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Documenting 75 Years at Hill Air Force Base

By Tina Kirkham


In time for the nation’s 242nd birthday, Marriott Library is celebrating an exciting new addition to Utah Digital Newspapers. A complete run of The Hilltop Times, the official newspaper of Hill Air Force Base, is being digitized and placed online.¹

The bombers that defeated the Axis Powers in World War II—the B-29, B-25, B-24, and B-17—were repaired there. The captain of the Enola Gay prepared for his mission there. Every Minuteman ICBM in the Air Force arsenal was built there. It was the first base to operationally fly the F-16 and F-35 fighters. Its responsibility encompasses the largest block of contiguous overland, special-use airspace in the continental U.S., and its founding forever altered the physical and demographic landscape of Northern Utah.

Hill Air Force Base’s history is the stuff of legend, and one newspaper reported it all.

The first issue of the official base newspaper, published on January 1, 1943, states: “We exist to win the war and everything is subordinated to this dominant purpose.” Marriott’s Digital Library Services Department recently added more than 61,000 pages of the Hill Air Force Base newspapers, covering the period 1943 to 2006, to its online repository, Utah Digital Newspapers. The site now contains 2.4 million pages of Utah newspapers dating back to 1850.²

Hill Air Force Base was founded shortly before the U.S. entry into World War II, and it went on to serve a critical maintenance and supply role. According to Hill Aerospace Museum Director Aaron Clark, if it weren’t for Hill Field, “damaged B-24s, B-25s, and B-17s could not have been returned to the war and (the U.S.) could not have carried on fighting.”

IMAGE: One of the most famous aircraft to be repaired at Hill Field was Suzy-Q, the first B-17E to fly around the world. It arrived from the South Pacific in July 1943 and left, ready for action, in September. Photo credit: HAFB History Office

 

The same is true today. “We fix weapons systems to support our warfighters,” he says, including C-130s, F-16s, F-22s, F-35s, T-38s, A-10s, landing gear, canopy, and software.

Hill is one of the largest installations in the USAF and is one of only three depots for that branch of service. Depots are responsible for overhaul and maintenance of active weapon systems, to include aircraft, software, missiles, and supporting components.

“Look to the past. It’s just incredible the things people have done here over the past 75 years to protect your freedoms.” —Aaron Clark, Director, Hill Aerospace Museum

IMAGE: In 1943, the base movie theatre kept officers, enlisted men, and employees entertained.

In 2017, over 5,700 active military and more than 16,000 civilians worked on base. Clark states, “It is in essence a small city. [We have] roads, sewer, water treatment, a fire department. The host unit is the 75th Air Base Wing, and the Commander, Colonel Jon Eberlan, is seen as the mayor.” Civilian roles on base include machinists, mechanical engineers, aerospace engineers,  software engineers, dentists, doctors—even plumbers.

Hired as an Air Force Historian in 2009, Clark oversees the Hill Aerospace Museum and does double duty heading the Hill Air Force Base History Office, the official custodian of the base’s archives. According to Clark, “A lot of people are surprised. They have no idea that the Air Force and our sister branches have history programs. What our service members are doing is important to record: the accomplishments, the setbacks, the issues. So we can learn from them.”

“Twenty, thirty, forty years down the road,” says Clark, “We’ll probably have to open these records in order to fix new weapons systems we don’t even know about yet.”

Base historians produce reports that document the activities of specific units. They also respond to requests for information from the public, government agencies, and researchers. The History Office fields, on average, 100 research requests a year.

IMAGE: At its start in 1943, the newspaper was typed, then duplicated using a mimeograph or “Ditto” machine. Today, the Hilltop Times is born digital and distributed in print and on the Internet.

 

Forged suddenly in the midst of global warfare, Hill Field created, in effect, a boomtown. Thousands of Americans flocked to Northern Utah to help with the war effort. Entire communities were created to house the workers and educate their children. The current site of Layton (UT) High School was once Verdeland Park, built to provide housing for civilian workers at the base and the Naval Supply Depot.

IMAGE: The Hill Air Force Base newspaper has sported a variety of nameplates over its 75-year history.

Says Clark: “They were supposed to be temporary communities, but some of these places still exist, for example, Washington Terrace [UT].”

IMAGE: During WWII, thousands of "Rosie the Riveters" repaired aircraft and other equipment. Women made up half of the work force at air depots like Hill Field. These employees are working on a B-24. Photo credit: HAFB History Office

 

Hill Aerospace Museum is located adjacent to the base, just off of I-15, five miles south of Ogden. Opened in 1984, it hosts 265,000 visitors a year and it owns over 4,000 objects, including aircraft, military vehicles, missiles, ordnance, and artwork. Its exhibits bring together a particular aircraft along with the armor, jeeps, tents, uniforms and equipment its crew would have used.

“That’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about these digitized newspapers. We’re revamping our entire museum to better tell the history of this base and Utah aviation,” with exhibits that are more immersive and interactive.

IMAGE: Hill Aerospace Museum displays more than 70 aircraft dating back to 1903 in its indoor and outdoor galleries. Admission is free. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Cromar

 

IMAGE: Personnel notes and humor were part of the newspaper's weekly content.

A key advantage of newspaper digitization is the speed with which researchers can find information within the more than 70,000 newspaper pages published since 1943.

“Just yesterday, our intern was doing research on the B-1 aircraft,” says Clark. “In a matter of seconds [by searching the digitized newspapers] we were able to find over 32 references to B-1 work that occurred on this base.” In contrast, working from print or microfilm, Clark estimates it would take “a couple of months” to uncover the same information.

Aaron believes the value of the digitized newspapers will be far-reaching, whether one is researching the military, studying the history of the Ogden area, or looking for a family member.

Clark recalled a current HAFB employee whose grandfather was employed on base during WWII. This individual wanted to understand how his ancestor had contributed to the war effort, but the man’s peers had passed away or were unable to remember. The employee began combing through the more than 35 volumes of bound, printed newspapers stored in the archives.

“He spent weeks and weeks there, and he couldn’t find anything.”

Using the Utah Digital Newspapers web site, within fifteen minutes he had discovered that his grandfather worked at the base lumberyard. He also found articles written by his uncle during the Cold War era. “He learned about his family and the contributions they made,” Clark says. “It was pretty emotional for him.”

IMAGE: This 1945 drawing by PFC Lee Teaford illustrates the risks to aircraft tires.

NOTES

  1. More than 90% of The Hilltop Times is now available online. The years 1991, 1998-2000, and 2002-03 will be added later in 2018.
  2. You might say that military newspapers bookend Utah Digital Newspapers, with the Civil-War era Union Vedette, published at Camp Douglas in the 1860s, and the newly-added Hill Air Force Base newspapers, 1943-2006.

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