By Linda Dillman
In 1946, Lockbourne Army Airfield was home to the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of Black service members under the leadership of Colonel Benjamin Davis, Jr., the first African-American officer to command an Army Air Force Base.
The village of Lockbourne never forgot the airmen’s dedication and precedent-setting service to their country and is preparing to install a memorial in the village’s Veteran’s Park in the center of town to the Tuskegee Airmen and others who served at the base.
“Lockbourne Air Force Base was named after the Village of Lockbourne,” said Lockbourne Mayor Christie Ward. “We believe that it is a part of our history, not only in the village, but Hamilton Local Schools and throughout Hamilton Township. There was so much historical building and the base history has been destroyed with the development in and around Rickenbacker. We want to make sure that the history is not lost. The memorial is a great way to preserve the history for generations to come.”
During Lockbourne’s Memorial Day parade and ceremony, the village highlights the history of Lockbourne Air Force Base as part of an effort to share all that was accomplished at the base.
“We have built a strong relationship with the Ohio Memorial Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen and are collaborating with them to tell their story,” said Ward. “Lockbourne Air Force Base was their last home. The chapter is celebrating Ohio Tuskegee Airmen Day with a special event at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum on March 29.”
The memorial project is spearheaded by Rediscover Lockbourne, a 501C(3) organization, which is raising money for the $300,000 to $360,000 project through several fundraising events, including sales of “Crossroads of Liberty,” a hardcover book by Robert Stroup chronicling the history of Lockbourne/Rickenbacker Air Force Base.
Black granite panels etched with text and pictures comprised the memorial, which forms a wall of 10 to 12 panels along the east side of the park and features the history of the base, including the accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen. Ward is hopeful some of panels are installed before the Columbus Air Show in June 2023. She said this would give air show attendees an opportunity to get a sneak peak of the vision of the project.
“Lockbourne, Hamilton Local Schools and Hamilton Township have a rich military legacy and Lockbourne/ Rickenbacker Air Force Base was a major part of that history,” said Ward. “We want to remember the Tuskegee Airmen, the Women Air Service Pilots and all of the rich history at Lockbourne/Rickenbacker Air Force Base. Their story is important to tell and we are in a position to be the voice for them.”
Carved out of farm land in southeastern Franklin County, the base was activated in 1942 and initially provided basic pilot training and military support as the Northeastern Training Center for the Army Air Corps. It was later renamed Lockbourne Air Force Base and was the home to bomb and fighter wings.
Lockbourne AFB nearly doubled in size in the 1950s during the Korean War. The number of service personnel reached 18,000 in 1967 during the Vietnam War. Renamed Rickenbacker Air Force Base in 1974, the base lost two-thirds of its jobs four years later when SAC transferred operations to other bases.
In 1979, parts of the base were transferred to the civilian Rickenbacker Port Authority and the Ohio National Guard. In 1994, Rickenbacker Air Force Base officially closed after all active duty operations were transferred. The Ohio Air National Guard and the Naval Reserve still maintain a presence at Rickenbacker Airport.