Steeped in History: Fairchild coming up on 60th Anniversary

  • Published
  • By Dan Simmons
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Historian
On July 20, 1951, Spokane Air Force Base was officially named Fairchild during a base dedication ceremony. The base was named for Gen. Muir S. Fairchild, former Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force and a Bellingham, Wash., native.

The keynote speaker at the event was supposed to be Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Air Force Chief of Staff, but he had to cancel at the last minute due to the ongoing Korean conflict. Instead, General Vandenberg sent his Vice Chief of Staff, Gen. Nathan F.
Twining. Ironically, General Twining had replaced General Fairchild in this position when General Fairchild died in March 1950.

General Twining would go on to become the first Air Force officer to serve as Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (1957 - 1960).

The general's speech at the Fairchild dedication ceremony, which took place 56 years ago today, read as follows:

Mrs. Fairchild, Senator Cain, General Bondley, officers and airmen and distinguished guests, it is indeed a great privilege and honor to be here today at this very important occasion. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Vandenberg, expected to be here, but his duties in Washington, which we all know about, prevented him from making this trip. General Vandenberg has asked me to read to you a message, which I will do.

"The United States Air Forces and the nation generally owe much to the memory of General Fairchild. Out of a life span of only 54 years he contributed more than 30 full and energetic years to the development of air power, upon which we so depend for our security. Few men now living have as clear and sure an understanding of the true nature and purpose of this dominate force as General Fairchild possessed a long time ago. To me he was an unfailing source of inspiration and a constant support. As my vice chief of staff, he shared the hardship of maintaining the strength of the Air Force through the recent uneasy years of unbating crisis and lull, and since he was closely associated with the planning and building of the long-range strategic forces which have become the principal safeguard against aggression, it is appropriate that this air base should be named in his honor."

General Fairchild was a quiet and modest man. He did not seek prominence of fame, and he was proud of a record as a pioneer airman and he often expressed great pride in this, his native state of Washington. I am sure that he would be most pleased by the selection of this strategic air base to bear his name. Years ago, General Fairchild said he looked forward to the day when he could turn his work over to others and to retire to this region for a rest that was long overdue. As we all know, that day never came. So great was his foresight and his understanding of the new dangers confronting us that he could not rest until he had done all that one man could do to prepare against those dangers. Because one crisis followed another, he could not relax his effort and at a time when too many Americans refused to believe sacrifices were necessary for our country's defense, General Fairchild literally gave his life to his country as surely as if he had been killed in combat.

He was a teacher as well as a builder. Two years ago he warned against easy optimism that follows success by repeating this classic story:

"The commanding officer of one of Napoleon's armies once rode a considerable distance to report to Napoleon in person that he had won a great victory. 'Excellent' said Napoleon, 'but what did you do the next day?' General Fairchild's comment was, 'Had Napoleon commanded an Air Force, he would probably have added, 'And what are you developing for tomorrow -- for next year and for the next five years?' It was Napoleon's policy to control events by thinking and moving ahead of them. Leadership in the conquest of the air today demands some relentless determination never to be overtaken by events. If we slacken our efforts even briefly, the race may be forever lost."

In that same speech, General Fairchild went on to make other statements that explain the course of future events, and of his own life. These are the things he said:

"We cannot for one moment relax because of past achievements. They are totally inadequate for the future. The constant, rapid progress of aeronautical science allows us no respite. In an air force, constant adaptation to surprising developments represents a normal state of affairs. We must not only devise new tactics and techniques to get the most from our new equipment, but we must also devise countermeasures against the new equipment and tactics of a possible enemy. He who relaxes is lost. In this business of flying, either we go out to meet the future or it comes to seek us out."
General Fairchild said these things two years ago, and their wisdom has already been proven. He followed his own earnest advice. He did not take time to relax to allow himself any respite. In his own words he went to meet the future, and partly because of this unrelenting effort, no tragic and devastating enemy attack has yet to come to seek us out.
The heavy bombers that will fly from this base will supply visible evidence of this nation's determination to control its own destiny. They may seem few in number but they are of the most powerful of all weapons. No enemy is beyond their reach. So today we dedicate Fairchild Air Force Base to the memory of a great pioneer airman. There are other fields around the globe named for his comrades, who after 30 years of flying and like him, gave their life to the advancement of airpower and the defense of their country. From Lieutenant Selfridge, the first man ever killed in an airplane, the long roll leads down through many names now famous: such names as Luke, Randolph, Maxwell of early days, to Ladd, Hickam and Westover, and others in the middle period, to Ramey, Harmon and Andrews in recent years. Only a few survived the hazards of flying in peace and in war to contribute a full career to American progress and leadership in the air. General Fairchild, like the great wartime leader General Arnold, was one of those. Like the others he gave all he had to this country, and to the service he believed to be the greatest importance to his country's future. At this strategic air base, in the heart of the northwest which was his home, General Fairchild's name, like his work, lives on.