Opinion by Bonnie Henry: D-M's dusty beginnings
  courtesy of davis-monthan air force base

D-M's dusty beginnings

It was dedicated in '27 by Charles Lindbergh, named for 2 local fliers

 Publication Date: September 9, 2007 Page: E6 Section: ACCENT Edition

Homesteaders were still working the land in the mid-1920s when Tucson's city fathers turned their eyes to the scrub and cactus so far to the south and east of Tucson.

Object: to acquire enough land for a new municipal airport to replace our old airport, out where the Rodeo Grounds lie today.

Dedicated by Charles A. Lindbergh on Sept. 23, 1927, Davis-Monthan Field was named for two deceased Tucson military fliers, Samuel H. Davis and Oscar Monthan.

Davis graduated from Tucson High School and attended the University of Arizona. He enlisted in the Army in 1917, served at Fort Huachuca and died in an aircraft crash at Carlstrom Field, near Arcadia, Fla., in 1921.

Monthan, whose family operated ranches in the Vail and Tanque Verde areas, also enlisted in the Army in 1917. He died in 1923 in the crash of a Martin B-2 bomber at Luke Field in Hawaii.

Not long after D-M's dedication, Standard Airlines - later absorbed by American Airlines - began scheduling flights.

Other pilots signing the log-book included famed female flier Amelia Earhart and around-the-world aviator Wiley Post.

With World War II looming, Tucson became one of several sites under consideration for a major air base.

On Sept. 20, 1940, the War Department established Tucson Air Base on property leased from the city for $1 a year. A new civilian airport would open south of town in 1941.

But the new military field boasted mainly obsolete aircraft, as well as an assortment of desert critters.

Tucson Air Base again became Davis-Monthan Field on Dec. 1, 1941. Six days later and with Pearl Harbor in ruins, the base went on full alert. Soldiers passed the ammunition and carried gas masks at all times.

Davis-Monthan quickly became a major training field for bombing crews.

The training sometimes brought tragedy. Between 1941 and 1945 there were 26 major accidents, resulting in the deaths of more than 145 crew members and passengers on aircraft assigned to or using the base.

Civilians also paid a price. In 1967, a Phantom jet crashed into a Food Giant supermarket, killing four civilians and injuring 14 others. In 1978, an Air Force A-7D Corsair II slammed into a car carrying two sisters, both University of Arizona students, killing both.

During the war, women - civilian and military - did everything from driving trucks to serving in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. The base also ran a camp for German prisoners of war.

After the war, Davis-Monthan started storing planes in a remote area that is now the country's largest military plane storage and maintenance site.

Two B-29 groups brought the Strategic Air Command to D-M in 1946, ushering in 30 years of SAC command.

The whir of the propeller on a dusty runway gave way long ago to the whine of jet engines on acres of pavement.

Today, Davis-Monthan sprawls across 10,000 acres. The latest figures from 2006 indicate 6,623 military personnel work there, along with 3,315 civilians.

Did You Know . . .

It could have been Davis-Tattersfield Air Force Base.

In 1917, Oscar Monthan, as in Davis-Monthan, had his last name legally changed from Tattersfield to Monthan, his mother's maiden name.

Two years after becoming a widow, Alma Monthan Tattersfield marched all four of her sons to the county courthouse, says her grandson - and Oscar's nephew - Tucsonan George Monthan.

Three were going into the service. "They thought Tattersfield was too long," says George Monthan.

Incidentally, the name is pronounced "Montan," though George Monthan gave up long ago trying to get Tucsonans to quit lisping his name.

Sources: Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona Daily Star and "The Story of Davis-Monthan AFB," by Gary P. Myers, master sergeant, United States Air Force.