(Air Corps Cadet Replacement Training
Center, Aviation Cadet Replacement Training Center, Costa Mesa
Air National Guard Station)
of the 414th Air Base Squadron depart through Santa Ana Army
Air Base's gate 3 on a five mile hike to an undisclosed bivouac
site. 23 April 1944.
Santa Ana Army Air Base (SAAAB) was an
air base without planes, hangers or runways. It was a huge basic
training camp where newly inducted soldiers, earmarked for the
Army Air Forces, were given 9 weeks of basic training and then
testing to determine if they were to be pilots, bombardiers,
navigators, mechanics, etc. From SAAAB, they went on to other
bases for training in their specialties. The base was dedicated
in March 1942 and grew rapidly as the need for pilots and air
crews sky-rocketed. Turnover was rapid so that by the end of
the year 23,470 soldiers had passed through SAAAB. By the end
of 1943 that number jumped to 57,895. In the Fall of 1942 SAAAB
became an Overseas Replacement Depot (ORD) housing Army Air Forces
personnel awaiting transportation overseas. In November of 1943
members of the Women's Air Service Pilots (WASP) began training
at the base, followed shortly by members of the Women's Army
Corp (WAC). In 1945 SAAAB became one of six Redistribution Centers
in the country for airmen returning from overseas who were to
be assigned state-side duty.
Being close to Hollywood and with such
a large turnover of service personnel, the base attracted a lot
of Hollywood celebrities who put on shows at the base.
In late 1945 Japanese aliens from the alien in ternment camps
being returned to Japan by the Immigrations and Naturalization
Service (INS) were housed here while awaiting transportation
SAAAB continued as a redistribution and separation center for
a short time after the war. On March 31, 1946, the base was ofically
deactivated. However, in 1956 elements of the 551st Antiaircraft
Artillery Missile Battalion brought the Nike-Hercules system
from Fort Bliss and temprarily installed and operated it at the
old SAAAB site until their permanent installations (Site LA-88)
in Chatsworth and atop Oak Mountain were completed.
In 1958 the base was declared surplus and soon afterwards the
land was divided for many uses. In the postwar years private
homes, apartments, two colleges, the Costa Mesa Air National
Guard Station and the Orange County Fairground shared the land.
Many of the base's original buildings remained in use for years
by the colleges and the fair grounds.
An aerial view of
Santa Ana Army Air Base, 9 November 1942.
October 23. 1941
at Newport Boulevard; Baker Street on the north, Harbor Blvd.
on the west, Wilson Street on the south, Newport Blvd. on the
800 (including 1,357,120 sq ft of barracks) 28 Convalescent Hospital
Wards, 18 School Buildings, 155,000 sq ft of Administration buildings,
4 Chapels, 4 Theaters
Water system adequate
for 40,000 people with 33 miles of water main lines, 28 miles
of sewer lines
Number of Personnel
26,000 Army Air
Forces personnel, (excluding civilian personnel)
Classification and pre-flight training
for pilots, navigators and bombardiers: Approximately
149,400 entered the training, about 128,000 graduated. February
15, 1942 To October 31,1944. Redistribution Center: Over 72,000 combat returnees processed
between November 1, 1944 and March 31, 1946.
Temporary Separation Center: Over 38,000 combat veteran plus other veterans
discharged from the base between September 14, 1945 and March
The SAAAB was one of three national training
centers established on July 1940 to train pilots for the Army
Air Corps. The original locations were at Maxwell Field, Montgomery,
Alabama, Randolph Field, San Antonio, Texas and Moffett Field,
Sunnyvale, California. These three Centers were to train a total
of 7,000 pilots per year. However the national program was increased
to 30,000 pilots per year in August of 1940. Many contract training
schools were started to help fill this quota. In February 1941,
the Army initiated three Air Corps Replacement Training Centers.
These were induction centers for new recruits entering the Air
Corps with no military experience. Each center was to provide
for the classification and preflight instruction for pilots,
navigators and bombardiers. The locations were to be at existing
air corps facilities. This was the case except for the West Coast
Air Corps Training Center at Moffett Field. The Navy wanted to
use the field exclusively for it's lighter than air "blimp"
base so the Army Air Corps had to look elsewhere for a new facility.
