Among the pieces of history that make up the story of Grenier Air Force Base during the late 1940s are its occasional connections to nationally important figures. One notable example of this was the Oct. 16, 1947 visit by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, then U.S. Army Chief of Staff. Gen. Eisenhower, of course, was revered for his role as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe in 1944 and 1945.
He arrived from Washington, D.C., in his personal transport, a Douglas C-54 Skymaster four-engine plane named the Sunflower II. This was his first visit to Manchester, where he had been invited by the Union-Leader newspaper to deliver a speech at the Manchester Community Forum. He rode into town in an open car, and local officials presented him with the keys to the city on a platform across from City Hall.
He then gave a press conference where the national media recorded his every word. At the time there was a widespread and enthusiastic effort underway across the country attempting to persuade him to run for president in 1948 as a Republican. He had no affiliation to a political party, and told reporters, “I am a soldier. No soldier has any business being a politician. Any soldier who states that he has any political leanings is making a very bad mistake.”
Speaking in front of a large crowd that evening at a downtown venue, Gen. Eisenhower explained his views on war and peace. He stated, plainly that “War is stupid.” He felt, however, that it was necessary “…to preserve an armed force to ensure our own safety and the ideals we place before international tribunals ... National productivity, military strength and a wide and widely understood foreign policy based on justice — all are vital to our world position and must be considered together.”
As the Grenier newspaper, the Northern Sentinel, later reported, “His one day visit … marked a peak for the downtown social set, and his speech there eventually set off the train of reactions which found New Hampshire backing an ‘Eisenhower for President’ move in 1948.” Gen. Eisenhower did not run that year, but he secured the Republican presidential nomination in 1952 and went on to win the first of his two terms as president.
Another important visitor to Grenier was W. Stuart Symington, Secretary of the Air Force, who arrived on Oct. 27, 1947. He had just taken on this role on Sept. 18, 1947 when the Air Force had become a separate branch of the armed forces. Symington came to Manchester to address a rally of Navy Reservists at the Practical Arts Auditorium at Manchester High School Central.
Toward the end of 1948 a newly minted pilot named Brent Scowcroft joined the 97th Fighter Squadron of the 82nd Fighter Group at Grenier. A native of Ogden, Utah, Second Lieutenant Scowcroft was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He had received his flight training at Randolph Field in San Antonio, Texas, and at Williams Air Force Base in Maricopa County, Ariz..
The start to his planned career as a fighter pilot did not go well. On Jan. 6, 1949 Scowcroft was piloting an F-51 fighter plane (formerly known as the P-51) on a training flight. He was flying in formation with three other planes when his plane developed engine trouble. He crash-landed the aircraft on a frozen pond in Londonderry, but it just kept going, crossing N.H. Rte. 28 ahead of a bus, side-swiping a bridge, and hitting some trees before stopping in a swamp.
Scowcroft injured his back and suffered lacerations of his chest, arms, and face. After spending time in the Grenier AFB hospital, he recuperated at the Murphy Army Hospital in Waltham, Mass.
Though Scowcroft recovered, his flying career was over. He remained in the Air Force where he became an expert in foreign relations. He retired from service in 1975 with the rank of Lieutenant General. Scowcroft served as the National Security Advisor under Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush and his expert counsel was valued by several other presidents. In 1991 President George H.W. Bush awarded Scowcroft the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Scowcroft died in August 2020 at the age of 95.
Next Week: 1949—the last Hoorah for the 82nd Fighter Group at Grenier Air Force Base.