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SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE. Sheppard Air Force Base, just north of the city limits of Wichita Falls in Wichita County, houses the Eightieth Flying Training Wing and the Eighty-second Training Wing. The base was one of a series of flight-training facilities established by the United States Army Air Corps in 1940–41. In 1940 Maj. Gen. Rush B. Lincoln, then commander of the United States Army Air Corps Technical Training Schools, was attracted to the flat pastureland just north of Wichita Falls. J. S. Birdwell offered to sell 300 acres of his cattle ranch to the government for one dollar. Congress accepted. Later an additional 500 acres was added to the site. Construction of the base began on June 12, 1941, and was completed on October 17. The training facility was named Sheppard Field, in honor of Texas senator John Morris Sheppard, who had died six months earlier. Col. Edward C. Black and a staff of eighteen took command of the base. Two months later the first 300 troops arrived. The cadets were trained as mechanics of medium bombers and gliders and as glider pilots. Some of the personnel also received liaison-pilot training. The last year of the war the base became the only helicopter-pilot training school in the nation and housed a military air-traffic school. In 1945 the base reached its peak strength, 46,304, the largest concentration of American air corps troops in the world.

Within six months after the defeat of Japan, orders were issued to deactivate the field temporarily, and the city of Wichita Falls received a lease to the property. Over the next two years the National Guard used twenty of the buildings, and a few others were moved into the city for use by Wichita General Hospital and Midwestern Hospital. In April 1948 the air force asked that Sheppard Field be "frozen" to prevent further disposal of base property. Months later the base was reactivated. In early September seven men and one officer arrived to prepare the field for the 21,000 men expected to arrive by December. Col. Samuel C. Gurney, Jr., was the first commanding officer of the reactivated base, which was renamed Sheppard Air Force Base. Over the next three decades the airfield expanded to 5,400 acres, became the home of 3,500 permanent military personnel, annually drew just over 4,000 students including Dutch and German nationals, and employed 2,000 private citizens. Three training schools were stationed at the base. The 3750th Technical School trained students in aircraft maintenance, transportation, communication, civil engineering, and field training. The population of the base reached 13,861 in 1960. During the 1960s the school became the center for Titan and Atlas intercontinental missiles. Later, Thor and Jupiter intercontinental ballistic missile training was added. By the mid-1960s these training activities had been discontinued. The 3630th Flying Training Wing conducted two undergraduate pilot-training programs, one for West Germany and the other for South Vietnamese helicopter pilots (1965–71). Between 1960 and 1965 the Strategic Air Command had an operational wing stationed at the base. The 3630th subsequently conducted aerospace rescue schools and weather instruction. In January 1973 the 3630th Flying Training Wing was redesignated as the Eightieth Flying Training Wing. This wing conducts fighter-oriented pilot training for NATO countries. The Air Force Medical Service School relocated to Sheppard from Gunter Air Force Base in Alabama in 1966. The name was changed to the School of Health Care Sciences in 1971, and it was designated the 3790th Medical Service Training Wing in 1988. It offers medical training in dentistry, medicine, veterinary medicine, nursing, and support services and manages a hospital. Population of the base had declined to 3,825 in 1990. By the early 1990s Sheppard Air Force Base began the realignment and streamlining of many of its units. The Air Training Command became the Air Education and Training Command in July 1993, and Sheppard Training Center was renamed the Eighty-second Training Wing. By 2005 the facility had a total base population of 27,972, including both military and civilian operating personnel. The base maintains an elementary school, a theater, a youth center, a bank, and a base exchange. The Sheppard Air Force Base Heritage Center includes artifact exhibits and archives.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Louise Kelly, Wichita County Beginnings (Burnet, Texas: Eakin Press, 1982). Sheppard Air Force Base (http://www.sheppard.af.mil), accessed March 29, 2005. Sheppard Senator, September 8, 1981. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Wichita Falls Times, May 15, 1957.

David Minor

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

David Minor, "SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qbs06), accessed August 30, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.