Eaker Air Force Base (Blytheville Air Force Base)
Eaker Air Force Base is located in the city of Blytheville, Mississippi County, Arkansas. The base was named after WWII Lieutenant General Ira C. Eaker. Formally known as Blytheville Air Force Base from 1942-1988 the base was opened originally as an Army airfield and advanced flying school. In 1955 Strategic Air Command took over the base and implemented plans to create a new air force base. By 1956 the 461st Bombardment Wing located to the area with three squadrons of B-57 bombers. By 1960 the 97th Bombardment wing took over and brought with it B-52G bombers and KC-135A Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft. The 97th Bombardment Wing would remain in place and in operational command of the base until its closure in 1992.
Backstory and Context
The base and 97th Bombardment Wing underwent a lot of activity during the Cold War. During the Cuban Missile Crisis the unit received an award for outstanding preparedness when SAC issued a DEFCON II for the first time in U.S. history on October 23, 1962. During the Vietnam War the KC-135As participated in refueling jets for Operation Young Tiger in 1965. By 1972 all of the B-52 bombers as well as the pilots were moved to Guam until the conflict in Vietnam ended. In 1983 the unit launched rescue missions to Grenada to help American citizens. The unit also flew refueling sorties during Operation Desert Storm. Between the conflicts bomber training and refueling missions continued.
Due to the provisions of the START I treaty brought on by the end of the Cold War and the declining defense spending Eaker Air Force base was on the list to be closed. The closing of the base was detrimental to the Blytheville community and economy that had come to rely on the business and personnel the base brought to the area. The base brought in a very diverse and new population to the area. Many scientists and engineers moved to the area enhancing the agricultural community's culture and societal diversity. After the closing of the base the local college lost 20% of its students, the local school system lost almost half of its students, and over 700 civilian jobs were lost. Eaker Air Force base was one of the many Cold War defense bases that were spotted all over the U.S. that had to close after the Cold War.
This base is one of the many legacies the Cold War left behind when it ended. This base has been repurposed into an international airport. The base housing is now used as a elderly home community. Most of the base buildings still stand but they are all boarded up. The once vibrant an important Strategic Air Command base now sits as a ghost town.