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.
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.