixth converted from B-29 to B-36 aircraft during 1952. On April 1, 1955, Walker and its 6th and 509th BWs were reassigned in the SAC family from Eighth Air Force to Fifteenth. The 509th converted to B-47s that year, and the Sixth to B-52 aircraft in 1957. Shortly after the first KC-135 arrived on base, the 509th moved its medium aircraft to Pease Air Force Base, New Hampshire, effective July 1, 1958. Since this made Walker a single-wing base, the 47th Air Division was moved to Castle Air Force Base in California on July 11, 1959. By that time, Walker’s B-52 and KC-135 squadrons had converted from a tactical to a training mission as had Castle’s several years previously, and thus the entire heavy aircraft training effort for all of SAC was consolidated within the same division.
This situation remained for four years when it was determined that Castle alone could support the training load. Walker regained a primary tactical aircraft mission and sent one of its three bomb squadrons to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, to reduce the operational load. Early in 1965, a second KC-135 squadron was transferred to Walker when Schilling Air Force Base began its inactivation process. This made the Sixth a double-sized wing and one of the largest in SAC with its 60 heavy jet aircraft.
In the meantime, quite a different tactical mission had provided another chapter in the 6th BW/Walker Air Force Base story. To counter the presumably growing Soviet missile threat, a number of Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) squadrons were spotted around the country either assigned to missile wings or as dependent units of a bomb wing. In this manner, an ATLAS-F unit was added to the 6th BW on September 1, 1961. Eventually, the wing’s designation was changed to 6th Aerospace Wing (SAW) to reflect this new mission.
The 579th Strategic Missile Squadron (SMS) had originally been activated as a member of the 392nd Bomb Wing on January 26, 1943 at Davis-Monthan Field, Arizona. After training at Biggs Field, Texas and Alamogordo Army Air Base, New Mexico, it was committed to the European Theater of Operations. The 579th Strategic Missile Squadron (SMS) received on Distinguished Unit Citation for an outstanding performance against the enemy over Gotha, Germany, February 24, 1944. After its reactivation, the squadron received its first ICBM on January 24, 1962 and became fully operational during the Cuban Crisis of October-November, 1962. However, bad luck dogged its footsteps and three of the 12 sites were lost by explosions on June 1, 1963, February 13, 1964, and March 9, 1964.
Just when it seemed that the future existence of Walker Air Force Base was assured, two announcements by the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Robert S. McNamara, eliminated it from long-range defense considerations. On November 18, 1964, it was announced that liquid-fueled missiles would be phased out three years early due to the increased reliability of solid-fueled missiles such as MINUTEMAN and POLARIS. Accordingly, the 579th Strategic Missile Squadron (SMS) inactivated March 25, 1965. Soon after receiving another aircraft tanker squadron from Schilling Air Force Base, the base was apprised by a second announcement on December 8, 1965 that it was scheduled to close as an active installation.
Previously, when the base and 6th BW had returned to a tactical mission from their years of training, the 22nd Strategic Aerospace Division (SAD) had moved to Walker on July 1, 1963 to supervise Southwestern stations. This division had no wartime record but had been originally activated on July 15, 1959 at Clinton County Air Force Base, Ohio. After moving to Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, a year later to superintend the initial MINUTEMAN program, it then became a command echelon for the ATLAS program in the Southwest. Its inactivation on July 2, 1965 portended the closure announcement later in the year. The base and its assigned units temporarily passed to the jurisdiction of the 12th SAD at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, pending inactivation.
The base had 15 months to prepare for closure and accomplished the feat on schedule. The SAC units were disposed of in the following manner: The 310th Air Refueling Squadron (AREFS) moved to Plattsburgh Air Force Base, New York on January 25, 1967. The 6th AREFS inactivated at the same time, and its resources were apportioned out to SAC organizations in need of them. The 6th SAW’s bomb squadrons also inactivated on March 25, 1967 and their resources were apportioned. The 812th Medical Group inactivated on March 25, 1967 as did the 6th Combat Support Group. The wing designation was moved to Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, where it became the 6th Strategic Wing (SW), replacing the 4157th SW designation. The 24th Bomb Squadron designation became the 24th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron. Lastly, the 4260th Air Base Squadron was activated on March 25, 1967 to facilitate the disposal of assets over the ensuing two years.
