BRIEF HISTORY OF PERRIN AIR FORCE BASE
Perrin Field Historical Society
(North Texas Regional Airport – Perrin Field)
4575 Airport Drive - Denison, Texas 75020
By John M. Elkins, Brigadier General, Texas National Guard (Retired)
Co-Founder - Director - Curator
During the spring of 1941, leading citizens of Grayson County were discussing the possibility of acquiring a tract of land to lease to the Federal Government for some sort of government installation. At first they were considering the feasibility of a powder manufacturing munitions plant.
In March 1941, the late County Judge Jake J. Loy of Sherman went to Washington, D.C., to further the project idea. As he discussed it with various officials, the idea developed. Cooperation with the United States Army Air Corps expansion program, Judge Loy secured favorable considerations for a basic flying training school for Grayson County.
County Commissioners began to work on the project and the tract of land originally selected for the powder or munitions plant was found to be suitable for a flying field.
L. B. Omohundro, Sherman Chamber of Commerce president and T. J. Long, Denison Chamber of Commerce president, held options on the site. On June 10, 1941, the Grayson County voters approved a sixty thousand dollars bond election for the purchase of the tract of land for lease to the United States Government. By December 1941, Perrin was under construction and early cadres were in place getting equipment and support services set up for the opening of the flying school. Perrin Air Force Base began as an Army Air Field and was one of the first basic flying training schools to become operational following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
The first person assigned to the Perrin Army Air Field was Major Robert Warren who reported for duty and assumed the project officer, temporary Commanding Officer, and military representative on August 9, 1941. Ten days later, five enlisted men arrived from Goodfellow Army Air Field, San Angelo, Texas to assist Major Warren in development of the airstrip, hangers, barracks, and field headquarters building.
Upon arrival, they found the field knee deep in mud, a bedlam of half erected buildings, and piles of lumber everywhere as well as construction crews busy at work.
One airplane, a BT-14 was assigned on August 21, 1941, for general use.
Other officers arrived from Goodfellow Field during September. By the middle of October ten officers were assigned to Perrin. Early arrivals had to drive to the airfield over a muddy unpaved new road and carrying their lunches.
When carloads of supplies arrived at Pottsboro railroad station, sergeants and privates rolled up their sleeves and loaded boxes and other supplies on to Army trucks heading for Perrin airfield. More personnel arrived during October 1944. Old timers in the area will recall that long mess tables, packing crates, and typewriter boxes and nail kegs served as office furniture. The Commanding Officer, Adjutant, First Sergeant, Post Office and file clerks shared these.
On November 12, 1941, Lieutenant Colonel Donald G. Stitt was assigned to Perrin Field and assumed command as the first Commanding Officer of Perrin. Major Warren continued to serve as the field project officer.
First civilian employees came to Perrin Field on November 3, 1941. One secretary. Ms. Dorothy Parrigan was hired for the Commanding Officer, and two telephone operators. This made up the first hiring. At that time, there were 17 officers and 6 enlisted men at Perrin.
The finance department was opened on November 17, 1941, and four days later handled the first payroll payments direct to the enlisted men. As the first barracks were completed, they were used as field headquarters.
By November 28, 1941, four airplanes had been assigned to the field. They were BT-13 Consolidated Vultee aircraft. Large groups of men started arriving from school squadrons for aircraft maintenance, training duties, medical services, weather forecasters, communications technicians, food service personnel, and quartermaster duties.
Perrin Field headquarters building was not ready for occupancy until January 17,
1942. Up to then, the various headquarters functions were carried on in the crowded
and unheated barracks. In spite of the difficulties in training facilities and construction activities, the pioneering class of cadets was graduated on schedule on February 23, 1942. The first graduating class was also the occasion for the official dedication of the new school as Perrin Field in honor of the late Lieutenant Colonel Elmer Daniel Perrin. Perrin was a native of Borne, Texas.
Colonel Elmer Daniel Perrin was an Army Air Corps officer since 1918, he was killed on June 2, 1941, in a crash of a B-26 Medium Mitchell Bomber. He was on a test flight from the Glenn L. Martin plant near Baltimore, Maryland.
A continuing stream of officers and enlisted men came to Perrin Field with the strength leaping from 617 to 4,280 enlisted by December 1, 1942. Tents had to be erected for temporary use, due to the available barracks were quickly filled with the influx of troops.
As Perrin Field continued its operations, many problems were ironed out and the field, like most Army Air Corps, was adjusting to the vast expansion necessitated by the country’s entry into World War II in the Pacific.
From 1943, Perrin Field thoroughly organized and branched out into other activities and mission changes. Through the years, Perrin was a testing station, sort of a “Guinea Pig” for many new ideas that was adopted by the United States Air Force as well as other branches of the Armed Forces. Grayson County communities held out a helping hand to Perrinites as well as inviting them into their homes.
A road leading from Perrin Field to Texas highway 75, now numbered Farm to Market Highway 691, was built by Grayson County Work Project Administration (WPA) and Bureau of Public Roads, over which buses ran hourly to Sherman and Denison, Texas.
The ever-increasing number of cadets graduated in each class of Perrin Field was evidenced of Perrin’s contribution to the war effort following Pearl Harbor attack.
Perrin Field was deactivated on November 30, 1946 after graduating 10,000 flight students. The base was reactivated on April 1, 1948. Perrin Field resumed an essential element to National Defense as the Korean War heated up. Many changes came from involvement in the Korean War 1950-1953.
In December 1951, it was learned that Perrin Field mission would eventually become one of the bases to train all weather interceptor crews, which was a new mission for the Air Training Command. Meanwhile, Perrin was designated to conduct two temporary missions. One was phase one of basic single engine pilot training and the other involved transition training with the B26 medium bomber.
