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NEWS | Oct. 21, 2015

JBSA-Fort Sam Houston members demonstrate installation’s rich military heritage

Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

Air Force history came alive Oct. 14 when the Airman Heritage Museum and Enlisted Character Development Center hosted a living history heritage ride tour where U.S. military aviation began.

The event, supporting Air Education and Training Command commander Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson’s first AETC Senior Leaders’ Conference, included volunteer re-enactors portraying Air Force legends during a tour of historic Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.   

“I have a family member who was in the Army Air Corps, so this event was a great opportunity to wear a similar uniform,” Airman 1st Class Lucas Hurt, 502nd Security Forces Squadron entry controller, said. “It’s important to remember our history; not knowing how far you’ve come makes it easier to lose your way in the future.”

Military aviation began at Fort Sam Houston with Lt. Benjamin Foulois’ flight in March 1910.  Foulois, who would later become Chief of the Army Air Corps, had been trained by the Wright Brothers and was ordered to Fort Sam Houston to learn how to fly the Wright B Flyer.  Foulois made the first military operational flight in U.S. history in Aeroplane No. 1, and was for a time, the U.S. military’s only pilot and their entire Air Force.          

“Fort Sam Houston was the birth place of military aviation,” Rudy Purificato, Airmen Heritage Museum and Enlisted Character Development Center command curator, said. “The main focus of JBSA’s two museums is to transform the mindset of the training environment by educating new military members on enlisted heritage and the enlisted contributions to aviation history.”

The highlight of the day was a visit to the actual location where Foulois made his historic flight, the Foulois monument at the main flagpole at MacArthur Parade Field. A dramatic skit also took place at the site with a re-enactor portraying Vernon Burge, the first enlisted pilot who helped Foulois as an aviation mechanic and who came up with the idea for adding landing gear to the lieutenant’s aeroplane.   

The tour also included visits to the 19th Century staff post homes of Col. Billy Mitchell, champion of airpower and strategic bombing, Foulois’ home and Gen. John Pershing’s home where he lived shortly after employing airpower operationally for the first in U.S. history during the 1916 Punitive Expedition against Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa.  The tour concluded with a visit to the Fort Sam Houston Museum at the Quadrangle to view a special military aviation exhibit, featuring a live performance by a re-enactor portraying Foulois. 

Though heritage rides are designed to educate junior and senior leaders on the history of local units and are usually held in conjunction with a conference or exercise, the rides also contribute to the bigger picture of educating younger military generations.