It may be Spokane International Airport today, but former members of the 8th Air Force recall when those runways on the West Plains were “out in the toolies.”
There were no jetliners, passenger terminals or multilevel parking garages. There were only B-17s, wooden barracks and hangars and Geiger Field.
During World War II, young airmen from around the nation came to Geiger to learn to fly and fix the propeller-driven bombers that would be sent to Europe and the Pacific.
On Wednesday, some of those men, no longer young, returned to help mark Spokane’s place in that war effort with a plaque that will hang in the Freedom Shrine in the airport terminal.
“It was pretty primitive out here,” said Fred Schoch, who was sworn into the Army Air Corps in September 1942 at Geiger and joined the 34th Bomb Group. “There were no buildings on Sunset Hill, no lights going into town.”
Going into town is among the fondest memories that former bomber crews have of Geiger.
“Spokane was a wonderful place,” said Ken Rowland. “Everybody was friendly and we were respected. You could go anyplace with no problems.”
Some of the crew members, such as pilot Dan Rush, decided to come back to Spokane after the war.
“The climate, the people, the whole atmosphere - I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” said Rush, a former Philadelphian.
Between July 1942 and July 1943, the 8th Air Force brought 11 bomb groups through Geiger.
Mayor Jack Geraghty, who accepted the plaque, remembers the planes flying over his house on the North Side.
Ben McInturff, a member of the Airport Board, was an 18-year-old bellboy at the Davenport Hotel during that time.
He remembers the arrival of the 8th Air Force’s most famous member, actor Clark Gable, for two reasons.
One is that Gable had about twice as much gear as other officers had.
The other? “The $5 tip he gave me to carry his bag.”
The plaque thanks Spokane for its support and notes that the groups that trained at Geiger helped preserve America’s freedom.