Handy Island

Handy Island
"The Air War Finds A Handy South Atlantic Island" was the caption on this Peter Hurd painting of Ascension Island, from Life Magazine, April 1945. It was the only place for pilots to refuel between Natal and West Africa.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Ascension Island's Wideawake Airfield To Celebrate 70th Anniversary

Wideawake Field, Ascension Island, under construction, 1942. It is now operated under a command out of Patrick AFB in Florida. It is very likely one of the "leased" bases Churchill and FDR agreed to in exchange for all those ships we arranged to "lend" to England just before we joined the war in 1941. The leases were, I believe, to be for 99 years. Wonder if we have to give this one back?

In emailing the American Air Force staff, small as it is, on the British Overseas Territory of Ascension Island, I just became aware we are headed for the 70th Anniversary of Wideawake Field, built by the American 38th Engineer Aviation Battalion from March to June, 1942. The engineers were given 90 days to blast that thing out of volcanic rock and, as you might expect, they met their deadline. But of course.

Twenty-five thousand planes used that field to make the hop over to the China-Burma-India Theatre in World War II. It was an important outpost--this American air field on an isolated British desert island.

My father, Ashley Chapman, of Homewood, Alabama, was just out of Auburn University--a fresh-faced ROTC 2nd Lieutenant--when he was shipped to Ascension to help build that field.

As a consequence of the upcoming anniversary and my own father's connection to it, I wanted to get this blog page going in order to encourage and/or organize a 70th anniversary memorial for Wideawake Field. Most of the men who built it are gone--my own father died at age 90 in March 2010. I'm hoping this blog will help alert the children and grandchildren of these tough and talented boys, to the coming anniversary.

Watch this space. I'll share stories with you, and hope to hear from others with fathers and grandfathers who took part in the work on the fascinating island.

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