March 29, 2002
Perry Municipal Airport is perhaps less well known to local folks than to many private plane operators in this area. If you have been a pilot in recent years you probably are aware of the excellent facilities available at our airport. Otherwise, you may just vaguely know that the field even exists. In truth, it is superior to anything of its kind in many much larger cities. It is like our excellent Cherokee Strip Museum. Many Perry people have never been there, but visitors from all over the U.S. have exclaimed rapturously about its services and facilities. How we acquired Perry Municipal Airport is an interesting story all by itself.
I was a reporter for The Perry Daily Journal in 1941 when the U.S. declared war on the Axis powers, including Japan, Germany and Italy. Until that happened, Perry and the rest of the U.S. were content to rock lazily along while the British, French and a few other democracies fought bloody battles with the Fascists, the Nazis and the imperial armies from other nations. After the calamitous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the U.S. suddenly became a shocked belligerent in the war. Then we quickly discovered that this nation had made virtually no preparations for fighting a global war. A sudden, unexpected attack will do that. Military manpower, equipment and all of the support elements required by those resources were in short supply but were needed – and right away! Until Pearl Harbor, the U.S. was generally an isolationist nation, content to let other countries fight their battles alone. The disaster in Hawaii vaporized that naïve presupposition.
All of a sudden, training bases were needed by the Army, Navy and Marines all over the U.S. The Air Corps, as the Air Force was then known, was still part of the Army and its needs were critical. Perry civic leaders sniffed an opportunity. Civic leaders like W.K. Leatherock, publisher of this newspaper; Morris Gottlieb, Walt Bittman, Ott Edson, Billy Reckert, Charles Monroe Jr. and a platoon of others swung into action. They believed they had a reasonably good chance of bringing some kind of installation to this little city on the prairie.
The War Department and the Navy Department were moving quickly to establish bases for the sudden surge of voluntary enlistments that began after December 7. Propositions were welcomed from communities hoping to lure defense plants or training bases. Perry made a pitch for an air field that was to be built in mid-America. Even though some scoffed at Perry’s chances, Army Air Corps brass hats expressed interest in this community and suddenly it looked like we were going to land a real plum. Alas. The dream quickly faded when the generals pointed out that two large installations already existed in this area, one at Tinker Field in Oklahoma City and the other at Vance Air Base in Enid. They said it would be impractical to build another big airfield in Perry. The base we coveted was then awarded to Garden City, Kansas, but to soothe local feelings, it was announced that Perry would be the location of a surfaced landing field several miles north of town. The local strips would be used by air cadets from Vance to practice takeoffs and landings. No troops would be stationed here. Chamber of Commerce workers and others were disappointed, but still pleased with the landing field.
After the war, that field was declared surplus by the Air Force, and its facilities were turned over to city officials for use as a municipal airport. Since then, many improvements have been authorized by the mayor and city council and we now have a field far superior to those found in some larger communities.
That, in a rather compact nutshell, is the essence of the history of our present Perry Municipal Airport. Many anecdotes and other stories remain untold, but they will have to wait for another time. Just remember, the names of all the men and women who made our airport possible have not been told here. That also will have to wait for another occasion.