Wednesday, September 28, 2011

39th Homecoming & Reunion Details

Welcome the Cobra’s Home

On December 7, 1941 the new Bellingham Airport was open to the public for the first time. As the locals drove around the airfield, the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor came over their car radios…The airfield was immediately closed to civilians, taken over by the Army and awaited the arrival of the 39th Pursuit Squadron – then one of only three combat-ready squadrons in the country. The 39th arrived near Christmas, having made a hasty departure from family and loved ones, bound for a remote air field in the far corner of the country. The pilots and crews recall being scared and a long way from home… and they remember how the community of Bellingham opened their arms to them; made them feel welcome, cared about, and not alone at Christmas.

The 39th Fighter Squadron went on to become one of the most-decorated squadrons of WWII in the South Pacific. They had a stunning 22 Aces by the end of the Korean War, four of whom where here in Bellingham ‘where it all began’!

HFM is pleased and proud to be hosting the 39th Fighter Squadron Association’s 2011 reunion in October! Activities will fall over our 15 October Fly Day – which will be the focus of our celebrations. Join us in welcoming them ‘home’ for 70th anniversary of their arrival here in Bellingham!!

Details to be announced as plans firm up! Stay tuned!

Homecoming Celebrations – Public Welcome!

  • Date: Saturday, 15 October, 2011
  • Time: 12-4pm (but feel free to arrive a little early to get ‘into place’ to welcome the squadron back!)
  • Admission: $5/person, Veteran’s & Active Military free
  • Location: Heritage Flight Museum ramp @ Bellingham Airport. Click here for a map.
  • Plans: We want to see the street lined with people holding flags and streamers, waving and welcoming ‘our’ squadron members and their families back to where it all began! Meet and greet some of the original pilots and crews who were here in Bellingham from December 1941 to January 1942, and their more current counterparts! HFM and visiting aircraft will fly and pose for photos! Current members (and hopefully aircraft) of today’s 39th Fighter Training Squadron will be in attendance as well.

39thFS Association Reunion Details

  • Dates: 12-16 October, 2011
  • Hotel:
  • Fly to/from: Bellingham International (KBLI) or Seattle-Tacoma International (KSEA)
  • Activities: 12th – Arrive & settle, 13th – rest-up or explore the Bellingham area, 14th – bus trip to Everett/Paine Field’s Historic Flight Foundation and Flying Heritage Collection, 15th – HFM Fly Day, 39th Homecoming Celebration and association banquet dinner, 16th- depart for home.
  • Membership in the 39th Fighter Squadron Association is open to anyone who has ever served in (or is now serving in) the 39th Squadron from its activation in December of 1939 to the present day. All family members and family friends are encouraged to jointhe reunions. Associate Membership is open to anyone that has served in any sister squadrons, or Groups/Wings. If you are interested in joining the association, contact current association President, C. “John” Dellinger: / 417-271-3930

Friday, November 5, 2010

39thFS Reunion & Homecoming - Oct 2011

HFM is pleased and proud to be hosting the 39th Fighter Squadron Association 2011 reunion in October! The Association’s reunion activities will fall over our 15 October Fly Day - which will be the focus of our celebrations. We hope that the community will once again embrace the members of the 39th as we celebrate 70 years since their arrival at the outbreak of WWII. More information about our homecoming celebration coming soon...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Seeking History of United Airlines Terminal

As we continue our research of the Bellingham airfield we keep running into a small black hole, of sorts: the United Airlines Terminal building.

We know that United Airlines played a key role in Bellingham securing it's Port of Entry status in the late-30's, and that a United DC-3 was scheduled to be part of the dedication ceremonies in June of 1940. We know from reports given to us by a pilot from the 39th Pursuit Squadron that there was only one wooden shack on the field when they arrived in 1941. We can see from aerial photographs taken in 1946 that there appears to be a sizable building on the site of the terminal building, but is it the United building? We know that it is an F. Stanley Piper design and was funded and built by United Airlines, but beyond that we know very little.

So, we are seeking any information that anyone has on when this building was built. Please feel free to leave a comment here; leads, information, personal accounts, etc. [KS]

Friday, November 13, 2009

The 39th Pursuit Squadron

"December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan... The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu." - President Franklin D. Roosevelt

The newly-opened Whatcom County Airfield/Bellingham Airdrome was active with civilians on that fateful day... and all likely listened with disbelief as news of the attack on Pearl Harbor played over their car radios. What did this mean for the Country? What did this mean for a town like Bellingham, perched on the edge of the Pacific's sheltered in-land waters? What lurked off the coast, waiting to strike?

Though the events of December 7th came as a shock, the possibility that America would ultimate engage in WWII likely came as little surprise to most. Since the conception of the Bellingham airport project before 1936, the Army Air Corps had been lobbying hard for an airfield in such a strategic position. And our research indicates that the final push to finish the first runway after 4 long years of stopping and starting, came as a result of War Department funding. Simultaneously, in other parts of the country, a handful of pursuit squadrons were being made 'battle ready'... and it was one of these, the 39th Pursuit Squadron, that arrived in Bellingham a mere three days after Pearl Harbor.

