THE REVITALIZED post-World War II Grenier Air Force Base was an integral element in the business and social life of Manchester.
The city became the adopted home to servicemen stationed at the base who shopped in town, ate in local restaurants and took advantage of other amenities and services.
Married servicemen lived in city neighborhoods with their families, most in the Grenier Heights development off South Willow Street. Grenier’s competitive athletic programs, including its participation in the transcontinental intersquadron Air Force football league, brought excitement to Manchester’s sports fans.
Civilian employees at the base worked side by side with the military men and were regarded as valued members of the base “family.”
An example of the team spirit exemplified by Grenier’s staff was its support of Bernice Loiselle, a 20-year-old clerical employee in the personnel office who won the Miss New Hampshire competition on Aug. 13, 1947.
According to the Northern Sentinel, Grenier’s newspaper, as Miss New Hampshire Bernice not only represented the state, but also the air base, the 15th Air Force (of which Grenier was a component), and indeed, the entire Strategic Air Command (SAC).
On Sept. 6, 1947, Bernice competed in the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, N.J. — participating in the swimsuit contest and dancing the rumba for her talent presentation. As the newspaper reported, “…she paraded her charms and talent in the Miss America Contest without winning that title. Members of the command are still wondering why not.”
In a show of solidarity with the civilian population, Grenier’s personnel readily supported local charity efforts, including the annual Red Feather Community Chest drive, which provided funds for social service programs. Money was raised on base to support national causes also, including the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association and the March of Dimes campaign to combat childhood polio.
Two big events at Grenier educated and delighted the general public with an up-close look at military life.
These were open houses and air shows held in 1947 and 1948 for Air Force Day, organized in accordance with proclamations issued by President Harry Truman.
In his 1947 decree President Truman stated, “I remind all of our citizens that the air power of the nation is essential to the preservation of our liberty, and that the continued development of the science of air transportation is vital to the trade and commerce of a peaceful world.”
The 82nd Fighter Group had arrived at Grenier in April 1947. The base staff was so busy that it could not begin planning for Air Force Day, scheduled for Aug. 1, until about two weeks ahead of time.
And, unfortunately, the group’s three squadrons of P-51 Mustangs would not be available on that day. The 133rd Squadron of the New Hampshire Air National Guard, headquartered at Grenier, volunteered to set up a few of its planes for public viewing, but there was concern that this would not provide an adequate presentation.
Fortunately, according to the Northern Sentinel, “A last minute pick-up of 45 P-51s from San Antonio, Texas, saved the day … making planes available for fly-over and aerobatic demonstrations above Manchester as well as placing ships on the line for civilian inspection.
More than 3,000 visitors were counted coming through the gates, which opened for Grenier’s first open house since reactivation of the base to see demonstrations of equipment on the ground and in the air.
A crash fire-fighting demonstration and a softball game in the afternoon drew tremendous audiences as did the enlisted men’s dance that evening in the Service Club.”
The Air Force Day event in 1948 was held on Sept. 18, the first anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Air Force as a separate branch of the military. It was a big success, attracting over 8,000 civilians.
The base newspaper reported that “Grenier threw wide the gates to civilian visitors for Air Force Day observances … Fourteen different types of aircraft were on display to the visitors while action displays included GCA landings and aerobatics over the field and surrounding area.” GCA landings are “ground-controlled approach” landings guided by air-traffic controllers using radar.
This method was developed beginning in the early 1940s to assist pilots flying in adverse weather conditions.
Next week: Some brushes with history, and a short, but memorable, era comes to an unexpected end.