It will be 50 years ago come September when three generals flying three big jet airplanes began circling Pulaski County and then landing on the runway to officially open the Air Force’s newest base. Its name was and still is Little Rock Air Force Base, but it had to be in Jacksonville because it was the only place in the area where 6,327 acres of land could be bought.
To get an Air Force base here, prominent businessmen like Raymond Rebsamen and Robert Ritchie organized the Pulaski County Citizens Council to raise the $1 million it took to buy the land and present it to the Defense Department.
There are now some jitters that the base might be closed. The Bush Administration says 25 percent of the 425 domestic military bases have to be closed because the country is in what it calls “a cold-war situation,” which the soldiers in Iraq would certainly dispute.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld heads a nine-man committee that on May 13 or 15 will announce the bases that will be closed. The Arkansas senators and congressmen are trying to save the base, but we must remember that only one of the six is a Republican.
A group of Jacksonville leaders went to Washington last week to talk to people in the Pentagon. They came back believing it won’t be closed.
It would be a disaster if it is, especially now that the economy is bad, jobs are disappearing and Northwest Arkansas is leading the state’s growth. Sunday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette says that among 10 Southeast metropolitan areas, Little Rock ranks seventh in population, housing starts and employment and ninth in employment and gross production.
So just consider what would happen if we lost the 7,176 people (5,636 military, 1,540 civilian) who work at the Little Rock Air Force Base and the 6,309 dependents who live there. This number of workers represents 2 percent of all the jobs in Pulaski County and the three counties that surround it. In total, the base spends $580 million a year in central Arkansas.
Bonita Rownd, executive director of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, thinks not only will the base remain but it will receive more airmen and planes that will come there from the bases that will be closed.
Mark Perry, president of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, says that what he heard in Washington makes him think that the base will stay. “Of course there’s always concern, but I’m comfortable after those meetings,” he said. His reason:
(1) The C-130 airplane and the new C-130Js — it will get seven of them rather than the 16 it was promised — are so much in need right now. However, Secretary Rumsfeld is not so proud of the C-130Js because each one costs $66 million.
(2) Unlike others, this base has so much more area than other bases, allowing the best kind of drop missions.
(3) This base is the only one in the country whose land was bought by the community and given to the Defense Department.
In a week we’ll know if we can keep it.
Students in an EAST Initiative class at the Mann Magnet Middle School in Little Rock have made and are showing a 17-minute movie to Rotary Clubs and other groups. I just saw it last week, and it’s something that everyone in Arkansas ought to see.
The movie, “Arkansas’ Forgotten,” tells what happened to the 112,000 Japanese living on the West Coast who, because of the Japanese air force attack on Pearl Harbor, were forced to leave and come to Arkansas to live in barracks in the woods and swamps of Desha and Chicot counties from 1943 until the end of World War II.
Two-thirds of the Japanese were American citizens, and many of the men had already joined the U.S. Army fighting in Italy. Yet, they were made to leave their homes, their jobs and everything they had. President Franklin Roosevelt gave the unkind order after one telephone call with Secretary of War Henry L. Simpson.
Unfortunately, the Japanese were not treated well in Arkansas. State legislators wouldn’t let the children go to the public schools. The president of Arkansas A&M in Monticello said, “My school doesn’t want any Japs.” The Arkansas Medical Society wouldn’t allow Arkansas doctors to treat the internees. The state’s attorney general refused to give birth certificates for children born in the camps. Gov. Homer Adkins insisted the barracks had to have sentry towers and only white guards could be sentries.
The students (none is Japanese) were startled when they read about the treatment of the Japanese, so they asked the Arkansas Education Department for the equipment to make a movie of the subject and to go to California to interview some of the internees.
The movie has already won four national awards, but only about 15 groups have seen it. It should have been shown to the legislators last month who didn’t want Mexicans coming to Arkansas and sending their children to our colleges at the same discount Arkansas students get.