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History of Misawa Air Base

In the Beginning

I guess you could say it all started back in 1931 when Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon took off from Misawa’s Sabishiro Beach and arrived in Wenatchee, Washingtom 41 hours later, thus completeing history’s first non-stop trans-pacific flight. While there was no base here at the time, this is the first noted activity in Misawa's aviation history.

In 1935, the Imperial Japanese Army began construction of an airfield near Lake Ogawara in Misawa, Japan. In 1942, the Imperial Japanese Navy assumed control of the recently completed base and hosted long-range bombers that were intended to launch attacks against the United States. However, it was mostly used for training sorties. Near the end of the war, one Kamikaze unit deployed from here.

In July 1945, US forces began launching air attacks against the base at Misawa which destroyed 90 of the aircraft and facilities here. The September 1945 surrender of Japan ushered in a new era for Misawa Air Base.

US Presence Begins

Capt Stark, 1st US Commander

14 September 1945 - the US Army's 32d Engineering Construction Group under the command of Captain Davis K. Stark occupied and began rebuilding the base. Training, gunnery and bombing ranges used by the Japanese were also taken over by US troops. In December of 1946, the US Army Air Corps’ 49th Fighter Group becomes the first US air unit assigned to Misawa.

U.S.A.F. Takes Control

The signing of the National Security Act by President Truman in July 1947 created the U.S. Air Force and 13 months later the Air Force officially assumed control of Misawa Air Base with the 49th Fighter Gp remaining in place (under new management) as the host unit.

In June of 1950 forces of the North Korean Army invaded South Korea. One of the first American responses is to redesignate the Japan-based 49th Fighter Bomber Wing as the 39th Air Division. The 416th and 531st Tactical Fighter Squadrons, flying F-80s, F-84s and later, F-86s supported operations in Korea. 1950 also sees the establishment of the 6163 Air Base Wing as the host unit at Misawa. The population of is Misawa is 24,790.

In September 1951, the US and Japan sign a formal Peace Treaty and the US occupation of Japan (excluding Okinawa) is brought to an end. Many US forces remain in place and fall under the terms of the Security Treaty between Japan and America.

The 116th Fighter Bomber Wing becomes the host unit in November 1951. In 1952, Japan Air Lines begins commercial service into Misawa flying Douglas DC-4s. Still dealing with growing pains, the Air Force again changes host units at Misawa and the 6016 Air Base Wing takes control of the base.

I have a photo of early Misawa that was donated by Mike Lawler. It is a picture of his father, Ben, who was an Air Force Ordinance Officer at the time. He is kneeling beside an inert 16-inch bomb (shell without fuse) that a Japanese farmer found in Misawa in 1952. They determined it to be a naval shell fired on Misawa from a US Navy ship during World War II. While Ben is wearing an Army uniform, he was still and Air Force officer. The order to convert to A.F. blue had not yet been given he at Misawa. (Nice bit of trivia, I think. Thanks Mike.)

In January 1953, the 1st Radio Squadron Mobile (RSM) is formally assigned to Misawa and in July of that year, the 21st Tactical Fighter Wing is activated at Misawa and brings its F-100D/Fs. The 27th of July ends the war in Korea. In November, the 49th Fighter-Bomber Wing takes over duties as the host unit at Misawa.

Peace and Growth

The following years of peacetime operations led to a gradual build up of the base but remained fairly stable on level. However, the Japanese Defense Forces were building up their presence on the base. In July 1954, the Self-Defence Forces of Japan were organized under the Defense Agency under three main branches; Air, Maritime and Ground Self-Defense Forces. The Japanese Air Self-Defense Forces (JASDF) activated the Northern Aircraft Control Training Squadron as their first unit at Misawa in October of 1954.

In May 1955, the 1stRSM becomes the 6921stRSM and just two months later is redesignated the 6921 Radio Group Mobile (RGM). The 6989RSM is activated at Misawa along with the 6986RSM at Wakkanai, Japan. Both are under the direct control of the 6921RGM. 12 September 1957 dawns with Far East Network-Misawa's first transmission at 1580 on the AM dial. There are also shortwave broadcasts available. October brings the first host redesigntion in a few years as the 6139th Air Base Group takes the reins. JASDF remains a key player as they activate the Headquarters, Northern Air Defence Force at the base in August of 1958.

