Courtesy of MSgt James West. You’ll find more history at “Bakalar Air Force Base”, part of his site on Military Bases and Units: indianamilitary.org
Atterbury Air Force Base, originally known as Atterbury Air Field, was opened in February, 1943. Its original name was borrowed from the Army’s then-active Camp Atterbury, located only 14 miles north of the Air Base. The two installations were named in honor of Brig. General W. W. Atterbury, who had been in command of transportation and supplies in Europe during World War I. A graduate of Yale University, Gen. Atterbury later became president of Pennsylvania Railroads.
Its history, however, dates back to June 1st, 1942, when engineers from the U. S. Corps of Engineers Office at Louisville, Kentucky, began surveying the site for the Army Air Base. War Department plans for the airfield were announced in August as the area engineer arrived in Columbus. The first actual construction work began August 13th, 1942, with the first concrete for the runways being poured in September.
On September 17th, a Navy plane making an emergency landing on the newly-graded and still un-surfaced runways of the base took the honors for being the first plane to use the field. The first Army plane landed at the field in December, and on December 20th the first base commander, Major Ralph M. Fawcett, arrived from Godman Field, Fort Knox, Kentucky. The first large group of troops arrived here in February, 1943, from Pine Camp, N. Y., under the command of Major Avery S. Keller.
The following April, cadets from Freeman Field, Seymour, Indiana, began using the base for take-off and landing practice. And plans were revealed in June for activation and training of a number of ground units at the field. July was a busy month in the first year of operation at the base. On July 7th, the field had its first practice gas attack from the air. And on July 8th, the 431st Sub-Depot was activated at the field under the command of Major Charles D. Kerswill.
In September, part of a medium bombardment group with B-26 planes arrived and another similar group arrived the following January, 1944.
Originally occupied in February, 1943, as an installation of the First Air Force, the base also served during its early years as a Troop Carrier command base, a Third Air Force base, and was then transferred back to the Troop Carrier command.
In addition to serving as a training base for medium bombers and for gliders in its early years, it was also used as a landing field for hospital planes bringing soldier patients to Wakeman Hospital Center at the Army’s Camp Atterbury.
With the end of World War II, Atterbury Air Base was deactivated. For three years, from 1946 until 1949, the base was closed. But following the establishment of the Air Force as a separate branch of the service in 1948, the 2466th Air Force Reserve Combat Training Center of Stout Field, Indianapolis, was given the task of re-opening the installation.
Rehabilitation work was completed on the Base by June, 1949, and the Indianapolis unit began moving in along with the 81st Troop Carrier Squadron from Evansville, Indiana. Once the move was completed, the first of the Air Force Reserve Wings, the 434th Troop Carrier Wing, began training here.
With the start of the Korean War, the 434th was called to active duty. After receiving its initial training at Atterbury AFB, the Wing was moved to Lawson AFB, Georgia. The Wing served on active duty for 21 months before returning to Reserve status and once again coming back to Indiana.
The Base was renamed Bakalar Air Force Base in a formal dedication ceremony held November 13th, 1954, in honor of First Lieutenant John Edmond Bakalar. A native of Hammond, Indiana, Lt. Bakalar was killed in action September 1st, 1944, over France.
His decorations and awards include the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart, both awarded posthumously, the Air Medal with six Oak Leaf Clusters, World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze Service Stars, Distinguished Unit Citation Emblem, Aviation Badge “Pilot” and the Sharpshooter Badge with Carbine Bar.
During the Vietnam War, the 930th Tactical Airlift Group, 434th Tactical Airlift Wing, was called to active duty and re-designated as the 71st Special Operations Squadron. The unit, with 18 C-119 “Flying Boxcars” was initially transferred to Lockbourne AFB, Columbus, Ohio. The C-119s were heavily modified into AC-119Gs. Equipped with powerful searchlights and rapid-fire machine guns, the men and planes were transferred to the war zone. The 71st SOS was the ONLY USAF reserve unit to serve in Vietnam. They were released in April 1969 and returned to Bakalar AFB.
Shortly thereafter, the airbase was declared surplus and deeded to the City of Columbus.
A new museum stands just under the control tower.