George Field WWII-- Training School for Army Pilots
World War II had progressed into 1942 when the training of pilots was to become part of Lawrence County, Illinois’ history. Early in the year Army personnel were known to have inspected and become interested in Allison Prairie in the East section of the County. This location was selected, according to a history of George Field for the varied weather conditions prevailing in this section of the country – long clear days interspersed with days and weeks of snow, rain and fog which afford the variety of flying conditions needed to prepare pilots for combat. The official selection, finalized on April 16, 1942, was publicly announced the next day.
Over 3,000 acres were eventually approved and purchased for a training field. (The land was appraised at the rate of $94.50 per acre for improved land, and $71 for unimproved land.) Farm houses and buildings, roads, a church, and a settlement at Centerville were all removed; trees and foundations were dynamited, fence rows bulldozed, and the land leveled in order to construct runways, housing, and other buildings. This post became the first training field of the Southeast Air Corps Training Center north of the Mason – Dixon – Ohio line.
By June 17, 1942, grading was underway; concrete runways and aprons were laid; housing and offices were being built; and a spur to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had been built into the Field. On August 10, 1942, at 8:30 AM, Col. George W. Mundy took command of George Field; and it was officially dedicated on October 16, 1942. The first contingent of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps arrived at the field by special cars on the spur of the B & O railroad in May of 1943. By that time several classes of pilots had been trained and graduated. The sky was their highway and that highway led to overseas assignments.
The name of the field was a matter of much interest. This training school was first referred to as “Lawrence Army Flying School” by Congressman Laurence Arnold. Shortly thereafter Col. George W. Mundy, the commanding officer, released the following information: “The airfield 5 miles east of Lawrenceville, Illinois is now designated George Field in honor of the late Harold H. George.” General George, born in New York, September 14, 1892, had been killed in Australia when a pursuit plane crashed into the plane he was boarding. (It had been the policy to name airfields for deceased flying officers of the regular Army reserve corps.)
The “Battle of George Field” was the name applied to the period beginning May 21st, 1943, when the entire command fought the flood waters of the Wabash and Embarras Rivers. It was impossible to get to either Lawrenceville or Vincennes from the airfield except by boat. The flood threat imperiled Vincennes, and countless farm families in Illinois were isolated when the levee broke on the Wabash River. Victory over the flood was celebrated at the Field with a holiday on June 12, 1943.
From its opening in the Spring of 1942 and through more than three years of great activity, classes graduated, anniversaries were commemorated, and the citizens of the local area were invited to the annual Open Houses. Both communities of Vincennes and Lawrenceville had responded by creating housing for off- base living, and all citizens of the areas were interested in the operations of the Field.
In August 1944, there was a large increase of cadets in training. George Field changed from an Army Air Force Pilots School to a Transportation Carrier Command School. The final review under Col. Edwin B. Bobzein and his staff occurred on August 4, 1944, the day the last class of pilots graduated.
Soon after the successful operation of D-Day, rumors were heard that George Field would close. This rumor was true, and such plans developed in early 1945. Vincennes University was granted the use and supervision of housing units for G.I. students; the land was leased to area farmers. Lawrenceville then made application to the War Assets Administration to acquire George Field. An application dated May 4, 1948, signed by Stoy Fox, Mayor of Lawrenceville, resulted in the “transfer of George Field to the city of Lawrenceville, Illinois, as per application, and acceptance of this was dated 5-2-48 (sale date.)” Document 6923671.
After November 16, 1948, when the deed to the Field was acquired by the city of Lawrenceville, the Field was called the Lawrenceville Municipal Airport. The lease money from the land was used by Lawrenceville to maintain the airport; this use of land lease money has been continued to the present.
By June 14, 1964, negotiations created a locally controlled operation known as the Bi-State authority. This Bi – State Authority was the only one in the United States composed of a committee across state lines operating a common facility. The Lawrenceville Municipal Airport was given a new name; after June 14, 1964 it was called the Lawrenceville – Vincennes Municipal Airport.
On February 20, 1980, the name of the field was changed again, this time to Mid- America Air Center with a secondary name of Lawrenceville – Vincennes International Airport. It is still controlled by the Bi- State Authority. The housing was torn down when no longer needed, and industry had been sought over the years to make this facility something of an industrial park.