The Swingin 60s

Its 1960 and the population of Misawa has risen dramatically to over 38 thousand. (Must be the new business opportunitys that a thriving base demands.) FEN Misawa gives the base population a Christmas present with the broadcast of the first American TV programs.

I don’t know about you but I am a little dizzy from all the reorgs and activiations that have gone on in the last 15 years. So here is a list of aircraft operating under the 49th Fighter-Bomber Wing in 1961: the 419th and 531st Tactical Fighter Squadrons are flying F100s, the 45th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron is flying RF101s and the 4th Fighter Interceptor Squadron is flying F102s. Security Hill is flourishing and a bunch of support organizations are in operation around the base.

1961 turns out to be no different than the last few years and the base continues to grow. JASDF activates the Northern Civil Engineering Squadron and the Northern Aircraft Control and Warning Wing which assumes aircraft control operations for the region. The Amagamori range is redesignated as Misawa Air to Ground Gunnery and Bombing (Ripsaw) Range. Sidelight: Maj Otis Russell bowls the first 300 game at the base bowling center and the cost of a haircut on base goes from a quarter to 30 cents. The first price increase since 1946. The use of Military Payment Certificates (MPC) in denominations of less than 1 dollar is discontinued. MPC in $1, $5 and $10 denominations are still in use. Finally, in September, the 6921 RGM was redesignated the 6921 Security Wing (Scty Wg)

In May of 1963 the Emporer and Empress of Japan visited the base briefly before departing by air. Meanwhile, the base continued to interact positively with the local community. A number of charitable organization are formed. Operation Eyesight, operated by the 6989th Security Squadron is established to provide charitable assistance in support of the blind and deaf in the area. They fund a number of successful cornea transplants done in Morioka Medical Center. However, affairs in the Far East have looming shadows. Misawa's first participation in growing operations in Southeast Asia occurs when the base's Det. 13, 1st Weather Wing is sent TDY to Nakhon Phanom, Thailand.

In January 1964, the base undergoes another change of command as the 439th Combat Support Group becomes the host unit. In 1965, commercial flights out of Misawa are terminated. You now have to travel to Hachinohe to get a flight. 1966 produces a major fire that destroys a large portion of the city, JASDF and US units from the base assist in fire fighting, rescue and recovery efforts. Also in 1966, the 439th CSG relinquishes command of the base to the 475th Air Base Group a part of the 475th Fighter Wing flying F4s.

May 1968 brings the second major natural disaster in just over two years. "Great Shakes Day" was 16 May 1968 when a major earthquake centered in the Pacific Ocean just off the east coast of Misawa killed 27, injured 210 and left 10 missing in the northern Japan area. Roads buckled, buildings collapsed, railroad tracks twisted in strange directions and small crevices appeared in the earth.

A Period of Adjustment

It’s 1970 and huge growth of the 50s reversed itself in the 60s. By 1970, Misawa has a population of 37,486 souls. That’s 703 fewer people than 1960s figures. But the military population is at its highest level ever with 6,000 GIs on the base. But that is soon to change. While Misawa has been fairly quiet, the Japanese, especially in the south have been protesting the US presence for years. Misawa has had a few token demonstration marches but with no consequence. By November, PACAF HQ announces a new alignment to reduce the size of the US Forces in Japan. Misawa would be affected. In April '71, the Wing on the hill was downsized to the 6921 Security Group.

March 1971 brings on the next change of command as the 6122th Air Base Group takes over as host and the US and Japan sign a treaty that will soon revert control of Okinawa back to the Japanese. Another sure sign that things are changing is President Nixon "floating" the dollar in August. For the first time since April 1949, the yen sinks below 360 to the US dollar. (Those of us who were in Misawa at the time will never forget that dark day. Today is 1 December 2012 and the rate today is 77 to the dollar.) In December '71, JASDF added its 81st Fighter Squadron, flying F-86Fs. And many folks from the base make to trip to Sapporo to view the 1972 Winter Olympics.

On the operational side, the steady growth of USAF assets in Misawa over the last 20 years reverses itself. In July 1973, the 475th Air Base Gp and it fighter squadrons of F-4s are deactivated and for the first and only time in its history, the base came under control of a Major Command other than PACAF and there are no Air Force Aircraft assigned. USAF Security Service activated the 6920 Air Base Squadron and assumed host responsibilities over Misawa. (I stood the change of command ceremony). On 1 September, the 6921Scty Gp was redesignated the 6921 Scty Wg and the host responsibilities were assumed by the newly designated the 6920 Air Base Gp. In addition, Ripsaw Range is now controlled by the US Navy.

