Base life was anything but boring; where there are planes, there are men, and those men were diverse ethnically, racially, spiritually and had different entertainment tastes. The base officially opened 28 May 1942 when the runways were complete. The first plane—an AT-6—arrived 7 June 1942.[1]  The following Sunday, the 90th Bombardment group reached Greenville. Accompanying the air units were the 407th Ordinance Company, the 688th and 786th Quartermaster Companies, the latter two Negro organizations.[2] The new units included more than 1,500 men.[3]

There were many ways for an off-duty airman to spend his time. The base’s proximity to town meant an abundance of entertainment. The base made provision for special shows, dances, balls and guest entertainers. Films were shown at the base theatre, which was also used for training events and safety forums. In bad weather when flying was impossible, the Army had a Rainy Day Program in which recruits heard lectures on weight, balance flying safety, formations, navigation and bombing.[4] In November 1942, the base had 664 officers and 5,190 enlisted men, including the 560th Army Band, which provided ceremonial and recreational performances.[5]

Married men were allowed extra privileges such as access to the “PX” where their families could get food, toiletries, clothes, and various household items. However, single men lived mostly on Army food unless they could get to town.[6] Due to the demand for good cooking, particularly Italian, a local restaurant chain—Capri’s Italian Restaurants—was born. While Julius Capri was stationed at the base, he got his “Mama” to start cooking for soldiers, and after World War II, moved to Greenville and opened Capri’s.[7]

The Army was greatly concerned for the spiritual needs of soldiers, and because chaplains were often shipped out with the recruits, they were in high demand. One such chaplain, a Southern Baptist, Lewie H. Miller Jr., who served at GAAB in the early forties, was then sent to Europe, doubled as a chaplain and tail gunner fighting alongside his “parishioners” for eleven combat missions. Like many base personnel, Miller later moved back to Greenville to raise a family and start a business.[8] The Army requested local ministers to help serve the spiritual needs of the soldiers.[9]

Towards the end of the war local residents sought to tour the base. Many were turned down because of the overwhelming number of requests, and in January 1945, the base decided to prohibit all visitors unless they had “accomplished unusually patriotic services.”[10] In September 1942, the first female mechanics arrived. Though some base veterans were reluctant to accept the “petticoat brigade” as it was called, the women soon earned the approval and respect of the base.[11]

In January 1945, the base commander was chosen to present Greenville families with medals of killed, missing or prisoner of war Army Air Corpsmen. There were multiple presentations: three in Spartanburg, one in Fountain Inn, two in Greenville, one in Anderson, one in Walhalla and one in Townville. Seven medals were for POW’s and two KIA’s in the Pacific theatre.[12]

[1] Piloting the AT-6 was Lieutenant Colonel Donald H Baxter, Control Officer, Fourth Airways Commission Region, Maxwell Field. Baxter had come to discuss control tower operations with Selway. The second aircraft to arrive was a B-24 Liberator bomber that landed 18 June 1942.  Gelbach notes the civilian workers were so excited to see the Liberator, armed guards had to keep them from running onto the runway. Ibid., 1, 38.

[2] The 90th was comprised of the 319th, 320th, 231st and 400th Bombardment Squadrons and commanded by Lt. Col. Eugene P. Mussett.  Movement authorized per Special Order 157, paragraph 50, Headquarters, Barksdale Field, La.

[3] Greenville Army Air Base Strength Report, 20 June 1942. Gelbach notes the large increase heavily “taxed” the base’s limited facilities.  

[4] One such forum was held immediately following a fatal accident involving a B-24. HGAAB 4, 8. 

[5] Strength report, GAAB, November 1942. Ibid., 1, 99.

[6] Sara E. Dover, interviewed by the author, 12 April 2011.

[7] The first restaurant opened in 1944 on Augusta Road. Capri’s Italian Restaurant, “The Story Behind Capri’s,” (accessed 13 April 2011.)

[8] This was extremely unusual because chaplains are forbidden by the Geneva Convention to carry arms or participate in combat. Born 19 November 1919, Blackville, S.C., received M.Div. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY, and joined the Air Force 21 December 1941. He still resides in Greenville and is the founder and CEO of Computer Bibles International Inc. The Military Chaplains Association of The United States of America (Turner Publishing Company, 1997), 77.

[9] Interview with Dr. John Matzko, 12 April 2011.

[10] Many training and informational films were shown to pilots and intelligence personnel. Gelbach notes that youth organizations were the final straw that brought about the policy.  HGAAB 1, 78.

[11] Women served as mechanics at the base through the 1950’s. Ibid., 1, 79.

[12] Ibid., 4, 35, 53. 


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