During the month of June, Three Valley Museum has been hosting a series of stories about Bryan County history at the gazebo on the courthouse lawn. On Wednesday, Bryan Hallmark from Kiamichi Technology Center, continued the series and spoke about Durant Regional Airport – Eaker Field.
Hallmark began by talking about the origins and history of the airport.
In 1930, 100 acres were leased west of the city of Durant for the purpose of building an airfield. In 1934, a dedication ceremony was held and attended by approximately 2,500 people. Hallmark said the field was abandoned a few years later due to the expansion of telegraph and telephone wires.
In early 1942, land was leased where the current airport now stands. An airport was constructed for the purpose of helping with war efforts. Living quarters were built for both officers and enlisted soldiers.
In 1944, the U.S. Naval Authority seized command of the airport. In April 1945, the city wrote a letter to the headquarters of the Army Air Service, requesting joint use of the airfield. A conference was held to discuss using the airport jointly. Today, the airport is solely owned by the city of Durant and is a major training facility for the Southeastern Aviation Department.
Hallmark continued by giving the audience a detailed history of the airport’s namesake, Lt. Gen. Ira C. Eaker.
Eaker was born in Texas in 1896, but his parents relocated to the Kenefic area due to the drought. He graduated from Southeastern State Teachers College in 1917 and enlisted in the Army. Eaker enjoyed a very successful career during his service in the military.
In 1930, Eaker became the first pilot to make a transcontinental flight with in-flight refueling. In 1942, he assumed command of the Eight Air Force in England and worked closely with the Royal Air Force to strategically plan bombing on enemy forces during WWII.
On April 30, 1945, General Eaker was named deputy commander of the Army Air Forces and chief of the Air Staff. He retired Aug. 31, 1947, and was promoted to lieutenant general on the retired list June 29, 1948.
General Eaker accrued 12,000 flying hours during his 30 years of flying. His many military decorations include: the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal; Army Distinguished Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters; Navy Distinguished Service Medal; Silver Star; Legion of Merit; Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster; Air Medal; World War I and II Victory Medals; American Defense Service Medal; American Campaign Medal; and the European-African-Middle East Campaign Medal with bronze service stars.
Eaker co-authored three books and authored a weekly column on the subject of military affairs that was syndicated to 180 newspapers.
On Oct. 10, 1978, a special Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to General Eaker by Congress, for “contributing immeasurably to the development of aviation and to the security of his country.”
Almost 40 years after his retirement, Congress passed special legislation that awarded four-star status to General Eaker. On April 26, 1985, Chief of Staff General Charles Gabriel and Ruth Eaker, the general’s wife, pinned on his fourth star.
Hallmark said Eaker was one of the main individuals responsible for the structure of today’s Air Force.
Next Wednesday, Bill Garner will speak about the history of education in Bryan County. Museum Curator Nancy Ferris said, “Come back and hear about the history of education. There were lots of county schools at that time.”
The event will take place Wednesday, from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m. at the gazebo on the lawn of the Bryan County Courthouse.