Looking Back

An ad in the July 11, 1949 issue of the Grenier Air Force Base newspaper, the Northern Sentinel. Scanned from the author’s collection.

The 82nd Fighter Group was established at Grenier Field in Manchester in April 1947. It was made up of three squadrons of 25 P-51 Mustang fighter planes each (also known as F-51s). The 82nd was assigned to the 15th Air Force, part of the Strategic Air Command (SAC). The military establishment at Grenier, which comprised the 82nd Fighter Group and several support squadrons, became known as the 82nd Fighter Wing.

Within a few months the 82nd Fighter Wing’s personnel level exceeded 1,400 airmen, some living off-base with their families. The Air Force became a separate branch of the U.S. military in September 1947, and for the next several months the new service was in a formative stage. It was impossible to predict what the long-term prospects would be for Grenier Air Force Base, but its future seemed somewhat assured when, on Jan. 24, 1948, the facility was visited by Major General Clements McMullen, Deputy Commander in Chief of SAC. According to the base newspaper, the Northern Sentinel, “The general … told members of the command that they should consider Grenier their military home as it would be declared a permanent installation in the near future.”

During the first eight months of 1949 it appeared reasonable to believe that Grenier would survive the Air Force’s reorganizational turmoil, so the 82nd Fighter Wing’s airmen continued to engage in their usual off duty activities. In late winter Grenier boxers participated in the New Hampshire Golden Gloves Tournament. The base’s basketball team maintained a busy schedule, playing against Saint Anselm College and other schools, and also against other military teams. Spring brought major repairs to the base tennis courts to prepare for tournament play. That summer, Grenier golfers competed against teams from other bases, and the Grenier Mustangs was one of the six teams playing in the local Sheridan-Emmett softball league. Also, there were frequent swim parties for the airmen at Manchester’s Crystal Lake.

The Grenier Service Cub organized regular bingo nights and dances for the enlisted men and their guests. On July 14 the Officers Club put on a special dance featuring music performed by the famous saxophonist RCA Victor, and recording artist and band leader Freddy Martin and his orchestra. On Aug. 13 the NCO (Non Commissioned Officers) Club hosted its biggest event of 1949, “Operation Clambake,” at Pine Island Park. This popular amusement park was located just north of the airbase in Manchester. The event featured roller skating, dancing, swimming, and impromptu softball games. There was plenty of food (including steamed clams), and enough Coca-Cola and beer to satisfy thirsts.

A hundred men from the Maintenance and Supply Group and 50 from the 82nd Fighter Group marched down Elm Street in Manchester’s Memorial Day parade. Colonel Henry Viccellio, Grenier’s commander, and several other officers participating in the memorial ceremony on Merrimack Common (now Veterans Memorial Park). The base sent 100 enlisted men to Derry to march in that town’s Memorial Day parade, which included a stop at McGregor Park where a memorial tablet was dedicated. At the ceremony, Major Jeremiah P. Sullivan, Grenier’s Catholic Chaplain, gave the invocation and Major Julius D. Shivers of the 82nd Fighter Group delivered remarks.

On Aug. 24, 1949, U.S. Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced that Grenier Air Force Base would be deactivated. This news came as a shock to local airmen and civilians alike. The performance of the short-lived 82nd Fighter Wing was considered worthy of a letter of commendation from Emmett O’Donnell, Jr., Major General of the U.S. Air Force. It was addressed to Colonel Viccellio and dated Aug. 25, 1949. The letter included a few bland compliments such as, “In general, the overall operating procedures at your base have been exemplary,” and “The cooperation, devotion to duty and unquestionable loyalty reflects great credit on you and your personnel as well as the entire Air Force.”

The Grenier airmen had made themselves at home in Manchester, and had so endeared themselves to the community that O’Donnell was inspired to make this particular point in his letter: “The reputation that you have established with the local civilian population is most commendable and should be envied by all base commanders.”

The 82nd Fighter Wing was dissolved on Oct. 2, 1949.

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Next week: On the verge of closing, Grenier Air Force Base is again tapped for service during the Korean War.

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Aurore Eaton is a historian and writer in Manchester; contact her at auroreeaton@aol.com or at www.facebook.com/AuroreEatonWriter

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