When we think or read about air bases during World War II, the great metal birds–the bomber and surveillance airplanes–are what frequently come to mind. Yet like any microcosm of society, an air base had to organize, to inform, to feed, to train, and even to entertain the thousands of service men and women who lived there, worked there, or just passed through. I was fortunate to spy a vintage U.S. Army Air Force photograph on Ebay and quickly purchase it.
During World War II, the Manchester Airport was acquired by the United States Air Force, and renamed Grenier Field. In 1931 the 34th Air Base Squadron was assigned to organize the airfield. Among the squadron staff was one Joseph G. Machaiek. He enlisted in the United States Air Force several months before Pearl Harbor, and was discharged after World War II officially ended. He served at Grenier Field, and also in Europe, returning to Manchester after the war to marry a local girl. Then he moved back to his home town of Greenfield, Massachusetts.
Along the way he took a series of remarkable photographs documenting air base life. He took several photographs of the barracks buildings, but he also took a rarer ones of the personnel and how they lived. One photo shows the small, spartan-like bunk and personal area that an airman might call his own. He, along with the rest of his squadron participated in training–from swimming lessons to weapons training. He captured every day on film–the airbase band, the MPs, and even the mess staff peeling potatoes.
This remarkable photograph album will, within a few days from today, be transferred to the possession of the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire. It is difficult for us today to visit the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport and picture its World War II state, unless of course you visit the museum that is now housed in the art-deco 1937 terminal building that serviced the Manchester Airport until 1961. The museum is run by the New Hampshire Aviation Historical Society.
“World War II is not a war that many veterans…want to talk about. They’re quiet on the subject, but not because they think the war was bad. They just don’t want to call attention to themselves. They say a sense of duty compelled them to fight in the war. No one should be impressed by that, they say.” These apt words were written in the Greenfield Recorder, on May 18, 1985, by reporter Abigail Wilson.
Our World War II veterans are aging, and there are not many left to tell their stories. However, thanks to Joseph G. Machaiek, a chapter of the Grenier Field Air Base history still survives in photographs.
New Hampshire Missing Places: Grenier Field (or Grenier Air Base)
New Hampshire’s Aviation Museum: A Bridge Between Past and Present