By: Monica Casey | WCTV Eyewitness News
January 23, 2020
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Tallahassee Community College has donated three acres for the creation of the Dale Mabry Army Air Field Museum Complex.
The Dale Mabry Army Air Field was a major fighter pilot training base, with more than 8,000 pilots training there between 1940 and 1945.
In 1946, the air field was returned to local authorities, and the base became the est Campus of FSU.
The base had 4,300 people, expanding the local population by 25%. It also brought major economic impact to Tallahassee, which at the time had a population of just 16,000.
"The base actually, at its peak, employed 800 full-time workers," said Chuck Wells.
Even more people were employed before its creation; it had to be built in just 90 days, as the US prepared for WWII.
The first base Commander activated the base on January 24, 1941; this year marks the 79th anniversary.
The non-profit hopes to build its museum right over where the northwest runway ran.
Chuck Wells is the CEO of the non-profit; he's been interested in World War II history for his whole life. Wells' father was a WWII veteran, and he grew up listening to his family stories.
"It's kind of like opening a Christmas present!" Wells said while unwrapping the museum signage.
In addition to providing jobs, the base created tourism in Tallahassee.
"This was a last stop for fighter pilots who were learning how to fly the actual plane they were going to war in. So this was one of the last chances for their loved ones to see them before they went overseas. So Tallahassee was a visitor destination bar none!" said Wells.
Wells said the number was equivalent to one FSU home game, with 80,000 visitors in Tallahassee.
During its time of operation, the base also played host to some famous faces.
"The original 5 Tuskegee airmen trained here when they were still cadets, and then afterwards they returned here to continue their combat training in P-40 warhawks," Wells said.
British, French, and Chinese pilots trained on the base; it also held 150 German prisoners-of-war.
The museum website calls the base "Tallahassee's Pompeii." Appleyard Drive lies over the north-south runway, while the James Messer Fields are on the northwest-southeast runway.
TCC has known about the connection for years, creating a historical marker on its campus.
"To find out that we're located on the former landing strip has been pretty interesting," said Barbara Wills, the Vice President of Administrative Services at TCC.
The non-profit's goal is to relocate existing WWII buildings to the three-acre site, creating an immersive complex to take visitors back in time.
"It's a great educational opportunity for the college to look back at Tallahassee and how much this contributed to it, it's something we really want to be a part of," said Wills.
"The fact that we have this amazing piece of history here in Tallahassee, and 95% of Tallahassee doesn't even know about it tells me that we need to change that," said Wells.
You can learn more about the museum here http://www.dmaaf.org/