Keesler Field Barracks

Malvaney’s posts showing Camp Shelby back in World War II reminded me of a recent trip to Keesler AFB in Biloxi. When I was on base back in September I was surprised to find that there was a World War II-era wooden barracks still standing on Meadow Drive. Originally numbering in the dozens if not hundreds, I had heard that those barracks termites hadn’t gotten Katrina did.  While this barracks design is not unique to Keesler, I am excited that one building was saved. Though in need of minor maintenance the building looks to be actively used and in good condition.

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The base started as Keesler Army Air Field in 1941 and was named in honor of 2nd Lt Samuel Reeves Keesler, Jr., of Greenwood, Mississippi.  Lt. Keesler served during World War I as an aerial observer assigned to the 24th Aero Squadron.  In October of 1918 Lt. Keesler died after his plane was shot down near Verdun, France.  He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star citation.  Keesler Army Air Field was officially re-designated as Keesler Air Force Base on January 13, 1948.

During World War Two my grandfather served in the Army Air Corps, the precursor to the Air Force.  He said several different bases he trained at had the same barracks.  They were bare-bones, pre-cut, frame buildings.  A plank sheathing, clad with asbestos on the exterior with no interior wall surface.   Each floor was a long open hall, with latrines on one end and sergeants quarters on the other.  In the photos above the end with smaller windows indicates the end with the latrines.  He told me about how the men were packed in so tightly that sheets were hung between the bunks to prevent the airmen from breathing on one another and spreading disease.  In the spring of 1943 he was stationed at Keesler, when the barracks were new.  He said the only time he ever volunteered in the Army Air Corps was when he was stationed in Biloxi.  A commanding officer asked him to volunteer to assist the instructors. This required arriving an hour before and staying an hour late after class to learn the next day’s lesson.  The benefit for him was that he was excused from morning and afternoon calisthenics.  What he didn’t know is that the extra training he received would save his life countless times in battle.

While our military continues to develop with new technologies to remain the best in the world, this barracks serves as a reminder that we would not be where we are today without the hard work and sacrifice made by those who came before us.

To all Veterans, thank you for your service.

Categories: Architectural Research, Biloxi, Demolition/Abandonment, Greenwood, Gulf Coast, Historic Preservation, Hurricane Katrina, Lost Mississippi, Military

33 replies

  1. I had no idea there was anything WWII left at Keesler–thanks for showing us this, TR!


    • Just saw this post! Great! My dad was also at Keesler as part of the Army Air Corps. His name was Joseph Russell Sessions and he worked with (helped to organize?) the Keesler Band entertaining the troops. I have tried locating some more information about the band but have not been able to get anyone at Keesler to respond. I hope to make a trip down there this summer. Because my parents divorced when I was 4, I am piecing together information. Thanks for the pictures!


      • You are welcome. My family found Keesler equally unresponsive when my veteran grandfather tried to contact them. I guess all I can offer is to not take it personally. You might try contacting the Harrison County Local History/Genealogy Library.


      • Jonelle – I am transcribing my dad’s memoirs and he mentions also helping organize a band at Keesler along with a fellow named Matt (from Brooklyn NY) who became the band leader. It would have been around January 1944.


  2. I am talking with my Dad. He was stationed at Keesler Field. His memory is poor but I finally got Keesler Field out from the Air Corps. I’m glad I could learn more about it. He won’t be with us much longer.


    • I am glad that this post was able to fill out for you the memories your father has of his time in the service. Please know that we are thankful for his service.


    • Thanks for the peservation. It looks like one of the barraks that I lived in for a year in 1944 and 1945. After my basic training there in 1944 I served as the base aerial photographer in 1945. Is there an official office there who would be interested in a few photos of the base at that time? Keesler Field trained B-24 mechanics and was the home for the life boats carried by B-17s.

      Duane V. Kniebes


  3. I took my basic training at Keesler in the summer of 1945. The pictures of the barracks bring back many memories, some not so fond.


    • I hope the fond memories outweigh the bad. I can imagine that there were a lot of places you would have rather been. Thank you for your sacrifice and service.


  4. I took Basic Training there March 1946 I enlisted Feb. 1946 from Pittsburgh,Pa.Also attended School there —-( Tool Room Keeper ) Left there went to Geiger Field,Spokane Wash.———-I was 16.


    • Wow thank you for your service and sharing your story! What a way for a 16 year old to see the world. Did you have a guardians signature to join or were you among the many that the Recruiter said “yep he looks 18 to me!” to?


  5. I was stationed there in the mid-80’s with my wife. The 2052nd Communications Squadron she was assigned to were still in WW 2 era barracks. And the Base Confinement facility I worked is was also in a WW 2 era building. We also remodeled a WW 2 era building as a new HQ and armory for the 3380th Security Police Squadron. Nice to see they managed to save one.


    • Thank you to the both of you for your service. One of my favorite books “How Buildings Learn” describes these barracks as being “Built for Change”. You must have found the buildings to be pretty sturdy if an armory and a jail were being installed in them.


      • The armory was an old two story WW2 building. We built a cage inside the rear of the building from sections of metal screening. It was welded and bolted together, and the rest of the building was renovated over a three month period by a crew of around 10 airmen. The jail was in a small building near the water tower across from the Four Seasons. Same general plan, a cell areas was built in the rear out of metal screening, and a dayroom, tv room and two small staff offices added. I think they were both taken down after Katrina, along with the original WW 2 police desk. The training building was a WW 2 structure also. Keesler still had the WW-2 feel back in the early 80’s, especially the central area near the headquarters buildings. Was a really nice base to be stationed at, I don’t think I’d recognize it anymore.