A search of sites in southern California was conducted. The City
Council of Santa Ana wanted the new center located near it so
they arranged to lease a 409-acre site for $6,400 per year from
M. H. Whittier Co. Ltd. with an option to buy at $500 per acre.
The government could sublet from the city for $1 per year. In
addition, the County agreed to lease five acres of land on the
new Orange County Airport for use by Army planes for officers'
commuting purposes. The Army selected the Santa Ana site on June
16, 1941. The City leased the land on August 21, 1941.
The Base, called an Air Corps Cadet Replacement Training Center,
later renamed the Santa Ana Army Air Base, was planned to accommodate
2,500 to 3,000 cadets, 83 officers and 806 enlisted men, and
to cost about $3,200,000 to construct.
The Base would not have a flying field as a part of its facilities.
It would receive air cadets from civilian life and give them
basic training prior to their advancement to one of the contract
primary aviation schools for flight training. Arrangements were
also made for a Special hangar at the Orange County Airport to
accommodate officers' planes.
The master plan called for the construction of 145 buildings
that would include: 79 barracks, 3 warehouses, quartermaster
supply office, 4 school buildings, 10 administration buildings,
13 day rooms, 13 supply rooms, 4 cadet messes, 2 officers' quarters,
a motor repair shop, post office, gasoline service station, utility
buildings, theater, 2 recreation buildings, commissary buildings,
chapels, dispatchers' office, officers' mess, fire station, guard
house, two post exchanges, and a 151-bed hospital and all utilities.
This would amount to a new city in the middle of bean and tomato
Meanwhile in the middle of all these preparations, on June 20,
1941 Army Regulation 95-5 changed the name of the Air Corps to
the Army Air Forces.
The Orange County Airport was also selected as the site for the
Headquarters Squadron originally located at Moffett Field. As
a result, a dozen or more aircraft were located at Orange County
Airport to serve as a sort of "taxi service" for the
Army Air Force officials to permit them to contact various points
of flying activity along the West Coast. Plans were also made
to move the entire Army Air Force administrative offices at Moffett
Field to the Santa Ana area.
To provide the basic staff for the SAAAB at Santa Ana, two squadrons,
the Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron (Special) and the
554th School Squadron, were activated at Moffett Field on August
1, 1941. These two squadrons became the nucleus from which the
SAAAB cadre would grow.
The construction contract for the 177 buildings at SAAAB was
awarded to the Griffith Company on October 24, 1941 for $2 million.
The work was to be completed in 120 calendar days.
New plans required that the SAAAB accommodate the training of
10,000 cadets per year.
The SAAAB was to be the starting point of the cadet's 35-week
training course. During the first five weeks spent at the SAAAB
the cadet would receive his uniforms, regulations and initial
instruction in drill, military courtesy and other basic training.
Upon leaving the SAAAB he would be assigned to a school for ten
weeks of primary flight instruction, then on to a school for
ten weeks of basic flight instruction and finally to an advanced
flying field for 10 weeks. At the end of his 35 weeks of training
the cadet was to be commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army
The first Commander of the Aviation Cadet Replacement Training
Center at Santa Ana or later (SAAAB) was Major William A. Robertson
who arrived on October 10, 1941. He was promoted to Colonel on
March 1, 1941.
As a direct result of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor,
the number of pilots to be trained was increased three-fold to
102,000. This new number placed pressure on the SAAAB to increase
its facilities and as a result 924 acres were acquired by the
U.S. Government next to the present site for the addition of
barracks and other buildings.
The first set of buildings was completed
on May 15, 1942; however, the officers and men began to move
into the base on February 16, 1942. General Orders No. 14 made
it official on March 3, 1942. The first group of 50 cadets arrived
on February 20, 1942. On February 25, 1942 the Headquarters and
Headquarters Squadron with its enlisted men and approximately
2,000 cadets arrived to begin training. By March there were 5,000
cadets on the base. Cadets lived in tents until the new barracks
could be completed. Instruction began in March for a nine-week
course. In May 1942 the base was organized into Wings, Groups
and Squadrons. A wing consisted of ten squadrons, divided into
two Groups. A squadron usually had about 180 men. This was broken
into flights and then squads.
