Whiteman: Gliding through history

  • Published
  • By Megan Blair
  • 509th Bomb Wing Historian
In the spring of 1942, the massive buildup for World War II prompted the U.S. Army to search for a site near Sedalia, MO, as a glider training base. Among the areas considered were the state fairgrounds site and a site in neighboring Dresden.

Both of these sites were rejected because of a lack of room for expansion. The Sedalia Gilder Base was eventually located on an area known to locals as the "Blue Flats" located outside Knob Noster.

On May 15, 1942, work began on the base's first building. After a flurry of action, an H-shaped building began rising from the dusty Missouri farm land. This building became the headquarters for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during the base construction.

Over the next several months, fast and furious construction dominated the Blue Flats region. At one time, nearly 2,500 men were employed on construction jobs at the base. In all, the project required a total of about 1,943,000 man hours.

The base reached its first major milestone on Aug. 6, 1942 when the Army declared the field officially open. On the same day, Lt. Col. Robert H. Wheat, the new base commander arrived from Patterson Field, Ohio.

Even as the first aircraft arrived, the base was not quite ready. Soldiers arriving and stationed to the field in the early days remember:

"There were dogs and cats all about and snakes crawling around in the lazy fall days. It rained so much that everything was grizzly gray and muddy yellow. There were no dayrooms, no theater, and no chapel. All you could do in the evening was write letters while you sat on the edge of your bunk."

"The cars stuck in mud all over the field and you usually drove a vehicle as far as you could, then hiked the rest of the way. The boys drank milk and pop out of barrels. Every officer had about 67 additional duties."

The citizens of local communities pitched in to help the new arrivals. Sedalia and Warrensburg quickly set up USOs with reading and writing rooms. Chaperons brought young women to and from dances. To ease the pain of homesickness during the Yuletide season, the USOs sent a gift to every man on base for that first Christmas 1942. Sedalia Glider Base had become one of the eight bases in the United States dedicated to training glider pilots for combat missions performed by the Troop Carrier Command.

During those early days, the base did face a perplexing problem over what to call the field.

The first change came on Sept. 23, 1942 when "Sedalia" was dropped from the original address, leaving the base to be known only as Army Air Base, Warrensburg, MO. Shortly after, the address was changed to Army Air Base, Knob Noster, MO. On Nov. 12, 1942, the name changed to Sedalia Army Air Field, Warrensburg, MO.

In the seventy years, since the base first opened its doors, it has seen a lot of change. It has gone from training gliders to missiles to being the home of the B-2 Stealth Bomber. While the base continues to grow, with the addition of such as the 20th RS and reserve components, Whiteman's future continues to be bright.