      • Thomas
        In 1949′ after Basic at Lackland, I transferred to Keesler and went through the 42 s(26 wks) and Sets (16 wks) week Radar courses in Fundamental. The Korean War broke out as I was graduating so they made our class and 4 others into Instructors for the duration. I was in the 3400 Tech Training Squadron and ended up teaching all of the courses during my tour. I got out Dec 1952 after a 6 moth extension by HST.
        During my stays at Lackland and Keesler I took some pictures that may interest you of the old Basic Training “Tar Paper” one story shacks at Lackland ( Flight4308) and the WWII two story 60 man Barracks which I can share. I am now 84 and Keesler was the biggest influence in my Life. I got out and got my degree in EE from Drexel and had a rewarding career in Electronics.


  6. April 1965
    I arrived at Kessler AFB one stormy night it was all very new for me, it was the first time I had ever been out of Texas. Myself and about 30 basic airman rode by bus from Lackland AFB, I had no idea what this base was used for or why I was stand on this covered wood frame walkway in the middle of a rain storm, it was the fist time in my life I felt along I can remember that even today at the age 70. With that said I only have good feeling for Kessler AFB, I received a airboard electronic navigation certificate after eleven months 6-7 days a week 8 hours per day, so I could serve my country and the USAF but most of all when I left the USAF in late 1968, I made a wonderfull living for my family.
    One of the high lights of my training at Kessler AFB after my service were to work for Dynaelectron at Ellington AFB, on the ( LLTV) Lunar Landing Training Vehicle, myself and only four other highly train electronic tech maintain this one of a kind moon flight training vehicle, that trained the original astronaut to land on the moon, Armstrong, leavel, and others.
    The other most important high light and there were many when I started my own successful Electronic business that lasted for 42 years that feed and clothed my wife and two Daughters, and sent them to college.
    I hope that I haven’t boarded you with this short story of my life but it’s important to tell young men and weman the MILITARY SERVICE can be a great opportunity, I would like to thank all the instructors at Kessler AFB that trained me and others for better opportunity at life.


  7. I’m now 88 yers old. I was at Keesler in the spring of 1945, for the 12 (16?) weeks of basic training. This included some ‘full pack” marches through some very swampy areas, as I recall. As others have said, “Seen one barrack building..seen them all”. I do remember the sheets being hung between the bunks to cut down on the spread of coughs and colds. Also, i recall we had to spread oil of some kind on the floors to reduce the dust. Smelled terrible!

    Keesler was my first experience away from home ( age 18). I think back rather fondly, I must admit, of the unlimited food…strange to my New York City taste…but all I could eat! What more could an 18 year old city boy ask for!

    I had qualified as an Aviation Cadet, but by the Spring 1945, new recruits no longer could get flying training.I shipped out to California ( Minter Field) in early June ’45 to become a truck driver ( instead of a pilot!). Out there, the installation was involved in the training of Chinese pilots, as well as Americans.

    Thanks for helping me down Memory Lane.
    Bernard ( Bud) Ellis, Private


    • Mr. Ellis, Thank you for your service and for sharing your memories! Its my honor to help you down memory lane.

      Biloxi had plenty of swampy areas for marching west of the base – back then about a mile of sparsely developed land separated Keesler Field and the veterans hospital. You’ve really peaked my interest with the oil spread to keep dust down, Ill have to look into what might have been used. Thank you the the insight to what life was like in the Army Air Corps at this time.


    • Trying to find out if there is any one out there who did work on B-24-D aircraft during 12-3-43 at Keesler Field. My Dad, Joseph P. Quigley did work on them. I have original maintenance instruction forms, 50-hour iinspections, also other forms pertaining to the plane. Actual plane Model and AAF No. B-24-D 41-24148. Mission was combat, came from Lisbon, Australia to Tokyo. Like to know if any one is still alive who knew my father at that time. Also if any one can get me information on that plane to see if its still around.


  8. I just ran across this article searching for information about my Uncle, Staff Sgt James Raymond Greer. He served at Keesler from June-Dec 1943 which I have discovered was the training period for the first round of Tuskegee airmen and support personnel. His specialty was Radio Operator so I’m pretty sure he was training their radio operators. Any chance someone might remember him or know where I could find information about the staff during that time or possibly even pictures he might have been in?


  9. I was stationed at Keesler AFB from early 1953 until my discharge in 1956. I went through 22 weeks of Airman’s Electronic Fundamentals, 16 weeks of Airborne Radar. (I can’t remember the exact title) and finally 6 weeks of instructors school. I was part of the 3400 Tech Training Squadron. I was married during that time and my first son was born in the base hospital. My wife and I lived in Gulfport. Most of the time I worked “A” shift (6 am until noon) and worked in a Gulfport TV shop in the afternoon. Based on the education and experience gained in the AF, I worked for Remington Rand Univac for 35 years. It has been a good life.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. II am 91 and I was at Keesler during January 1945–There was an outbreak of Scarlet Fever and many died–There was said to be more than 80,000 on the Field I was in tent city in Squadron S It was the AAC Basic Training Center. I was a Pre Aviation Cadet, PAC and wore a large orange patch with a black propeller on my shirt sleeve. and I went from there to Lackland for Ground School and Primary Bill Dorrity 11118826

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your service and for your comments about your time at Keesler. I had no idea about the Scarlet Fever outbreak. As small a base as Keesler is, it sounds like you all were living in close proximity to one another.


  11. I enjoyed the pictures. I had friends there in 1962 & 1963 so I recognize the pictures. I have been trying to locate a friend from there. his name is Robert w young but we called him bob. sure would like news of him.





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