Ceremony marks 75 years of service at Fairchild Air Force Base
March 1, 2017 Updated Wed., March 1, 2017 at 10:35 p.m.
Spokane Mayor David Condon, left, Col. Ryan Samuelson, and Todd Mielke of Greater Spokane Inc. prepare to cut a cake celebrating the 75th anniversary of Fairchild Air Force Base on Wednesday at a ceremony at the base. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Fairchild Air Force Base and the city of Spokane celebrated a 75-year relationship with a ceremony on Wednesday in one of the base’s original hangars.
Col. Ryan Samuelson, commander of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing and the Fairchild installation, emphasized the significance of community support in his remarks.
“We might not even be here today if not for the proactive and forward-looking actions of a few Eastern Washington citizens more than 75 years ago,” Samuelson said during a formal anniversary ceremony attended by several hundred.
The base was activated as Spokane Army Air Depot on March 1, 1942, after members of the Spokane community raised $125,000 to buy the first 1,400 acres of land for the base on the West Plains.
The government spent $14 million on construction.
“It’s on a long, long legacy that we stand here today,” said Spokane Mayor David Condon.
Condon said the cooperation that traces back to the original construction has continued through the years.
“This decision was the start of a relationship between the city of Spokane and Fairchild Air Force Base that has made us inseparable for 75 years,” he said.
Spokane has been awarded the Abilene Trophy three times, most recently in 2013, for its support of Fairchild, the mayor pointed out.
In 1951, the base was renamed after Muir S. Fairchild, a Bellingham, native who rose to vice chief of staff of the Air Force and died of a heart attack in 1950.
The hangar was decorated with bunting and flags. Flanking the stage were likenesses of Fairchild.
While the base has undergone changes in its name and missions, there has been one constant: “the enduring support and trust of the Spokane community. You are second to none,” Samuelson said.
“The support you give to our airmen and their families allows them to focus on the mission whether they are at work here or deployed around the world,” he said.
The commander noted accomplishments over the 75 years, including the work of three women who in June 1945 completed the 10,000th B-17 engine refurbishment “right here in this very hangar.”
He also singled out the Fame’s Favored Few who flew the last B-17 bombing mission of World War II.
Samuelson also praised the dedication of service men and women deployed overseas during the years.
He pointed out that Fairchild has won the Omaha Trophy for its top performance in strategic aircraft operations. The last time was in 2016.
Retired Capt. Derek Riggan said he was a commander and pilot of the last B-52 taken off nuclear alert at Fairchild at the end of the Cold War in 1991.
For the previous 33 years, the base had been on a 24-hour alert status, he said.
“It was a peaceful end,” he said of the Cold War, and a “fantastic coordinated effort to take us off nuclear alert.”
The ceremony concluded with a traditional cake cutting with ceremonial swords by Samuelson, Condon and Todd Mielke, the chief executive of Greater Spokane Incorporated.
GSI, as the area’s business development organization, has been a key civilian advocate and supporter for the base.
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