The Air Force years through one pilot's eyes
Yuman and retired Air Force Lt. Col. Dwaine R. "Bird Dog" Franklin was first sent to the Yuma Air Base in 1951 and has fond memories of the times he and his wife had there, which would later become Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.
"It was nothing but coils of barbed wire, a hangar and a couple of barns," Franklin said. "My office was in a tent. It used to be in the hangar, but it was condemned and rebuilt into a headquarter building."
His wife Grace added, "We had to buy the only house available when we got here. There wasn't any housing on base so you had to live in town."
While there wasn't much at the base in those years, Yuma was still in its infancy as well. The Franklins said the city back then ended at 16th Street with the main structures being a drive-in theater and the Flamingo motel.
Grace said she and her husband, along with the other personnel at the base, eventually converted one of the hangars into an officer's club.
Franklin was stationed at the Yuma Air Base twice during his career, the first time from 1951 until 1956. The second time was in 1958, and lasted less then a year.
"Something was always going on," Franklin said. "It was never routine. We got a lot accomplished."
"It got so hot that you couldn't stand on the wings of the planes," Franklin recalls of the daytime temperatures. "We had to stop flying by 3 p.m. everyday."
He added, "We didn't have any air conditioning, so the crews would launch a plane and run back inside a building."
While in Yuma, Franklin invented and developed radar reflective aerial targets, which radar could lock onto in order to give pilots something to shoot during aerial combat.
"(Duane) used to pull the targets behind a plane," Grace said. "That is the only time I ever worried about him flying."
Franklin, due to all his work in Yuma in the rocket training program, is also creditted with being instrumental in introducing jet planes to the Air Force.
He left for Okinawa in 1956 and returned to Yuma, this time as a major, for his second stint at the airfield in 1958.
Although only at the airfield a short time, Franklin said he knew the base was going to be transferred to the Marine Corps about six months before it happened.
"(The Marines) were going to make this a permanent base," Franklin said. "The Department of the Navy was negotiating with the Air Force at the time."
He added, "They must have thought we were crazy for giving up real estate like this. And the firing range."
Franklin said the transfer of the airbase to the Marine Corps, which occurred in January 1959, happened unceremoniously.
"There was no ceremony, no flag changing or anything. That was it," Franklin said. "I left the airbase on New Year's Eve and came back the next day and there was a MCAS sign up there."
The base, at that time was known as the Marine Corps Auxiliary Air Station
"I was sad to see them take it, but they have done a good job with it over the years," Franklin said.
His wife Grace added, "I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. I felt betrayed because we had put a lot of work into making the base a really nice place."
Franklin, a fighter pilot, had a distinguished career in the Air Force.
He flew 74 combat mission during World War II, mostly in Italy, and logged 374 hours of flight time. Thirteen of those missions were through what was known as "The Gauntlet," which was over the Ploesti Oil Fields in Hungary, which is where the Germans were refining their oil.
His last mission in Italy was March 20, 1945. He flew in the Air Lift to Germany, and was stateside at a gunnery school in Texas when the war with Germany came to an end. He was later stationed in Florida, and sent to Panama where he met and married Grace. Other bases he served have been in Savannah, Ga.; El Paso, Texas; and Washington, D.C. When he was in Tokyo, he was the only qualified jet pilot teacher.
ABOUT 'BIRD DOG'
* Lt. Col. Dwaine R. "Bird Dog" Franklin
* Served in World War II and post-war Air Force, retired in 1965.
* His military tally record: seven confirmed shot-down enemy planes, one probable.
* Decorations: Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 12 oak clusters and the Good Conduct Medal.
* In the Friends Journal quarterly publication of the Air Force Museum Foundation (1996), Franklin's flying prowess was described as never flying in a straight line or level course for much more than a few seconds, and, "It was obvious how Capt. (at the time) Franklin gained the nickname 'Bird Dog.' He seldom maintained a level altitude. He'd flick into a 90-degree bank to the right while maintaining a straight course, then alternately flip into one to the left. At times he would do a half-roll and hold it inverted for a few seconds as he sniffed for any possible enemy aircraft attempting to sneak upon us, from either side, above or below, just like the canine for which he had been nicknamed."
James Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6854.