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Gowen Field - The 801st becomes a battalion

American Theater Ribbon

Gowen Field Entrance  

Boise, Idaho built its first airport in 1926, hosting one of the predecessors to United Airlines as well as Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. In 1936 a new airport was begun, and by 1938 it had the longest runway in the world - 8,800 feet (2,680 m). The Army Air Corps was looking to lease an airfield to train crews in the new B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, and Boise's long runway was perfect. Boise agreed to lease its airfield, and on 23 July 1941 Gowen Field was inaugurated, named after Lt. Paul R. Gowen, an Army Air Corps pilot killed in the crash of his B-10 bomber in Panama in 1938.

The Gowen field that the 801st found in March of 1943 consisted of several score two story wood frame buildings, the all-important PX (Post Exchange), described in the official history as "a handsome building" and two white chapels whose steeples served the worldly as points of orientation in the same manner their interiors did for the faithful. There was a base hospital, recreation hall, gymnasium and movie theater, as well as the hangers, repair shops and lines of heavy bombers that were Gowen Field's main purpose.

At Gowen field the 801st continued to grow. Construction equipment was assigned and a motor pool organized. Drill, overnight bivouacs, tactical exercises, conditioning hikes, and trips to the gunnery range were interspaced with the on-the-job technical training of construction and engineering projects around the base. The men needed to become soldiers as well as engineers, and went through instruction and training in chemical warfare, special weapons, bayonet use and first aid.

The 801st consisted of four companies: three line companies lettered A, B and C; and a Headquarters & Service (H&S) company that consisted of Battalion S-1 (Intelligence), S-2 (Records), S-3 (Plans and Training) and S-4 (Supply) as well as a Repair, Transportation, and Heavy Equipment sections and a Headquarters platoon.

On April 18 the battalion pitched in the help the surrounding community. A flood on the Boise River threatened farmers' property and livestock, and for five days the battalion placed sandbags and strengthened levees, working through the night under floodlights. Commendations were received from fellow engineers and civilians alike. The 801st was beginning to earn its keep.

A small detachment of one officer and eight enlisted men left on June 30th to survey a project at Wendover Field, Utah. It was decided that only part of the 801st would be needed, so Lieutenants Gulderman and Moffatt took 100 men down in a truck convoy on July 20. Asphalt shoulders were added to a 5900-foot taxiway and dirt shoulders added to two asphalt landing strips. The men rejoined the 801st on 24 August, but by that time the battalion had moved on.

Next: the Snake River bivouac >

You fellers want a ride?

James Stewart

Dad was hiking back to the base with a handful of buddies as a truck pulled up beside him and an officer shouted an invitation. He instantly recognized the voice.
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