|Fort Sill, Restored Building, Photo Courtesy of the OHS Photo Archives
By Alanna Radle Rodriguez and Judge Rodriguez
Thank you for joining us for our final fort in “The Forts of Oklahoma Series.” The exploration of the history of this great state has been, at the very least, eye-opening. When we started this series, it was, a matter of minor interest to the both of us, truth be told. With both of us coming from military families, doing these articles really opened our eyes to the greater significance of the military presence in our home state. In last month’s article, we wrote about Fort Sill, its earlier history and waning legacy up to Oklahoma Statehood in 1907.
To recap, Fort Sill was set up as a cavalry outpost on the edge of the Indian Territory to help keep the indigenous tribes from being too fractious. Initially, it didn’t work out very well and required the intervention of the US Army. Although in 1907, the role of the fort changed drastically when the last troop of cavalry moved out and left only the artillery.
In 1911, “The School of Fire for the Field” was founded for artillery soldiers and continues until this day. In 1917, the Henry Post Army Airfield, shortened to Post Field, was constructed for artillery observation and training. During the 1930’s, the WPA (Works Progress Administration), in conjunction with the Army, built more permanent buildings and training facilities. The oldest currently standing building is Building 4908 Aircraft Maintenance hanger built in 1932.
By the end of World War II, the Field Artillery School had permission to train its own fixed wing pilots as field artillery spotters. In 1942, Fort Sill held approximately 700 Japanese, interned by the Department of Justice, most of whom were non-citizens who had been arrested as spies or “fifth columnists,” despite the lack of charges against them. Three Hundred and Fifty of these inmates were transfers from Fort Missoula, Montana. In addition to the Japanese, Fort Sill also hosted German prisoners of war.
The Army Ground Forces Air Training School (later known as the Army Aviation School) was established at Post field on December 7th 1945. In October 1948, pilot training for helicopters began, and the first warrant officer class started in 1951. Post Field is the oldest continually-operating airfield in the US Army to date.
Fort Sill serves as a training base for not only artillery and aviation, but it also serves as one of only four basic training bases in use by the US Army. The harsh climate and rugged terrain allows for the hardening of the soldiers to serve overseas.
Fort Sill operates and maintains the Fort Sill National Cemetery, also referred to as the “Post Cemetery.” This graveyard has several notable facts tied to it, the biggest of which, is that it was never segregated. Buffalo soldiers are interred next to Apache and their families, who were buried next to white cavalry troopers. Three of the most notable names found among the graves are Satanta, Geronimo, and Quanah Parker.
Parts of Fort Sill are open to the public and well worth the time, mileage, and effort it will take to get to the Wichita Mountains, as we discovered on our honeymoon three years ago (Happy Anniversary, beloved!). This diversely rich historic fort has given us an enduring legacy of honor and history.
Please join us next month as we discuss the Red River War (and we’re not talking about football), in our continuing discussions about the rich military history of our home state, Oklahoma.