Walker closed officially as an Air Force installation on June 30, 1967 after 26 years of service to the nation, to the Air Force, and to the community of Roswell, New Mexico. In a land where military tradition is traced to Spain’s Coronado Expedition in 1540, no more fitting farewell can be composed than simply: Adios Amigos.
Units and Commanders List
Roswell Army Flying School 1941-45
509th Bombardment Group (Wing) November 6, 1945 – June 30, 1958
Col. Paul W. Tibbetts, November 6, 1945 – January 21, 1946
*Col. William H. Blanchard, January 22, 1946 – September 14, 1948
*Col. John Dale Ryan, September 15, 1948 – July 20, 1951
*Col. William H. Blanchard, July 21, 1951 – January 14, 1952
Col. Clifford E. Macomber, January 15, 1952 – June 30, 1958
468Th Bombardment Group, January 12 -=- March 31, 1946
Col. James V. Edmundson, January 12, 1946 – March 31, 1946
33rd Fighter Group (Wing), September 16, 1947 – November 15, 1948
Lt. Col. Albert A. Cory, dates unknown
Col. Gwen G. Atkinson, dates unknown
6th Bombardment Wing, January 2, 1951 – March 25, 1967
*Col. Thomas S. Jeffrey, Jr., January 10, 1951 – January 14, 1951
*Col. William K. Martin, January 15, 1951 – May 21, 1952
*Col. Glen W. Martin, May 22, 1952 – September 20, 1956
Col. Everett W. Best, September 21, 1956 – February 22, 1960
Col. Donald E. Hillman, February 23, 1960 – July 17, 1962
Col. Ernest C. Eddy, July 18, 1962 – July 10, 1963
Col. Floyd H. Haywood, July 11, 1963 – April 14, 1965
Col. Richard M. Hoban, April 15, 1965 – June 14, 1965
*Col. Lester F. Miller, June 15, 1965 – July 8, 1966 (obituary)
*Col. George P. Cole, July 9, 1965 – September 1, 1965
Col. Robert H. Worrell, Jr., September 2, 1965 – March 25, 1967
47th Air Division, February 10, 1951 – July 10, 1959
Brig. Gen. Hunter Harris, Jr., February 10, 1951 – January 14, 1952
*Col. William H. Blanchard, January 15, 1952 – April 6, 1952
Brig. Gen. Thomas C. Musgrave, Jr., April 7, 1952 – June 6, 1954
Brig. Gen. Charles W. Schott, January 7, 1954 – September 20, 1956
*Col. Glen W. Martin, September 21, 1956 – July 6, 1957
Col. James V. Reardon, July 7, 1957 – July 15, 1957
Brig. Gen. William C. Kingsbury, July 16, 1957 – July 10, 1959
* Indicates elevated to general rank during career. Other senior officers later promoted who served a tour of duty at Walker included Col. Harold E. Humfeld and Col. Roy C. Crompton.