On May 13, 1942 the Air Base officially became known as the Santa
Ana Army Air Base (SAAAB) by General Order No. 19.
In March 1942 the Army established separate classification centers
for aircrew candidates. These were established near the preflight
schools. The West Coast center was located at the SAAAB on June
15, 1942. Separate buildings were constructed for this center.
The centers function was two-fold - to serve as a processing
and classifying center and to create a reserve pool of classified
students. At the centers, thousands of civilians came into the
Army for aviation cadet training to receive a physical examination,
inoculations and be quarantined for several weeks. During this
period, cadets received uniforms, equipment, and indoctrination
into the ways of military life. They were also tested and classified
for aircrew training either as a pilot, navigator or bombardier.
The typical cadet spent his first three weeks in the classification
center. These three new centers replaced some of the earlier
functions of the SAAAB and thus allowed more attention for the
three training schools.
On October 30, 1942 the Santa Ana Branch School of Aviation Medicine
was established at the SAAAB hospital to provide practical training
for officers of the Medical Corps.
On June 11, 1942 General Order No. 11 changed the old Aviation
Cadet structure to three Army Air Forces units. These were an
Air Force Classification Center, an Army Air Forces Preflight
School for Pilots and an Army Air Forces School for Bombardiers-Navigator.
The first class of 2,601 cadets graduated on July 1, 1942. By
the end of 1942 the annual rate of graduates from the Pilot School
was over 45,000. To carry out this program, the Air Force had
recruited a faculty of over 250 well-trained and experienced
high school, college and university teachers who later became
officers in the Air Corps.
The Sunday review was the only regular ceremony. The "E"
flag was awarded to the squadron that excelled in marching and
The Base Newspaper was begun July 2, 1942 and dubbed The Cadet.
It was published by the Cadet Press of Anaheim, which also published
the weekly Anaheim Gazette.
In March 1943 the Women's Army Corps (WAC) was established at
SAAAB. Special barracks were constructed for them on the edge
of the property.
The proficiency level of the cadets was improved by the introduction
of the College Training Program in January 1943. By the end of
1943, some 41,216 college students had been sent to the SAAAB.
The Base reached its maximum strength by the fall of 1943, with
a population of some 26,000 servicemen.
The SAAAB graduated 23,479 cadets in 1942 and 57,895 in 1943.
In September 1943, the SAAAB began to train Chinese Air Force
officers. In September 1943 the SAAAB hospital was authorized
to serve as one of seven convalescent centers in the Army Air
Forces. The mission of the convalescent center was to provide
medical service and rehabilitation for all Army Air Forces personnel
transferred from General Hospitals and other sources.
The hospital convalescent patients published their own newspaper
called the Wardbird.
Preflight training at the SAAAB peaked in the latter part of
1943. Pilot class 44D, the largest, completed training in October
1943. By then, the Army Air Forces had enough aircrews for the
On May 31, 1944 aircrew classification ceased at the SAAAB, only
about two years since a began. The Pilot School closed on May
22, 1944. It had received 73,923 cadets and graduated 70,464
for flying schools. By the end of 1944 most pilot training schools
were being closed by the Army Air Forces.
On November 1, 1944 the SAAAB was turned over to the Army Air
Forces Personnel Distribution Command with General Arthur E.
Easterbrook in command. At the time it had 800 buildings on the
Base. Most of the remaining cadets were sent to San Antonio,
Texas. From its inception until this transfer the SAAAB Classification
Center had received 149, 425 men. Of that total, 82,252 were
classified as pilots, 21, 842 as bombardiers and 14,230 as navigators.
Classification eliminated 28,388 to ground crew and 188 to radio
operator school. At its close 2,525 remained unclassified.
Convalescent Hospital activities were increased.
