September 8, 2015
Walker Air Force Base 1941-1967 Commemorated with Historic Marker
Roswell – Walker Air Force Base, once the nation’s largest Strategic Air Command base, will be commemorated with a roadside historic marker, the Walker Aviation Museum Foundation (WAMF), New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) District Two and the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division (HPD), Department of Cultural Affairs announced today.
The Official Scenic Historic Marker will be dedicated at 2 p.m., September 18, at the intersection of U.S. 285 and Roswell Relief Route South. Representatives of the community, WAMF, NMDOT District Two, HPD and the Cultural Properties Review Committee will attend the dedication and ribbon cutting.
“Walker Air Force Base was vital to the nation’s defense and is a source of community pride in Roswell,” said Juliana Halvorson, WAMF board member. “We are very pleased to have a historic marker commemorating the history of the base, both for Roswell’s citizens and its visitors, and we are especially excited it can be dedicated as part of General Kenneth Newton Walker Day.”
The base was first established in 1941 as Roswell Army Air Field and renamed for Brig. Gen. Kenneth Walker, who was the highest ranking U.S. Army official reported missing in action during World War II. The plane he was flying in the Pacific Theater was shot down in a bombing mission over Papua, New Guinea, on January 5, 1943. His body was never found. Walker was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously by President Franklin D. Roosevelt the same year.
When the U.S. Air Force began establishing Strategic Air Command bases in selected parts of the country during the Cold War, the Roswell field was selected and renamed to honor Walker who was born in Los Cerrillos, New Mexico. His distinguished military career began in 1917 when he joined the Army to fight in World War I.
“I am very grateful and deeply touched by this wonderful celebration and the opportunity to be here and to share this event with the wonderful folks in Roswell and to celebrate not only my father but the men and women who served so ably here at Walker AFB,” said Douglas Walker, the general’s son. “I’m also grateful to the foundation and the individuals who have worked so hard to keep the history of Walker AFB and my father’s legacy alive.”
The museum foundation researched and nominated the marker to commemorate the air field’s history through the closure of WAFB in 1967 and its continued use in aviation as Roswell International Air Center. At one time the base was protected by Atlas missiles—the first intercontinental ballistic missiles—and was the post-World War II base of the Enola Gay, the plane used to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima
“The presence of the military in New Mexico has reshaped the economic and cultural landscape of our state in communities as diverse as Albuquerque, Los Alamos, Alamogordo and Roswell,” said Jeff Pappas, State Historic Preservation Officer and HPD director. “Events and developments within our state’s borders have changed the course of history in the nation and the world.”
Historic markers provide history vignettes of New Mexico’s significant landscapes, accomplishments, persons and events. The program originated in 1935 to highlight the state’s heritage and attract the growing number of motorists touring the Southwest to visit communities and explore their heritage. Today there are more than 500 historic markers along New Mexico roads.
The program is a partnership among the public, HPD, NMDOT and the Cultural Properties Review Committee. NMDOT District Two, based in Roswell, is responsible for maintaining approximately 60 historic markers in southeastern New Mexico. With HPD, the department works with the public to facilitate nominations and handle reports of damaged markers. The NMDOT is responsible for the cost, location, installation and maintenance. HPD and the CPRC are charged with researching and writing texts and determining subjects appropriate for the markers.
The marker text was developed by WAMF, HPD and the CPRC and reads as follows:
Walker Air Force Base 1941-1967
“Roswell Army Air Field was established in 1941 and renamed after New Mexico native Brig. Gen. Kenneth Walker in 1949. Once the Strategic Air Command’s largest base, its bomber fleet and Atlas missiles were key deterrents during the early years of the Cold War. WAFB closed in 1967 and became the Roswell International Air Center, home to public and private entities. Two world record free-fall parachute jumps took place here, including Alan Eustace’s 135,890-foot descent, which reached a speed of 822 miles per hour, in 2014.”
Manon Arnett, Public Information Officer for the New Mexico Department of Transportation District Two at (575) 637-7210 (office) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Drake, New Mexico Historic Preservation Division Public Relations and Historic Marker Coordinator, 505-827-8320; email@example.com.