When I first arrived at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., in the mid 1950s, I would be in charge of all printing of our Air Transport bases. While looking in an old desk, I found a lot of old papers from when the base first opened. The base then was called Fairfield-Suisun Army Air Base.
On June 17, 1949, General Robert Travis arrived from Hickam Field, Hawaii, to take command of Fairfield-Suisun Air Base.
With the start of the Korean War, the base had practice bombing runs to be ready for our deployment to Korea.
On the night of August 5, 1950, General Travis got on a B-29 Superfortress bomber as an observer on its mission to carry an atomic bomb casing to the Pacific. A propeller malfunction after liftoff, and failure of the landing gear to retract, forced the pilot to try to attempt to make a crash landing near the end of the base’s runway. He didn’t make it.
The blast dug a six-footdeep, 30-foot-wide crater, and damaged almost every building on base. It destroyed the base fire department.
Nineteen bodies were found. General Travis was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. His sudden death led the Air Force to rename the base Travis Air Force Base. On October 20, 1950, an Air Force special order was printed in his honor. I have a copy of those orders.
I was assigned to a couple of bases he commanded, but I never met him.
My kids went to the Travis school that was built on the crash site.
(Contributing writer Everett Vanover lives in Fairfield, Calif.)