Training center could heal city’s ‘wounds’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 9, 2005

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, old soldiers wake up to scratch an itching leg that has been gone for 40 years. It’s called “phantom pain” and Dallas County has battled a similar phenomenon since Craig Air Force Base was amputated in 1978.

Driving past the former base, it isn’t hard to imagine what Craig once was-vibrant-active and important to the community as well as the nation.

Despite the hard work of the Craig Field Airport Authority and others, it remains a shell of the past.

Email newsletter signup

All that can change.

After months of hard work and negotiations Lockheed Martin Simulation, Training and Support chose Selma and Craig for a pilot training project.

Craig will never again be what it was. But for a community whose identity was so closely tied to the base, it could be a needed salve to rub over a decades-old wound.

J. Tom Sherrer was in the military and worked at Craig Air Force Base. He says Selma hasn’t been the same since the base left.

“I would say it really hit the town hard,” Sherrer said. “They could sure tell the difference after it closed. It really hit the economy of Selma. We really miss it.”

Gene Hisel, who ran for mayor in the previous election, moved to this area because of Craig. A military man from Indiana, Hisel was stationed at Craig, fell in love with the area and his wife Brenda and settled down.

“It leaves some very, very good memories. I was almost devastated when I found out Craig was going to leave,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it was going to happen. It was tough. I really wondered if we were going to come through OK.”

It was a long fall from the excitement of Craig’s arrival in the 40s as the country needed a flying armada to fight World War II.

“I can remember how we all felt when we found out we were going to get an air training field,” City Councilwoman Jean Martin said. “I was in school here. The depression was hardly over – there was a war in Europe – but Selma was pretty much the same way it had always been. Then we get this exciting news. The most exciting moment was when it opened. There was a parade across the bridge and down Broad Street.”

Probate Judge Johnny Jones said the base brought the outside world to Selmians.

“I was in high school during part of that time, the kids that would come here had traveled a lot and they could share things with us we might not have learned. It was just interesting to be with them,” Jones said. “It was an intellectually stimulating experience.”

For Mayor James Perkins Jr., the base meant a lot more to him than new experiences.

“I grew up with a very active Craig Field Air Force Base.

My father worked his way through college with a job as a bartender at the Officers’ Club,” Perkins said. “We know how to be a military town.

This project has the potential of resurrecting some really ‘good old days’ in Selma.

This is a very ‘big deal’ for us.

Martin said the community formed a deep bond with the base.

The soldiers’ wives and families became a part of the community. They taught in schools, sang in the churches and joined civic organizations.

Selma had a seemingly endless supply of young, energetic citizens moving in on a regular basis.

“The best part about Craig was the young families it brought in,” Martin said. “They became such a part of the community. The payroll loss was bad, but what Selma missed the most was the families, the people.”

Jones says it never ceases to amaze him the people he meets that either were at Craig or had their lives touched by someone at Craig.

“I met a lady today and she said, ‘I married a guy stationed at Craig,'” Jones said. “We’ve run into so many people just from Lockheed that were even stationed here or their buddies were stationed here.”

One of the people from Lockheed with a Craig connection is spokesman Warren Wright.

Craig was Wright’s first assignment in the Air Force.

“After I got there I started enjoying being in the area, I learned a lot it,” he said. “I was in Turkey and heard they were closing the base.

I’ve always remembered Craig. It was an interesting assignment.”

Wright, who also worked at NASA, remembers that several astronauts trained at the base as well.

The thought that Craig could once again serve the military and the nation by training pilots excites those that worked on and loved the base.

“I think it would definitely be a morale boost,” Sherrer said.

“That would be one of the greatest gifts Selma could ever have,” Hisel said, “to see Air Force airplanes coming in and out of Craig Field on a regular basis.”