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Magazines capture slice of World War II era airport history

Sometimes snippets of history fall out of the sky, so to speak. Retired teacher Ed Sheedy of Lantana recently dropped off for our perusal no fewer than 12 editions from the last four months of 1941, of the “weekly illustrated magazine of Morrison Field Air Base,” now Palm Beach International Airport.

All but two are dated prior to Dec. 7, 1941, a date that needs no explanation, after which their light tone changes.

Ed, whose father was a Navy pilot, had bought them from a local man who’d collected them.

The editions are a wonderful snapshot of a long-ago time. The coolest part is you can read every page on HistoricPalmBeach.com here.

First, a brief history:

In 1940, the Morrison Field municipal airport was leased to the U.S. Army for an air base. More land was bought, expanding the airport to 1,825 acres. A 1940 Works Progress Administration project expanded runways and taxiways. On Feb. 27, 1941, it became an Army post, although it still handled civilian air traffic.

After Pearl Harbor, the Morrison Field Army Air Force Command was activated.

“The base was like a swarm of bees,” the late Louis Zorzi, who managed the field’s officer’s club during the war — and whose son Ed helped manage Palm Beach County’s airports — said in 1977.

A little more than a month later, on Jan. 19, 1942, the Air Transport Command began operation . The army bought still more land, increasing the airport to 2,270 acres. Runways and other facilities were built, expanded or renovated, and water and sewer service brought in.

During the war, about 3,000 people were stationed at the field. Virtually every U.S. bomber destined for battle flew out of West Palm Beach, and about 45,000 fighters trained at or left from Morrison Field. About 6,000 planes passed through in the eight months before D-day. And the base maintained many giant C-54 cargo planes that “flew the hump” to supply Chinese fighting the Japanese invasion. On June 30, 1947, the U.S. Army Air Force, successor to the Army Air Corps, deactivated Morrison Field. A year later, it gave the airport back to Palm Beach County. On Aug. 11, 1947, county commissioners changed the name to Palm Beach International Airport; that became official Sept. 27, 1948.

Next Week: AIR.

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Posted in Morrison Field September 23, 2010 at 7:20 am.

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