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Home : News : News
NEWS | June 23, 2017

Kelly Field was once the 'front steps' for many distinguished visitors

By Jeremy Gerlach 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

(Editor's Note: This article is the fourth installment in a monthly series celebrating Kelly Field's centennial. Check back next month for more stories from Kelly Field's history, as well as information about the upcoming JBSA Air Show and Open House this November, which is expected to draw more than 350,000 visitors.)


Kelly Field’s centennial celebration is in full stride as it prepares to welcome thousands of visitors for a massive air show and open house this November.


Hosting distinguished visitors is nothing new to Kelly Field. Prior to transitioning to its current role as Port San Antonio in 2001, the former military installation served as the United States’ diplomatic “front steps,” welcoming dignitaries and heads of state from across the world. Kelly Field also served as a popular platform for American presidents who, for decades, passed through Kelly Field on their way to visit wounded service members, tour parts of Texas, and even attend turkey shoots.


Each distinguished visitor had a different reason for visiting. These are the stories and circumstances surrounding Kelly Field’s most well-known guests.


President Ronald Reagan, November 14, 1981


Just nine months into his presidency, President Ronald Reagan came to Texas Nov. 14, 1981 seeking a short reprieve from the strains of Washington, D.C., according to his presidential log kept in the National Archives. With Thanksgiving Day close by, Reagan planned to relieve some stress by going on a turkey hunt with friends at a country ranch near San Antonio, Texas.


Reagan flew in to then-Kelly Air Force Base from Ellington AFB on a crisp fall morning and was greeted by Gen. Thomas Ryan, Jr., Air Education and Training Command commander.


After exchanging a few pleasantries with senior leadership, Reagan was whisked off by a Marine helicopter to Winston Ranch in Sabinal, Texas – about 30 minutes west of the Alamo City – to shoot turkeys. Despite the prospect of a relaxing day outdoors, the president was non-committal when pressed about whether he really planned to shoot a helpless bird.


“I hate to make that pledge,” Reagan said of his turkey shoot to a gathering of reporters during his trip to Texas. “I’ve never gone turkey shooting, but I’m looking forward to this.”


After trading in his checkered blazer for an all-camouflage outfit, Reagan quipped, “You realize, after seeing this,” he joked, pointing to his attire, “We don’t think that there may be many turkeys left around.”


Despite his experience that day, Reagan would later become the first president to “pardon” a Turkey during Thanksgiving in 1987, according to records kept by the Washington Post.


Pope John Paul II, September 13, 1987


Pope John Paul II’s trip to San Antonio Sept. 13, 1987 was the fourth stop on his 10-day visit to the country. San Antonio Archbishop Patrick Flores greeted John Paul at Kelly AFB. Shortly afterwards, the pope departed in his popemobile for a slow parade through the city.


More than 750,000 people swarmed along the pope’s route, which snaked north from Kelly AFB through downtown San Antonio, then back west toward Westover Hills, where John Paul held a two-hour mass for thousands of onlookers.


During his mass, John Paul urged Texans, Mexicans, and all other cultures and people in the area to come together as neighbors and countrymen.


Queen Elizabeth II, May 22, 1991


Queen Elizabeth II became the first-ever British Monarch to set foot on Texas soil as she arrived at Kelly AFB in the early morning of May 22, 1991.


Along with her husband, Prince Philip, the queen met Maj. Gen. Richard Smith, San Antonio Air Logistics Complex commander, before embarking on a quick, two-hour tour of San Antonio.


The queen and the prince took a keen interest in the Alamo, where Texian defenders perished in the famous battle with Mexican forces under the command of Gen. Santa Anna. Afterwards, the pair saw the rest of downtown aboard a barge on the River Walk.


The trip was one of several stops the queen made during her two-week trip to the United States.


President Bill Clinton, October 17, 1995


President Clinton’s visit to Kelly AFB Oct. 17, 1995 came during a turbulent time as Base Realignment and Closure decisions over the future of installations like Kelly loomed. Still, Clinton touted the benefits of global trade to the city of San Antonio, foreshadowing Kelly AFB’s eventual economic and logistical role after transforming into Port San Antonio over the next decade.


“Let me say that this is a time of hope for San Antonio,” he said. “You have the position, the resources, the proven character and ability to take advantage of the future.”


President George W. Bush, January 1, 2006


Though Kelly Field had transitioned out of military operations by the time President Bush arrived Jan. 1, 2006, it still provided logistical services for his visit.


As commander in chief to a military engaged in simultaneous conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush came to San Antonio to speak with injured service members receiving treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center.


During the visit – one of six trips to San Antonio Bush made – the president turned his attention toward the end of both wars.


“I’ve been thinking long and hard about 2006,” Bush said during a press conference at Kelly Field. “My hopes, of course, are for peace around the world. I’ll continue to work as hard as I can to lay that foundation for peace.”