Bases are closing all over Japan. Wakkanai and Chitose began it in the 60, Tachikawa in the Tokyo area, Brady Air Station at Hakata on Kyushu and Naha on Okinawa as well as other smaller installations are closed in the 70s but Misawa is spared.

The US Navy activates its Naval Air Facility at Misawa in July of 73. July 1974 brings the redesignation of the 6921 Scty Wg as the 6920 Scty Gp. In May of 76, Toa Domestic Airlines (TDA) resumes commercial flights into Misawa sharing the base"s runway. The year closes with the rising value of the yen giving the base population only 293 to the dollar. 1977 begins with JASDF upgrading from F-86s to the Japan-built F-1 and the activation of the JASDF 3rd Air Wing.

1978 brings control of the base back to PACAF. The 6920th Scty Wg, the 6920th Air Base Gp were retired on 29 September. The 6920 Scty Gp is redesignated the 6920 Scty Sq and takes over operations on the hill. The 6112th Air Base Group is activated and assumes the host role on 1 October.

In March of 79, JASDF activates the 6th Air Defense Missle Group at Misawa. And in August the 6920 Scty Sq became the 6920 Electronic Security Group (ESG).

An Up-and-Down Time

The population is growing again. 1980s census figures show 40,165 folks living in Misawa. The military population is down almost half and sits at 3,100 and you can only get 203 yen for one US dollar. In 1981, Misawa and Wenatchee, Washington join in a Sister City contract to commemorate the first non-stop trans-pacific flight.

In September 1982, the Air Force announces plans to deploy two squadrons of F-16 to Misawa. On 1 September 1983 a Russian fighter aircraft shoots down Korean Air Lines Fight 007 north of Hokkaido. 269 lives were lost. In November, JASDF activated its Interim Early Warning Air Group, the 601st Squadron.

In July 1984 the 432d Tactical Fighter Wing assumes command of the base from the 6112th Air Base Group and in April of 1985 the first flight of F-16s assigned to the Wing arrive. In spite of the tensions over the KAL shootdown, this period is fairly uneventful. Both squadrons of F16 arrive and being operations.

The 1990s

The population of Misawa in 1990 is 42,303. The 3d Space Surveillance Squadron is assigned to Misawa in April. In May, the US Navy returns control of Ripsaw range to the Air Force. In December, the Yen rate is 136 to the dollar.

In June 1991, the Navy's VQ1 and Naval Fleet Reconnaissance Support Detachment begin operations at Misawa. After 14 years with the same unit designation, the 6920ESG was redesignated the 301st Intelligence Squadron on 1 October 1993. In October 1994 the 432d Fighter Wing is deactivated and the 35th Fighter Wing assumed control of the base still, operating F-16s.

With the end of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Misawa units begin sending aircraft and personnel in support of Operations Northern and Southern Watch. This effort will continue until the fall of Saddam Hussain’s regime in 2002.

On 4 October 1994 a major earthquake strikes off the coast of Hokkaido but damage in the Misawa area is minimal. December 1995 has the yen rate is 103 to the dollar. Fortunately, the Cost Of Living Allowance has been steadily increasing. Once again, the base and its occupants enjoy a relatively stable period.

Dec 28, 1998 a 7.4 earthquake strikes with the epicenter at the same fault as the 1968 quate that came to be known as Great Shakes Day. The base residents suffer some minor damage to personal property but the area escapes any significant problems. The 1990s, the century and the millenium come to a close in a relatively passive manner. The Y2K bug is the major operational concern but the year 2000 comes in quietly.

The New Millenium

September 2000 brings another change on the hill. The 373 Intelligence Group is activated and it assumes control of the 301IS and a new unit, the 373d Support Squadron.

The early years of the new century saw Misawans doing what US troops around the world were doing. Many deployed to various locations in the Middle East and elsewhere in support of the war on terroism. On the local front, in 2003 Misawa Air Base took 2nd place in the Community Spirit and Support category in the Air Force Times’ "Best Base" Competition.

I've tried to keep this short but as you can see Misawa has had a dymanic history. Materials used to compile this unofficial chronology came from the internet and printed works available at the base library, especially a unpublished booklet by John L. Arata.

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