Seventy eight years ago this week the first plane touched down at the Naval Air Station on the University of Oklahoma's Max Westheimer airport. The Boeing N2S Stearman biplane was the workhorse of trainers and was usually the first plane flown by student pilots sent here by the Navy.
Over the skies of central Oklahoma the Navy pilots earned their wings. There were auxiliary flying fields for practicing take-offs and landings and for emergencies.
Cadets trained here for three months and then advanced to other bases where they flew larger, more sophisticated planes before being assigned overseas. The Naval Air Station was one of two large bases constructed here at the onset of World War II. The second, the Naval Air Technical Training Center, was located southeast of the university with a large gate at Jenkins Avenue and Constitution Street.
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Norman Regional Hospital''s planned free-standing emergency room at 24th Avenue SE and Highway 9 will honor the thousands of men and women who trained in Norman beginning in 1942. An architect's drawing of the planned facility was shown to the Norman City Council which unanimously approved the project last month.
A water feature in the outline of an anchor is the centerpiece of the new development. The South Base was east and a little north of Norman Regional's chosen site but a temporary landing field was built just north of the location near where Hitachi is now located. Long-time residents called it the Noble Flying Field.
Helen Todd, who lives west of where the field was located, recalls the Navy taking land from farmers in the area, including her father, Sylvester Tullius. She remembers a fire truck stationed at the field in case of an emergency. "During the war they came to our gas station to get water in the truck," she said.
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The bases operated here from 1942 until 1959. After World War II, they were technically closed and reactivated during the Korean War. Only a few of the "temporary" buildings constructed during the war remain. The city and the university received most of the base property which included the University North Park land and the Noble Flying Field.
The Optimist Gym may be the largest one still standing. However, an OU maintenance shop on the South Base still uses a large, original 1942 building.
University High School was one of the two-story temporary buildings, and it was a falling apart shack, a friend writes. There were wooden stairs off the back two corners, and they served as the emergency fire exits. Until one of them fell apart due to dry rot, and two new sets of emergency exit stairways were hastily built, he recalled
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When the University North Park development was first proposed and the large dirt mound known as Mt. Williams or "Bullet Hill" was to be removed, university officials vowed to build some sort of monument to the men and women who spent time here before going off to win the war.
A small plot was set aside for such a memorial. It is near where the two southernmost restaurants are near Target. There's even a Mount Williams street out there.
The hospital will honor the two bases. Maybe it's time the developers made good on the promise to build such a memorial.