Hap Arnold and the ‘Golden Age’ of March Field

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Eric Figi
  • 452nd AMW Historian

In November, 1931, Major Henry H. “Hap” Arnold arrived at March Field and assumed command of the post and the 1st Bombardment Wing.  His tenure as commander marked the golden age of March. Hollywood celebrities, famous aviators, and military legends, frequented the base. Hap Arnold was a huge proponent of air power and he sought to display its importance whenever the chance arose.


On March 29, 1932, then Colonel Arnold, organized an inspection of March Field by the governor of California at the time, James Rolph. Aircraft lined the taxiway for inspection by the governor. The event was a huge public relations success and paved the way for the creation of what is known today as the distinguished visitor tour.


Arnold realized the value of publicizing events with nationally recognized celebrities, as these practices brought well deserved attention to the base and spotlighted the importance of air power to the military posture of the United States. Amelia Earhart frequented the base and was on hand, to watch a fly-over by the 1st Bombardment Wing as a guest of Arnold. In October of 1932, film star Bebe Daniels joined Arnold in reviewing Air Corps maneuvers at the Army Reserve airdrome in Long Beach, California.


Arnold would go on to create Muroc Bombing Range—opening as an auxiliary installation for practice bombing and gunnery by March’s crews in September of 1933. Little less than a decade later, Muroc would separate from March, and would eventually become Edwards Air Force Base. Hap Arnold would leave March in January of 1936 as the first general officer to command the post.


When the War Department General Staff was organized in March 1942, Arnold became Commanding General of Army Air Forces and in March of 1943, he received his fourth star. As World War II drew to a close he suffered the first of his four heart attacks between 1943 and 1945, which some attribute to his extensive travel and long hours under great stress during the war. He retired from service on June 30th, 1946.


On May 7, 1949 Hap Arnold was appointed the first General of the Air Force, a five-star rank, by the U.S. Congress and he remains the only person to have held the rank. He is also the only person to hold five-star rank in two U.S. military services.