A new base newspaper published in magazine size and called the
Crossroads, became a replacement for The Cadet.
In July 1945, 563 German prisoners-of-war from the Garden Grove
POW Camp were assigned to the SAAAB.
May 7, 1945 V-E day was the close of the fighting in Europe.
Suddenly SAAAB's role changed 180 degrees and it worked around
the clock to become a separation center. By November 1945 81,000
combat veterans had been returned to private life.
Finally on March 13, 1946 the Army deactivated the SAAAB. On
May 4, 1946 the title to the SAAAB passed from the Army to the
War Assets Administration. In the ensuing years some of the buildings
on the base were sold and moved piecemeal, others became part
of colleges. In 1953 the City of Costa Mesa was incorporated.
In June 1955, the former SAAAB property was annexed to the City.
For a period of time in the mid-1950s a portion of the Base served
as a Nike guided missile training base. The three-battery missile
compound had been made operational in January 1956. Two years
later, in June 1958, the Air National Guard received a five-acre
parcel of land and the remaining 260 acres, including the five-acre
air base water facility, was declared surplus and turned over
to the GSA. On June 29, 1979, a plaque was dedicated to "all
pilots, bombardiers and navigators who trained here that contributed
to an early victory in World War II". This plaque was placed
on the Air National Guard base, which is the last active duty
post on the original location of the SAAAB.
The SAAAB property eventually became the center of the City of
References: The SAAAB Story by
Edrick J. Miller, 1981. The Costa Mesa Historical Society.
Santa Ana, Orange County.
Improvements and Disposal
The Santa Ana Army Air
Base consisted of 1336.102 acres. This was made up of 909.453
acres acquired in fee, by Condemnation and purchase, 420.74 acres
acquired by lease 5.771 acres acquired by easement and 0.138
acres acquired by license.
The Army Air Corps used
the land as a pilot training facility between March 1942 and
October 1944, when it became a redistribution center and convalescent
hospital. The base was
built to serve 20,000 personnel. Finally, before it closed in
March 1946, it was a discharge station for soldiers returning
from the Pacific.
By quitclaim deed dated
8 April 1943, 0.417 acres were conveyed to Albert M. & Rose
D. Mungia. On 31 March 1946 the site was declared inactive. On
4 May 1946, title to the site
(1335.685 acres) was passed from the Army to the War Assets Administration
(W.A.A.). The former site was sold to various entities Orange
Coast College, 32nd Agricultural & Southern California Bible
College. The site currently consists of many residential and
retail tracts with approximately 2,800 owners.
The site, at present,
contains the Orange County Fairgrounds, Costa Mesa City Hall,
Orange Coast College, Pacific Amphitheater, Southern California
Bible College, Air National
Guard Station and several residential and retail tracts. Some
of the original buildings were renovated and are being used by
the present owners. The seven tanks are concentrated in a 5 acre
area of land owned by the College. The lease was terminated when
the fee land was conveyed to the College.
Units at Santa Ana Army Air Base
Army Air Forces West Coast Training Center
Army Air Forces Classification Center
414th Air Base Squadron
Aviation Cadet Squadron 72
554th Pre-Flight Training Squadron
674th Classification Center Squadron
1040th Army Air Forces Base Unit (Redistribution
Mesa Air National Guard Station
News Article: Air National
Guard shuts down: The 222nd Combat Communications Squadron is
to move to base north of Sacramento.
COSTA MESA A formal flag transfer
ceremony marked the end of an era Sunday at the California Air
National Guard station in Costa Mesa.
One hundred men, women and alumni of the
post founded in 1964 gathered for one last reunion as the 222nd
Combat Communications Squadron prepares for a move to Beale Air
Force Base north of Sacramento.
While the fate of the 8-acre parcel remains
unclear as the Army Reserve, National Guard and city of Costa
Mesa jockey for position over the prime real estate, veterans
reminisced about the many missions accomplished and friendships
forged by the triple deuce.
Costa Mesa Mayor Alan Mansoor thanked the
squadron for providing a feeling of ongoing patriotism in
Source: Orange County Register,
Monday, September 10, 2007