It was 1917, and the United States had recently entered World War I. Part of the war effort saw the establishment of an airfield in the swampy lowlands between the eastern city limits of Mount Clemens, Michigan and Lake St. Clair. "Military aircraft piloted by members of the 8th and 9th Aero Squadrons were first seen aloft over the city on July 9." In more than nine decades of existence, the novelty has not worn off. "Although Selfridge Field has gone through many incarnations, which have brought it from its birth as a fledging army airfield to its current role as an Air National Guard Base, the heartbeat of an institution engaged in making history has never left it."
After training thousands of aerial gunners and hundreds of aircraft mechanics during World War I, Selfridge Field was nearly closed during the post-Armistice draw down. However, its importance and potential value was evaluated and outright purchase of the installation in 1921 was recommended. "The following year opened a new and exciting chapter when the First Pursuit Group, a highly decorated organization which numbered among its members several World War I aerial aces, made Selfridge Field its new headquarters."
"The First Pursuit Group would spend the next two decades dazzling the local citizenry, and the world, with their aerial feats. They performed operational testing for dozens of new aircraft, competed boldly in air races, and set record after aviation record. They were the elite of the aviation world, a fact that is reflected in the number of famous names record in their squadrons' rosters. General Curtis LeMay recalled in his memoirs his excitement when, as a young lieutenant with newly minted wings, he received orders for Selfridge Field and an opportunity to rub elbows with the "First Team." General H. H. "Hap" Arnold commented that it was the ambition of every air corps pilot to serve at Selfridge.
The bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and thus the beginning of World War II for the United States, precipitated the departure of the First Pursuit Group, thus changing the mission of Selfridge Field. The installation soon became home to newly formed units and raw recruits received basic training there. The 332nd Fighter Group, also known as the Tuskegee Airmen, attended advanced combat training at Selfridge Field.
Following the war, Selfridge pilots received many opportunities to make history. "In 1948, sixteen F-80 jet fighters from the 56th Fighter Group demonstrated for the Soviet Union and the world their ability to deploy quickly across the Atlantic when they completed the first west-to-east transatlantic jet crossing in just over nine hours. When was erupted in Korea, members of this organization were among America's first jet aces."
In 1955, the Air Defense Command took the initiative to return units to their historic bases, prompting the return of parts of the First Pursuit Group, now designated the First Fighter Wing, to Selfridge Field. The First Fighter Wing remained at Selfridge for another 15 years, though the base was already entering another phase of its history, which would culminate in the transfer in 1971 from the U.S. Air Force to the Michigan Air National Guard. Under the Michigan Air National Guard, Selfridge served as the host organization, serving as a model of a successful joint-services installation with units from all five branches of the armed forces represented within its gates. (Courtesy of book, Images of Aviation: Selfridge Field)
Selfridge Field was named in memory of Thomas Etholen Selfridge (1883-1908) in San Francisco, a graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point with the class of 1903. Lt. Selfridge was 31st in his class of 96, ranking well below the valedictorian, Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964). After receiving his commission, Selfridge was assigned to the field artillery and then was attached to the U.S. Army Signal Corps, where he had an opportunity to explore the potentials of military aviation and joined Dr. Alexander Graham Bell in his experiments with kites with great lifting capacity. He also became involved in designing and building early aircraft. On September 17, 1908 while conducting trials of the Wright airplane he went aloft with Orville Wright. On that day, flying about 150 feet from the ground over Fort Meyer, Virginia, Wright put the plane into a steep turn. The wing flexed and the propeller blade snapped off and the plane, out of control, crashed. Lt. Selfridge died that afternoon, the first man killed in a heavier-than-air flying machine. Orville Wright was hospitalized for several weeks.
In 1975, the Michigan Air Guard Historical Association (MAGHA) and the Selfridge Military Air Museum were formed by a group of Air National Guard officers and enlisted personnel to help preserve the heritage and traditions of the Michigan Air National Guard, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, and the units that are/or were stationed there.
This plaque, dedicating the museum in honor of its founder, Colonel Robert A. Stone, USAF (Ret.) for his years of faithful service is located at the entrance of the museum.
Since its beginning and for more than 40 years of operation, the Selfridge Military Air Museum has had only three directors. They are:
Colonel Robert A. Stone (1918-1996), Musem Founder/Director 1975-1996
Lieutenant Colonel Horace O. "Mark" Bedsole (1924-2014) Director 1996-2000
Lieutenant Colonel Louis J. "Lou" Nigro (1945- ) Director 2000-Present
The Michigan Air Guard Historical Association celebrated its 40th Anniversary in 2015 and the base will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2017.
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