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MEMORIES & MOMENTS

Jim McKee: Takeoff of Scribner's air base

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This photo is an aerial view of the Scribner U.S. Army Airfield, probably taken long after the base was opened on December 9, 1942. The photo may be considerably later as the two principal runways are extant and still in operation by the Nebraska Department of Transportation and often referred to now as being in Hooper.

During World War II most Nebraska communities were affected in one way or another. Several hosted munitions manufacturing plants, a few received prisoners of war, while 11 were transformed, almost overnight, as Army air force bases complete with runways, chapels, barracks, hangars and hospitals.

A few expanded, like Omaha’s, which morphed into the Strategic Air Command and its successors, some simply disappeared while others still operate as airfields.

Although Pebble Creek post office in Dodge County opened in 1868, the village of Pebble was not platted until 1870. When the railroad missed Pebble, railroad magnate John Blair platted Scribner a mile to the east Dec. 6, 1870, naming it for his publisher, son-in-law Charles Scribner.

The first building, a 22-by-40 foot frame house was completed in 1873. The following year the Scribner post office opened, the Clifton House Hotel was built and the population reached 50. Scribner was incorporated as a village in 1882, and its success was cemented when the Soll brothers opened the Soll Opera House there in 1898.

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As the United States was poised to enter World War II, Nebraska’s U.S. Sen. George Norris began lobbying for Nebraska as a site for potential Army air force bases. Nebraska was promoted as having excellent year-round weather which furnished rapidly-changing condition suitable for pilot training. Additionally, the light population density offered little disruption, land could be purchased much cheaper than on either coast, there were excellent railroad connections, utilities of every description were readily available, the land was level for runways and there was good labor pool available for construction projects. 1940 saw the first surveys on the basis of availabilities and in August four sections in Everett Township had been completely surveyed.

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Six months after the U.S. joined World War II, Army Air Force training base construction began across the country and by October of 1942 Scribner area farmers began receiving eviction notices for their land. Later that month, construction began on 2-by-4, wood-frame, tar paper-covered buildings.

By Nov. 26, 1942, 87 buildings, all with life expectancies of five to seven years, and two concrete runways had been completed on the Scribner base. The 2,060-acre base, described as being three miles southeast of Scribner, four miles south of Hooper, at an elevation of 1,324 feet, was officially opened Dec. 9, 1942 as a satellite of the Sioux City Army Airfield to decentralize the command structure. A short time later Scribner was made independent of Sioux City with the Ainsworth, Nebraska, base becoming a satellite of Scribner.

Initially the 36th Fighter Group trained P-47 Thunderbolt pilots until they were deployed before D-Day and later trained B-24 bomber training.

In 1943 Scribner’s airbase became a Nebraska experiment in camouflage. One hanger was painted to resemble a barn and the area around it made to look like a village. The village sported buildings made to resemble a church, a fake silo and a school which was surrounded with “spun glass children.”

Many other buildings were covered in wire mesh, which was then covered with chicken feathers while artificial trees dotted the grounds. The runways were even tarred, then covered with wood chips and crushed corncobs to resemble harvested fields. No determination as to the effectiveness seems to have come out of the experiments though several other small bases painted hangars to resemble barns and farm buildings.

On Dec. 31, 1945, after “long being inactive [Scribner air base] was designated as surplus equipment” and sold to the state of Nebraska. Word circulated in 1951 that the Scribner airbase was being considered as a location for the U.S. Air Force Academy, but it turned out that over 600 other places were also in the running, with Scriber never even mentioned officially. In the 1950s Scribner air base was put on standby for SAC’s emergency runway use until 1959.

Several of Nebraska’s World War II army airfields now exist as municipal airfields, four of which are state-operated with Scribner’s now 789 acre site often noted as having two open concrete runways; the 4,200 foot one being in excellent condition while the 3,199 foot runway is considered poor by the Nebraska Department of Transportation. Instead of Scribner, the airport is now most frequently identified as being at 1574 County Road J in Hooper with the airport also housing a U.S. Air Force communications center.

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 jim@leebooksellers.com

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