We have been in contact with one of the pilots of the 39th, and he has very graciously shared his memories of those days with us. Another pilot with that squadron, though no longer with us, has been able to contribute to our research thanks to his son who has provided us with much-looked-for information on our air base. The former tells us that, after a long journey across country, the initial pilots, aircraft and maintenance crews arrived at Bellingham with much relief... and sadness. It was almost Christmas, they had left their homes, families, friends almost over-night... thrust suddenly into 'the real thing'. Bellingham was a 'newly concreted air strip' in the middle of no where, with few amenities for a battle-ready squadron of almost 300 men. No barracks. No hangars. No buildings. Just a fresh runway, a small taxiway, and a wooden shack.

Thankfully for the pilots and crews, the community opened their arms, and for the three weeks that they were stationed here patrolling the air and water ways for signs of an invasion they were welcomed into the homes and families of this county.

The 39th Pursuit Squadron flew the P-39 Aircobra - an aircraft that served it's time well, but was ultimately and quickly replaced by newer and better aircraft. Many P-39's were ferried to Alaska and on to Russia as part of the Lend-Lease Act, while others like those with the 39th went to Australia and the South Pacific and were left in the jungles there.

The pilots of the 39th, after leaving Bellingham, went on to Australia and Papua New Guinea where they became one of the most highly decorated combat squadrons of WWII. They had numerous aces in their ranks: Tommy Lynch, Dick Bong, 'Snarlin' Charlie King... and it all started here.

We hope to get permission from the gentlemen who have shared their memories to use their correspondence verbatim - because they really do tell it best. Until then, we continue to research, and continue to be surprised at the great stories to be told about the Bellingham airport.

1 June 2010 marks the 70th anniversary of the dedication of our airport. We intend to celebrate accordingly! [KS]

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Calling all Bellingham Airport Memories!

There is so little in the official record about this airport - though we have had a lot of luck at the local, state and federal archives with some things. In cases like this, it is often best to look to the community for help. We've spoken to a number of 'old timers' who were here before and after WWII, and have gleaned a lot of insight from them, but we know there are more of you out there who may have a story to tell, or a picture to share. Can you help us?

We're particularly interested in the WWII era, but there's a lot more to Bellingham airport's history than just the '40's. Did you grow up here and remember going to airshows? Did you, or a family member, ever fly out of the old United Airlines terminal? Was a family member deployed from here with a reserve unit during the Korean War? Do you have a photo taken from an airplane of the airport? Do you know anything about what aircraft were based here during WWII?

The 1970's were another very active time for the airport - were you a pilot here then? Did you have a hangar here? Do you remember the Airport Cafe? What's the true story behind Lone Pine?

We're excited to hear your stories and see your pictures. Please leave a 'comment' here, sharing your story, and let us know how we can get a picture if you have them! There's a great community story here to be told - help us tell it! [KS]

Friday, September 18, 2009

Welcome to the Bellingham Army Air Field

It's 1936, and here in one of the last out-posts before the Canadian border, in the far northwest corner of Washington State, The Great Depression has hit hard. Works Progress Administration projects employ small numbers of men, but times are tough. Yet by October of the same year, a new project is on the horizon... an airport to permanently replace the smaller, make-shift landing fields that have been around since the early 1920's. An airport that United Airlines would like as a Port of Entry for their flights from Vancouver to Seattle and locations further south. An airport that the Army Air Corps see's as being strategically placed as war looms on the horizon...

Bellingham's well-known Larabee family sells 200 acres at the present location to Whatcom County, and the State Grant-in-Aid requests start flowing to Olympia. Three runways are planned, but it takes almost four years to get the first 5000' x 150' runway cleared and paved. Temporary Port of Entry status is secured early, but the slow construction leaves it in a continually tenuous state - United Airlines will only base there if the field is safe enough for their DC-3's, and it maintains it's Port of Entry status. Ultimately they build a beautiful terminal, designed by F. Stanley Piper, and the airport is dedicated in 1940, having employed more than 500 people 'on relief'.

With WWII approaching rapidly, the Army Corps of Engineers takes over and within a year there are three full runways, revetments for parking aircraft, and development of personnel quarters. Modifications and improvements continue throughout the War, and the field see's heavy use by aircraft constantly coming and going. Bellingham Army Air Field becomes a War Asset in 1946 and is slowly turned back over to the county.


The Heritage Flight Museum acquired US Army Corps of Engineer blueprints of this air field several years ago, and now hope to identify and interpret what features remain from those WWII years. We hope to make this a community project - with shared stories and recollections submitted by those who lived here, grew up here, have heard stories from family members, and so on.

Enjoy, and stay tuned! We're always learning something new and look forward to sharing it with you here. [KS]