About 75 miles northeast of Los Angeles sits the abandoned George Air Force Base, just outside of Victorville, California. This was once a very active town of military families, but it has since been abandoned and left to crumble in the desert heat. Despite its current state, George Air Force Base played an important role in US history and had a significant impact on the course of World War II, the Korean War and the Cold War.
The United States Army Air Corps chose this land to establish the base in 1941. During World War II George Air Force Base in California had become a busy center of activity. It was originally established to operate as an advanced flying school during World War II, and was closed directly after the war ended. However, when the Korean War came about in November 1950, the base was reopened as a training center, and remained an active training base until the end of the Cold War. After the Cold War, the base was used primarily for the Tactical Air Command, and eventually the Air Combat Command. Here at George Air Force Base they would train pilots and weapons systems officers of USAF, NARO and other allies.
George Air Force Base got its name from a World War I fighter ace Brigadier General Harold Huston George. George served with the 185th and 139th Aero Squadrons. An aircraft accident was the cause of his death on April 29, 1942. Lt. Bob Hazard had been piloting a Curtiss P-40 southeast of Darwin, Australia when he lost control of the aircraft, hitting a Lockheed C-40, which was positioned next to an airstrip. The crash killed General Harold George, Melvin Jacoby, and Lt. Robert Jasper. All men were standing next to the Lockheed during the impact of the crash. Many others standing nearby walked away with only injuries, including the pilot of the P-40. In June 1950, it was decided that the Air Force base should be named for General George.
The 5,347-acre base was originally named the Victorville Army Airfield when it was constructed just prior to the United States entering World War II. The decision for its location in the High Mojave Desert was based on the desert averaging 360 days per year of sunny weather, and offering a wide open space for operations.
The buildings and homes were constructed at the lowest cost possible, with the cheapest and most minimal amount of supplies that could be used at the time. These structures were to be built only to last throughout the time that they were needed to remain in use during the war. Most structures were constructed out of concrete, wood, brick and gypsum board, as well as asbestos concrete. Rarely was metal used on any of these structures, due to the significantly higher cost. They did everything they could to make the station as self-sufficient as possible, by constructing hangars, barracks, warehouses, hospitals, dental clinics, dining halls, and maintenance shops. The base also offered libraries, stores, and even social clubs for officers and those enlisted. More than 250 buildings were constructed across the base, and had all of your normal amenities, such as water, sewer, electric and gas utilities. Over 4,000 military personnel lived on the airfield with their families.
In 1944, the 3035th Army Air Forces Base Unit took control over and established a training school for P-39 Airacobra single-engine pursuit pilots. In addition, training had begun on the base for B-24 Liberator bombardiers, and in September of the same year, a training school was also established for RADAR bombardiers.
When Germany surrendered in May 1945, the Victorville Airfield would start so slow their training, and by August 15th, they had done away with any and all training at the base. Following the surrender of Japan in September 1945, it was ordered that the base would go into a standby status, and all flying at the airfield had ceased by October 12, 1945.
Postwar the airfield was used as surplus aircraft storage by Air Materiel Command. Many surplus aircraft were flown to the base and parked, including the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, Beechcraft AT-7 Navigator, and AT-11 trainers.
On June 25, 1950, the Korean War had begun. The United States Air Force would soon start training. The base, which had by this time been renamed to George Air Force Base, was reopened, and assigned to Air Defense Command. By this time, the cheaply built structures had heavily deteriorated since the end of World War II only five years earlier. The structures were rapidly refurbished, and numerous things were updated, such as the inclusion of an updated electrical telephone system and an extended runway to accommodate jet aircraft. In 1953, the base had a dial telephone system installed.
After years of operation during the Cold War, permanent closure to George Air Force Base was put into motion by a 1988 decision made by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. Two years later in 1990 the base was declared a superfund site by the EPA, noting contaminants such as jet fuel, trichloroethylene, and PFOS/PFOA, which all contaminate the base’s water supply. In addition, the ground soil was noted to be contaminated with total petroleum hydrocarbons, dioxins, construction debris, medical wastes, pesticides, semi-volatile organic compounds, among various other inorganic compounds. These contaminants still remain to this day as cleanup efforts continue. By the end of the Cold War, the base was left entirely vacant. After the base had been vacated, it was officially decommissioned in 1992 and has sat empty since. In 1993, President Bill Clinton attempted to put George Air Force Base on a fast track to cleanup so that the land could be reused by the community. This was part of a five part plan that was supposed to help speed recovery in areas experiencing economic struggles due to situations such as this. Part of the plan was to bring more public participation to help in the cleanup program, but this did not go over well, and cleanup has continued slowly to this day, mostly headed by the United States Air Force, with the EPA and the state of California overseeing it. Today, there are still 33 separate sites where hazardous wastes still contaminate the ground and water at the former base.
Several cases have been reported over the years by Air Force women and wives, including a case of a rare type of cancer, which killed the husband of one of the women. Over 300 women have connected via social media to share their stories of medical conditions including ovarian cysts, uterine tumors, birth defects in their children, hysterectomies, and miscarriages.
Over the years, the abandoned town has been used as a filming location for movies and television shows, such as Face Off, Jarhead, Six Million Dollar Man, MythBusters and more. The base has also been used numerous times as a place for airsoft and paintball, and an annual Memorial Day Weekend event has been hosted here since 2001.
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