Is it Pope Army Airfield, Pope Air Force Base or Pope Field?
By Tech Sgt. Don Steuber
440th AW Historian’s Office
My name is Tech. Sgt. Don Steuber, and I am the new 440th Airlift Wing Historian. I transferred to Pope from the 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo.
While driving down Bragg Boulevard en-route to my in-processing briefing, I couldn’t help but notice Pope Air Force Base being referred to as Pope Army Air Field on several of the road signs. This struck me as odd since the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure requirements are not expected to be finalized until Sept. 15, 2011. Curious about the early name change, I decided to research the lineage of my new duty station: Pope Air Force Base.
On Sept. 4, 1918 the Army established Camp Bragg, named for the notorious Confederate Civil War General Braxton Bragg. Camp Bragg was established as an artillery base and training ground to test long range artillery that had been developed during and after World War I. At the time Camp Bragg was the only U.S. military installation large enough to accommodate the testing of these new weapons. Shortly after establishing the camp, the army realized it could use aircraft and dirigibles to act as aerial observers for artillery fire; so a rudimentary grass runway was formed out of an open field in the heavily forested area to accommodate aerial observer aircraft, as well as dirigibles.
On Jan. 7, 1919, Army 1st Lt. Harley H. Pope, a pilot assigned to Emerson Field, Camp Jackson S.C., and Sgt. Walter Flemming a pilot assigned to Langley Field Va., were mapping a U.S. airmail route between Emerson Field and Newport News, Va. During their expedition they used Camp Bragg as a visual reference point on their route. This was significant because in the early days of aviation, before electronic navigation and GPS, pilots navigated by visual reference to the ground using prominent topographical features such as rivers, lakes and towns.
Starting in South Carolina, they were to follow the Atlantic Coast Railway. The first leg of the flight to Virginia, went off without a hitch; however, on the return flight engine trouble forced them to land in Weldon, N.C. After nearly a week of engine repairs, on Jan. 7, 1919, the two were on their way. Shortly after takeoff, their aircraft a JN-4, struck some trees and hit a stanchion on the Clarendon Bridge, destroying the aircraft and killing both pilots.
As a memorial to Lt. Pope the U.S. War Department officially named the grass field at Camp Bragg, Pope Field on April 5, 1919. Fourteen years later the Army dedicated its new headquarters building and barracks to Sgt. Flemming. The building became known as Flemming Hall and is the current location of the 440th Airlift Wing Headquarters.
Pope Air Force Base
When the Air Force became its own branch of the military on Sept. 17, 1947, Pope Field officially became Pope Air Force Base, a name that has existed for nearly 64 years.
When the property transfer for BRAC is complete in March 2011, Pope Air Force Base will officially become Pope Army Airfield. However, a local agreement with the Army will allow the Air Force to shorten it to Pope Field, which will hearken back to its pre World War II roots.