22nd Strategic Aerospace Division, July 1, 1963 – July 2, 1965
Col. Jack W. Hayes, Jr., July 1, 1963 – March 20, 1964
Brig. Gen. William C. Bacon, March 21, 1964 – June 30, 1965
Maj. John G. Armstrong, January 20, 1942
Col. Alvan C. Kincaid, March 1, 1942
Col. John C. Harton, December 10, 1942
Col. William B. Offutt, August 22, 1942
Col. Lawrence C. Coddington, August 17, 1945
Col. Joe G. Schneider, September 8, 1945
Col. Clifford J. Heflin, November 5, 1945
Lt. Col. Col. John R. Reshe, December 1, 1945
Col. Clifford J. Heflin, January 4, 1946
Col. John D. Ryan, August 1, 1948
Col. Clarence S. Irvine, September 15, 1948
Col. James A. DeMarco, January 3, 1950
Col. Hunter Harris, Jr., January 15, 1950
Col. John B. McPherson, February 10, 1951
Lt. Col. Francis E. Tiller, July 1952
Col. Clifford V. Warden, August 8, 1953
Col. Wesley Waner, December 1952
Col. Mason H. Grover, Jr., May 17, 1954
Lt. Col. Clyde H. Camp, Jr., November 23, 1955
Col. George W. Porter, 1956
Col. James V. Reardon, September 30, 1957
Col. Roderic D. O’Conner, 1959
Col. Emmett H. Clements, 1962
Col. Ivor P. Evans (1923-2009), 1964
Lt. Col. John H. Denton, 1966
Tactical Squadrons by Wing
468th Bombardment Group
792nd Bomb Squadron, January 12, 1946 – March 31, 1946
793rd Bomb Squadron, January 12, 1946 – March 31, 1946
794th Bomb Squadron, January 12, 1946 – March 31, 1946
795th Bomb Squadron, January 12, 1946 – March 31, 1946
512th Bomb Squadron, January 12, 1946 – March 31, 1946
33rd Fighter Group
58th Fighter Squadron, September 1, 1947 – November 15, 1948
59th Fighter Squadron, September 1, 1947 – November 15, 1948
60th Fighter Squadron, September 1, 1947 – November 15, 1948
509th Bombardment Group (Wing)
393rd Bomb Squadron, November 6, 1945 – June 30, 1958
713th Bomb Squadron, November 6, 1945 – June 30, 1958
830th Bomb Squadron, November 6, 1945 – June 3, 1958
509th Air Refueling Squadron, 1949 – June 30, 1958
6th Bombardment Wing
24th Bomb Squadron, January 2, 1951 – January 25, 1967
39th Bomb Squadron, January 2, 1951 – January 25, 1967
40th Bomb Squadron, January 2, 1951 – December 31, 1963
6th Air Refueling Squadron, January 2, 1951 – January 25, 1967
310th Air Refueling Squadron, April 15, 1965 – January 25, 1967
579th Strategic Missile Squadron (SMS) , September 1,1961 – March 25, 1965
129th Combat Crew Training Squadron, May 1, 1959 – September 15, 1969
Base Support Units
2nd Strategic Support Squadron, November 6, 1945 – September 15, 1951
509th Air Base Group, November 6, 1945 – February 9, 1951
812th Air Base Group, February 10, 1951 – June 30, 1967
4260th Air Base Squadron, March 25, 1967 – 1969
Support Squadrons by Unit
6th Strategic Aerospace Wing
6th Headquarters Squadron
6th Airborne Missile Maintenance Squadron
6th Field Maintenance Squadron
6th Armament and Electronics Maintenance Squadron
6th Organizational Maintenance Squadron
37th Munitions Maintenance Squadron
6th Combat Support Group
6th Headquarters Squadron
6th Civil Engineering Squadron
6th Combat Defense Squadron
6th Service Squadron
6th Transportation Squadron
6th Supply Squadron
Chronology of Events
1941–Roswell Army Flying School was established.
November 1943–The 509th Bombardment Group (Wing) was assigned to Roswell Army Air Field for a 13-year stay. Initially, it was equipped with B-29s.
January 12, 1946–The 468th Bombardment Group was assigned to Roswell AAF for inactivation. This was accomplished by March 31, 1946.
March 21, 1946–Upon formation of the Strategic Air Command, Roswell became a SAC installation for the next 21 years.
March 31, 1946–Roswell AAF was assigned to 15th Air Force at Colorado Springs, Colorado.
July 1946–The 509th BG participated in the atomic tests (Operation CROSSROADS) in the Marshall Islands.
November 1, 1946–Jurisdiction was transferred to Eighth Air Force at Fort Westin AAF, Texas.
September 16, 1947–The 33rd Fighter Group (Wing) was assigned to Roswell AAF. Initially, it was equipped with P-51 aircraft.
June 1948–The 33rd FG converted to F-84 aircraft.
November 16, 1948–The 33rd FG moved to Otis Air Force Base, Massachusetts.
1949-1950–The 509th BW converted to B-50 aircraft.
