Named for Major Gen. George Crook, Fort Crook was established 10 miles south of Omaha on 546 acres in 1888.
When the balloon school closed there in 1920 and was moved to Texas, an adjacent cornfield was converted to a landing field and a hangar constructed. The following year, two airplanes arrived, bringing the powered aircraft era to the fort.
More than a year before Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, the 17th Infantry was pulled from Fort Crook, and it became a maintenance/supply depot and induction center.
Even then, many Americans were certain the United States soon would enter the war. In anticipation of that event, the Glenn L. Martin Co. of Baltimore announced that it had responded to the federal government's request to build two new aircraft factories "at least 200 miles from a coast" of the United States. The site of one of the new plants would be south of Omaha at Fort Crook.
In 1941, a contract was signed for 600 acres providing for a factory be built, owned and controlled by the federal government but leased to Martin.
Peter Kiewit & Sons became the primary contractor on the $15 million project, which would include three runways, nine primary structures covering 1.2 million square feet and 41 smaller buildings adding another 800,000 square feet. With what would become normal wartime precision, the main building was completed that October.
Modification of earlier aircraft was begun Jan. 1, 1942, and the first woman of what ultimately was to become half the work force was hired March 24. The first B-26 was begun June 8, 1942, and completed Aug. 11. Production of the B-29 began in 1943 and peaked at 55 per month.
On April 26 that year, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was given a tour of the facility by Glenn Martin and Nebraska Gov. Dwight Griswold.
By 1944, modification of aircraft and production of B-26s and B-29s reached 145 per month and the payroll included 13,217 workers.
The last B-29 was produced there on Sept. 18, 1945, and the plant closed the following April, becoming a warehouse for the Air Materiel Command, and part of the old fort became a work camp for Italian prisoners of war.
In 1946, Fort Crook was renamed Offutt Field, honoring Omaha's first WWI casualty, Lt. Jarvis Offutt. With the transfer from the Army Air Force to the U.S. Air Force, the post officially became Offutt Air Force Base and home of the Strategic Air Command in 1948.
Unquestionably, the two most famous aircraft of WWII were built in the Bellevue plant. On May 9, 1945, Col. Paul Tibbits Jr. chose a specific bomber then under construction and named it Enola Gay for his mother. The plane was completed May 18 and on Aug. 6, 1945, dropped the "Little Boy" atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Although the bomber Great Artiste originally was chosen to drop the second bomb, it was fitted for different instrumentation, thus the Bockscar, named for Capt. Frederick C. Bock, dropped the "Fat Man" on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945.
The Enola Gay is on display at the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Historian Jim McKee, who still writes with a fountain pen, invites comments or questions. Write to him in care of the Journal Star or at email@example.com