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MCAS has had a long history of service to the country
On Feb. 21, 1928, President Calvin Coolidge authorized the federal government to lease 640 acres of desert land - covered with cactus, brush and desert wildlife - near Yuma for use as a flying field. Three weeks later, a 20-year lease, with an option for an additional 20 years at $1 per year, was signed. Fly Field soon became a reality.
Aviation was in its infancy, and Fly Field became the center of attention in Yuma. During the summer of 1928, it was used as a stopover point for 25 planes in a New York to Los Angeles air race.
The installation, taken over by the Army Air Corps and renamed Yuma Army Airfield, achieved new importance in World War II. The site of one of the busiest flying schools in the nation, it graduated pilots by the hundreds. At the end of the war, all flight activity here ceased and the area was partially reclaimed by the desert.
On July 7, 1951, the Air Force reactivated and operated the base until it was signed over to the Navy on Jan. 1, 1959. On Jan. 10, it became the newly designated Marine Corps Auxiliary Air Station.
"As the first commanding officer of the Marine Corps Auxiliary Air Station, Yuma, it is my sincere pleasure to join with the Air Force in welcoming you to this ceremony," Col. Leonard K. Davis said then. "Let me assure you that this station will continue to play a vital role in the nation's defense, providing an excellent facility for Marine Corps and Naval units soon to be deployed here for training."
Davis, a World War II ace credited with shooting down six Japanese aircraft during the Guadalcanal operation, was the station's first commander.
Davis assumed command from Col. Benjamin H. King, USAF, commander of the 4750th Air Defense Wing (Weapons). An estimated 3,000 Yumans, among them ranking officers of the Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy, witnessed the joint Marine Corps-Air Force parade and aerial review.
Mrs. Clinton D. Vincent, widow of the famous general after whom the flying field portion (Vincent Field) of the new Marine Corps installation was named, was also present. Brigadier Gen. Vincent became a general at 29. He was the second youngest general in the history of the U.S. Air Force and was considered one of the most experienced Air Force officers in air defense.
The Marines took over operational control of the field on April 1, 1959.
The mission of MCAAS was to maintain and operate facilities and provide services and material to support and contribute to the readiness of Fleet Marine Force aviation units and other units of the operating forces of the Navy as designated by the chief of Naval Operations. In short, it was to be used as an aerial weapons training center.
In carrying out the Marine Corps' program at Yuma, the primary consideration was one of realism; flying and firing were done under simulated combat conditions.
"It's one of a few locations in the world where Marines depart an air-conditioned home, travel to work in an air-conditioned car and sit down to a desk in a cool, air-conditioned office," Gunnery Sgt. Rudolph P. Westbrook, guard chief, said in an interview with Leatherneck magazine that appeared in May 1959.
In those initial days, MCAAS was on a five-day week work schedule. Because of the station's mission, the work day began at 8 a.m. and ended at 4:30 p.m.
"Our barracks alone should cause many to ask for assignment to Yuma." Pvt. John J. Hart, a security department sentry, said in an interview with Leatherneck.
He was referring to the fact that Marines were housed in two- or three-man rooms, while many non-commissioned officers were billeted in small apartment-like quarters. All buildings were air-conditioned.
There was no commissary on station, although a Marine Exchange stocked a limited amount of staples, including canned goods, milk, butter, cold cuts and bakery goods, in addition to normal exchange items.
Unlike today, there was no family housing on station, and Marine families rented in Yuma.
On July 20, 1962, the designation of the station was changed to the Marine Corps Air Station. In the years since, MCAS has faithfully supported the Marine Corps mission in time of war, beginning with Vietnam.
When U.S. forces went to Kuwait to oust Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, MCAS contributed squadrons of AV-8B Harriers jets in support of that mission.
Four Harrier squadrons - VMA 211, 214, 311 and 513 - had made MCAS their home in the 1980s, and since the 1991 war, all have seen action in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
And it all began in the 1959, when the Marine assumed an air field in Yuma from the Air Force.
"The commissioning of MCAAS, Yuma, is an occasion of great importance to the Marine Corps and to the Navy," Adm. Arleigh Burke, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, said in a letter to the Marine command. "This station, with its excellent flying weather, uncongested air space and excellent gunnery training areas, will make an important contribution to the training of (Marine) squadrons. Combining the climatic and geographic advantages of your new station with the characteristic resourcefulness and determination of Marines cannot fail to produce excellent results in terms all Marines understand - readiness."