1949–Roswell AAF was re-named Walker Air Force Base.
January 2, 1951–The 6th Bombardment Wing was reactivated at Walker AFB and remained on station for 16 years.
February 10, 1951–The 47th Air Division was reactivated to administer the 6th and 509th BWs. Base support was provided by the 812th Air Base Group and 812th Medical Group.
May 15, 1951–The 2nd Strategic Support Squadron moved to Castle Air Force Base, California.
August 28, 1952–The first B-36 arrived on base for conversion of the 6th BW aircraft.
February 1, 1955–The first B-47 arrived on base for conversion of the 509th BW aircraft. Later in the year, the first KC-97 medium tanker arrived.
April 1, 1955–Walker AFB was reassigned to 15th Air Force, headquartered at Maren Air Force Base, California, since November 9, 1949.
August 1955–The 6th BW won the 7th annual SAC Bombing Competition.
October 1, 1957–The 6th BW entered the SAC ground alert posture.
December 10, 1957–The first B-52 arrived on base for conversion of the 6th BW aircraft. The wing became combat ready September 8, 1958.
April 3, 1957–The first KC-135 heavy tanker arrived on base.
July 1958–The 509th BW moved to Pease Air Force Base, New Hampshire.
July 1958–The 6th Combat Support Group (CSC) replaced the 812th Air Base Group.
November 3, 1958–The 6th Air Refueling Squadron (AREFS) moved back from Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas.
1959–A tremendous facility expansion and construction program which had begun in 1957 was continued. A new runway was opened November 3, 1959.
May 1, 1959–Two B-52 squadrons and the one KC-135 squadron of the 6th BW changed from a tactical to a training mission. To supervise the new training program, the 4129th Combat Crew Training Squadron was activated.
July 11, 1959–The 47th Air Division moved to Castle Air Force Base, California.
June 10, 1960–A third B-52 squadron also changed from a tactical to a training mission.
September 1, 1961–The 579th Strategic Missile Squadron (SMS) was activated as an ICBM unit under the 6th BW.
November 17, 1961–The first HOUND DOG aircraft-launched missile arrived on base. The 6th BW became combat ready in this weapon system in June 1962.
January 24, 1962–The first ATLAS-F ICBM arrived on base for emplacement.
February 18, 1962–Mrs. Robert Goddard visited the 579th Missile complex.
May 1, 1962–The 6th BW was designated the 6th Strategic Aerospace Wing (SAW).
June 30, 1962–The 579th Strategic Missile Squadron (SMS) became fully operational.
July 1, 1963–The 22nd Strategic Aerospace Division (SAD) moved from Schilling AFB, Kansas.
July 1, 1963–The 6th SAW flew its first 24-hour airborne alert indoctrination training sortie.
September 15, 1963–All of the 6th SAW’s tactical squadrons were restored to a tactical mission and the 4129th’s CCT was inactivated.
December 31, 1963—The 40th Bomb Squadron moved to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas.
November 18, 1964—An announcement from the Secretary of Defense included all ATLAS-F units for early phase out.
March 25, 1965—The 579th Strategic Missile Squadron (SMS) inactivated at Walker.
April 15, 1965—The 310th AREFS moved from Schilling Air Force Base.
July 2, 1965—The 22nd SAD inactivated at Walker.
December 8, 1965—A second announcement from the Secretary of Defense included Walker in a base closure program.
December 31, 1965—The 6th SAW received the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.
December 31, 1966—The 6th SAW was relieved of its ground alert commitment.
January 25, 1967—The 310th AREFS moved to Plattsburgh Air Force Base, New York. The 6th AREFS and 24th and 39th Bomb Squadrons were inactivated.
March 25, 1967—The 6th SAW, 6th CSG, and 812th Medical Group were inactivated. The 6th as a designation became the 6th Strategic Wing at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Under it, the 24th Bomb Squadron became the 24th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron.
March 25, 1967—The 4260th Air Base Squadron was activated at Walker to serve as a caretaker unit until all Air Force assets were disposed of to interested agencies.
June 30, 1967—Walker Air Force Base officially closed as an active Air Force installation.