Sheppard one of the most diversified training bases in the Air Force

  • Published
  • By Dwight W. Tuttle, Ph. D.
  • 82nd Training Wing History Office
Known as one of the foremost authorities on military matters in Congress, Morris Sheppard, for whom the base is named, first entered national politics in 1902, succeeding his father John L. Sheppard in the House of Representatives.

In 1912, the Texas Legislature appointed Mr. Morris to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate following the retirement of Sen. Joseph W. Bailey.

A native of Wheatville, Texas, in 1889 Morris Sheppard moved to Texarkana, Texas, after graduating from the Law Department of Yale University, where he practiced law until he was elected to Congress.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, his concerns about America's lack of preparedness and the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 led him to cooperate with Gen. George C. Marshall to achieve the passage, in 1941, of the Selective Service and the Lend Lease Act. The latter provided aid from a neutral United States to the United Kingdom -- at the time a belligerent of Germany.

In addition to his belief in a strong national defense, Sen. Sheppard worked tirelessly on behalf of two issues that were important to him: temperance and American participation in the League of Nations. In addition to authoring the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which outlawed the consumption of alcohol beverage, he continued to believe in temperance, even after the amendment was repealed in 1933.

In one of his last speeches before his peers on the floor of the Senate, Sen. Sheppard opposed the use of alcohol as "intolerable in an era of strenuous effort toward national security and defense. A democracy that tolerated alcohol consumption," he stated, "cannot develop the maximum strength for national defense."

As Chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs, he sought to banish intoxicating beverages from all training camps prior to America's entrance into World War II. On April 17, 1941, eight days after Sen. Sheppard died, General Marshal announced that a new base was to be constructed north of Wichita Falls and would be named after him.

The rolling fields north of Wichita Falls near Kell Field, which Air Training Command Gen. Rush B. Lincoln had surveyed in September 1940 for a base, changed drastically after bids were open in May 1941. By the end of the month, a spur track of the Missouri-Kansas Texas railroad had been completed to the site of Sheppard Field, and an office building and perimeter fence were near final completion.

In June, the military started construction of Sheppard Field. By July, some 5,000 persons were working on the base, reminiscent of the former oil boom days in Wichita Falls. The first contingent of a 20-man permanent party arrived June 14, 1941, from Chanute Field, led by Capt. Frank Henley and Lt. Edward Kemp to establish a Post Headquarters and Air Corps Supply Depot. Since no building existed, they established their headquarters in the old Hamilton Building, located downtown.

On 18 June 1941, the field's first commander, Col. Edward "Red" Black, arrived June 18, and by Aug. 4, 323 individuals, comprising the main body of the field cadres, also had arrived at Sheppard Field. They were quartered temporarily in tents until barracks could be completed. And then the rains came.

Three times during the fall of 1941 the Wichita River overflowed its banks. Mechanical equipment at Sheppard Field became mired in a sea of mud and water. Colonel Black ordered his troops to help evacuate residents from their homes when the severe flooding forced residents on the east side of Wichita Falls to evacuate their homes.

Flooding was so extensive that mud ran up to the running boards of cars. "Duck" boards had to be laid so that army members could get to their living quarters.

Despite these hardships, major contracts were completed on schedule and troops were soon able to move into barracks a few weeks after tents had been set up. Housing, on base and off, remained a problem however.

Members continued to move to Sheppard Field faster than accommodations became available. To meet the housing crisis, base officials housed men in aircraft hangars, tents and "hot bunks." The latter referred to having more than one person use the same bed through over several shifts.

A group of 400 trainees entered Sheppard's first aviation mechanics class Oct. 13, 1941, but because of the Army's urgency to begin training as soon as possible, Sheppard had to borrow some tools from nearby Kell Field. From this initial beginning, Sheppard's population grew to 60 officers and 11,300 enlisted members as of Dec. 1, 1941.

The Army had originally intended to use Sheppard Field's facilities to support an Aviation Mechanics School. By mid-July, however, the War Department had broadened the mission of Sheppard Field to include both technical and basic training.

In pursuit of this latter goal, the Army activated the 401st through the 410th School Squadron at the Army Air Corps Replacement Training Center, Jefferson Barracks, Mo., transferring them to Sheppard Field and the Air Corps Replacement Training Center. Both units fell within the command responsibility of Colonel Black.

After America's entrance into World War II, Sheppard Field's training mission expanded to include training for glider mechanics and glider pilot training, and liaison Ground Officers. In addition, B-29 engineers and C-82 transport mechanics also received instruction at Sheppard field. The 82nd Training Group and 782nd Training Group TRG are direct descendents of the Aviation Mechanics School, making them the oldest units at Sheppard AFB.

From 1941 through 1945, the Replacement Training Center oversaw training for 445,000 airmen in basic training. From September through November 1945, the field reached peak strength of 46,340 while serving as a separation center for the Army Air Corps.

With its five major training organizations - 82nd TRG, 782nd TRG, 882nd TRG, 982nd TRG, and 80th Flying Training Wing - Sheppard today has become one of the most diversified training bases in the Air Force: a far cry from the barren landscape, north of Wichita Falls, which greeted the first class of aviation mechanics in the fall of 1941.