Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Falcon Field (KFFZ) building wraps a stunning memorial

World War II ended 75 years ago, but Falcon Field’s contribution to the war effort as a British training base keeps getting increasingly prominent.

A series of 16 wraps featuring historical photos of Falcon Field’s vital role now adorn many blank spaces on buildings at the busy – and growing – municipal airport.

The photos capture a variety about various aspects of life at early Falcon Field during the war era from 1941-1945, ranging from cadets getting tossed into a long- gone pool after their first solo flight to a training class posing with smiles on their faces.

Yes, it was dangerous, too: 23 cadets lost their lives during the training and are buried at the Mesa City Cemetery, but it also was a much more agreeable assignment than many others during the war.

None of these images, however, are as prominent as the newest – an imposing statement about gender equity that resonated strongly with everyone attending a dedication last week.

It’s hard to miss this image, looming on the control tower for everyone who arrives at the terminal building to see: a female mechanic working on the engine of a plane.

“It’s the history of Falcon Field being memorialized with a woman,’’ said Shelbea York, a pilot who had just participated in a fly-over by four vintage training aircraft, including a T-6 Texan and Stearman PT-17 trainers.

“The first time I saw it, it actually made me cry,’’ she said.

York and her father Ben participated in the flyover by the Wings of Flight Foundation, which perpetuates Falcon’s traditions through a collection of historic WWII vintage planes kept at a historic World War II hangar.

Ben York was flying a PT-17 Stearman, a biplane, while his daughter, a flight instructor at the airport, was a passenger in the T-6. Ben York said it was typical for cadets to graduate from the Stearman to the T-6.

Everyone seemed to agree it was fitting to put the patriotic woman’s picture in such a prominent place.

“It’s important for us to recognize their legacy and how they supported the war effort,’’ Mesa Councilman Dave Luna said. “We have a woman who represents all women who participated in the war effort.’’

Luna, a retired educator, also views the wraps as an important learning tool in teaching children Mesa’s important role in WWII, with the former Williams Field, now Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, once serving as another important training base.

No one seems to know the prominently honored female mechanic’s name. It appears someone during that era neglected to write her name down on the back of the photo.

Airport Director Corinne Nystrom, whose father served at the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, said she would love to know the woman’s name.

“It’s a beautiful palate,’’ Nystrom said about the tower, which looms over the terminal and a nearby parking lot. “It’s perfect. Because we have a (male) pilot on the other side, we thought it would be appropriate to commemorate all of the people who worked on the ground.’’

 Anne Beeby of Mesa, daughter of one-time RAF Cadet Kenneth R. Beeby, smiled as she posed next to a wrap displaying a picture of her father during his training mission at Falcon.

The wraps dress up an otherwise unassuming utility building and faces a grassy viewing area, where visitors often stop by to watch takeoffs and landings.

Beeby, a former longtime flight attendant, said her father was proud of his service and viewed his training at Falcon as one of the highlights of his long life. He was born in England, came to Falcon for pilot training and returned home, where served as a flight instructor.

“After the war ended, he came back as soon as he could. He loved the Valley and the airport,’’ Anne Beeby said. “He was so proud to be part of this.’’

“It’s important that they remember Falcon and that we recognize them and the sacrifices they made for us,’’ she said.

Ken Beeby passed away in 2016 at age 97 and never had an opportunity to see his image preserved on a building’s wall at Falcon.

“All of these wraps keep their memory alive,’’ Beeby said.

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