Perrin Field was designated a permanent United States Air Force installation on July 17, 1952, and officially changed to Perrin Air Force Base. In September 1952, Perrin was transferred to Crew Training Air Force and its mission changed to training aircrews for combat. On April 1, 1958, Training Air Force was eliminated as a part of project “Direct Line,” and Perrin was assigned to the Air Training Command. Since its inception, Perrin has trained pilots in aircraft such as B-13’s, AT-6’s, B-26’s, and into the Jet Age. The T-33’s, F-86’s (D’s and L’s) as well as the Delta Wing F-102 Delta Daggers and a few T106’s the Delta Dart.
Perrin Air Force Base has trained its share of heroes who performed well in combat. The students were awarded medals and became jet aces in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Beginning on June 1, 1962, Perrin served under the Aerospace Defense Command with headquarters at Ent Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Perrin’s last operational wing was the 4780th Aerospace Defense Wing. The wing absorbed the personnel of the Air Training Command’s 3555th Flying Training Wing.
While Perrin trained pilots for the Aerospace Defense Command, it also manned its own Aerospace Defense Alert Unit with members of its permanent party rotating from training assignment to serve on combat alert duty. F102’s were standing on hard alert with “guns and rockets loaded for Bear…Russian Bears.”
As an added mission to Perrin was the Aerospace Defense Command’s Life Support School established nearby Lake Texoma.
Pilots were trained in ejection seat procedures as well as parachuting into and recovering from water landings. These pilots were from the Command and Air National Guard pilots assigned to the Aerospace Defense Command’s mission. Many astronauts also attended the Life Support School at Perrin’s site.
The wing trained pilots through its numerous courses and graduates were combat-ready-trained in the F102 aircraft and assigned to active units. Many pilots completed lead-in training for further instructions in other aircraft. Most all of Strategic Air Command’s B-58 Hustler Supersonic jet bomber pilot crews were trained in the F-102 Delta Daggers at Perrin Air Force Base before advancing to the B-58’s at Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth, Texas.
When two B58 Wings were activated at Little Rock AFB and Bunker Hill AFB, in Indiana, Perrin continued training SAC crews in life support, ejection seats, and altitude chamber training. Perrin’s mission always maintained an up to date and state of the art mission accomplishments.
Besides serving as a finishing school for pilots, Perrin has furnished volunteers for the Space Program. By 1971, units at Perrin has garnered many honors for outstanding accomplishments, topped by the presentation of three consecutive Air Force Outstanding Presidential Unit Citation awards and the Daedalian Aircraft Maintenance and Supply Trophies.
Upon one of the first local released statements regarding the closing of Perrin AFB, Colonel Vermont Garrison said, “The 4780th Aerospace Defense Wing has been one of the most efficient Wings that I have been associated with.” The late Colonel Vermont Garrison, WWII, Korean and Vietnam Jet ACE (21 kills. 9 probable’s and 4 shared,) was the last Wing Commander at Perrin AFB, Texas.
Perrin Air Force Base’s closure on June 30, 1971, was reported to be a change in pilot training mission, phase out of the F102 fighter interceptor, and the crowded air space when Dallas-Fort Worth International airport opened.
Since base closure, Grayson County gained most of the airport facilities. Grayson County College acquired approximately 400 acres as their “west campus!” Some of the permanent buildings on the east side of the airport are now part of the college’s west campus.
The three barracks named after enlisted men war heroes, Erwin Hall, Jensen Hall, and Mathies Hall, were used as college dormitories. In addition to Grayson College west campus use, a regional juvenile detention center constructed several modern buildings for use as a boot camp to turn around the region’s young bad guys and girls. Since closing, the airport almost become a ghost town. However, new visionary members to the airport board realized the growth potential of the airport and during the past year (2007) Grayson County Airport Board succeeded in getting the airport designated as North Texas Regional Airport.
Perrin Air Force Base Reunions held every-other-year since 1971 base closure. An average of 450 former Perrinites, both military and Civil Service regularly attends each reunion. A weekend of fellowship and the telling of “Perrin’s War Stories,” bring the group back year after year.
From the reunions, the Perrin Field Historical Society was chartered and through membership and dedicated volunteerism, a Perrin Air Force Base museum was created. In the beginning, two locations of the museum were in the Silver Wings building (formerly an Airmen’s Service Club) and in the lobby of the airport terminal building.
On February 14, 2004, a new museum (2400 square feet) was dedicated to house the memorabilia from 1941 to its closing in 1971. The walls and display cases are filled with Perrin artifacts. The first building was filled in 9 month and the size of the museum building was doubled and the entire 4800 (square feet) is now filled wall to wall. The museum is open five days a week (Tuesday through Saturday) 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free, however donations are accepted to defray land-lease payments to the airport, for utilities, and maintenance costs. It is located at 4575 Airport Drive, Denison, Texas (northeast of the terminal & aircraft control tower.) In March 2005, the size of the museum building was doubled to almost 5,000 square feet total.
Twenty-six volunteers who are former Perrin military and civil service as well as other retirees from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marines and U.S. Army volunteer to keep the museum open to the public five days per week. A work schedule is maintained where each volunteer knows what day he performs his and/or her “duty.”
Donations from “friends of Perrin Field – Perrin Air Force Base” continue to provide a debt-free museum. It now houses a T37 “Tweet” jet trainer acquired from Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. A perpetual fund has been established to assure that Perrin Legacy lives beyond the lives of those presently responsible for the Perrin Air Force Base Museum. Contributions, bequeaths, real and personal property, stocks are welcomed. Make these donations payable and/or transferable to the: Perrin Air Force Base Perpetual Fund, 4575 Airport Drive, Denison, TX 75020-8710
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