Kelly Field—1916 to 2001



On May 10, 1911, a U.S. Army Infantry second lieutenant named George E.M. Kelly went for a training flight on the Quadrangle of Fort Sam Houston. On landing approach, he crashed, resulting in fatal injuries to himself, and making history as the first Army pilot to be killed in the crash of a military aircraft—a Curtiss Model D pusher biplane.

After the crash the commanding general at Fort Sam ordered an end to flying activities on the post, but as U.S. Army aviation grew, there was a need for airfields and the Army acquired land west of San Antonio in November 1916. There, Camp Kelly was established on March 27, 1917. The rest, as they say, is history.

My involvement with Kelly Air Force Base began in spring of 1975. I had been released from active duty in the Air Force in March and returned to San Antonio. One of my first actions was to visit the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units at Kelly to apply for a Reserve assignment. I was assigned as a Reservist to the Kelly AFB Public Affairs office in September 1975. This association with the base lasted until its closure in July of 2001. In 1980 I became a civilian employee of the base. I also served in the 433rd Tactical Airlift Wing from 1982 until late spring, 1986. I continued as an Air Force civil servant until the base closed.

Kelly was the oldest continuously active Air Force base for many years. Brooks Field, which became Brooks Air Force Base, began as part of the Kelly training complex. An Air Depot was established at Kelly Field during World War I, and that would be the main mission of the base.

Kelly was the point of origin for every Air Force base in the San Antonio area. Randolph Field was built in 1931 to take over the primary pilot training mission and Lackland began as a processing center in World War II. It continues today as the Air Force’s only basic training center.

Today Kelly is the Kelly Field Annex to Lackland, hosting Air Force flying activities as well as Guard and Reserve flying activities, the 149th Fighter Wing and 433rd Airlift Wing.

Lieutenant Kelly was buried in the San Antonio National Cemetery, east of downtown, but his heritage lives on.

WARREN DOMKE is a columnist for the Pleasanton Express.

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