LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Nevada is full of military history and along with that history come sacrifices. One town decided it was time to remember.
Two enormous, empty airplane hangars tower as they have — a few miles east of Tonopah — for nearly 80 years. In their own way, they’re monuments.
Today, crows call the hangars home. Back then, it was soldiers at the Tonopah Army Airfield.
“Up to 6, 7,000 people that went through here as officers,” said Allen Metscher, Central Nevada Museum.
He leads the Central Nevada Museum and has researched the field’s history for more than 30 years. From 1942 until the end of World War II, this was one of the army’s largest flight training sites. It encompassed 5,000 square miles and there were thousands of soldiers and their families.
Crews for B-39s and B-24s flew here just before being sent to battle, if they were lucky to survive.
“Fatal crashes. There were at least 35 or 40,” Metscher said.
Bomber crews said the Tonopah Army Airfield was “jinxed.” The high altitude made it extremely hard to fly.
By Metscher’s count, at least 130 airmen lost their lives while training for combat. Crash sites can be found around the desert today.
And then, in a flash, the Tonopah base was gone.
“A week after VJ day, they started shipping out troops and the whole nine yards,” Metscher said.
Only these hollow buildings remain.
“They died as heroes,” said volunteer Bob Perchetti. “In our eyes, they died as heroes.”
For Perchetti, a Tonopah native, there’s nothing hollow about the air field’s legacy and the men who died.
“They were so young. Twenty to 25 years old. It’s a terrible thing.”
He is one of several volunteers to create a new memorial. It’s sits right off U.S. 95 in the center of Tonopah. This is the first, proper recognition of the soldiers who lost their lives.
“It’s long overdue, honoring these men,” Perchetti said.
A dedication is planned for Memorial Day.
“Each one of these young men that died here sacrificed their life. They wanted to finish their training and get to Europe or the Pacific where they were needed,” Metscher said.
“Every one of these guys has a story,” said volunteer Stretch Baker.
Now, the story goes beyond empty hangars and abandoned wreckage. It’s where it should be. Where everyone can remember.
“So many of us knew it,” Baker said. “But to push through and put it together so this… this lasts forever.”
A memorial dedication was supposed to happen last year, but it was postponed by the pandemic.
For more history on the Tonopah Army Airfield, you can click on this link.