The Norman Transcript

Opinion

October 6, 2013

Memories of Naval bases fading with time

NORMAN — As the years quickly pass, memories of Norman’s Mount Williams are already beginning to fade.

At a Chamber of Commerce breakfast this week, a speaker talked of spending much of his childhood digging slugs out of the dirt backstops that served sailors at the two Navy bases here.

Looking around, it was obvious many in the room had no clue about what Dan Stroud was talking about. The mounds — one on the north base north of Robinson Street and the other on the south base near where the National Weather Center now stands — are gone now.

When the University North Park commercial development was envisioned, the university promised to put up a monument noting Mount Williams and its role in Norman’s history. (J.W. Williams was the base’s first commander, and the north base backstop was built with dirt scraped when the base was constructed here in 1942.)

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The Navy opened the two bases after the U.S. entered World War II. The Naval Flight Training Center was a flying school for combat pilots heading to World War II. The 19 cadets in the first class took their first flights in September 1942.

The Naval Air Technical Training Center trained mechanics and machinists on the South Base. A 400-bed hospital also operated there, and a Naval Air Gunners school opened east of Lexington.

About 2,000 workers were hired to put up the temporary buildings, streets and other amenities for the small cities that sprung up. Construction began in April 1942.

The bases were closed after the war but reopened between 1952 and 1959 to support the Korean War effort.

Seventeen auxiliary airstrips around central Oklahoma were often utilized for touch and go for the pilots.

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Like the dirt backstops, most of the base’s “temporary” buildings have been taken down. The latest casualty was a large office building just south of the OU Golf Course clubhouse. It most recently housed OU social science departments while work was being done on Dale Hall Tower.

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