When the P-39’s and the pilots and crews of the 546th Fighter Squadron arrived at Madras Airbase in early March 1944, the Base was already humming with flight training activity, being part of the Second Air Force. Madras AAB had been established only in 1942, and extensions of its two main runways (designed for B-17 heavy bombers—one was 7400 feet long) were still under construction in Spring 1944.
Two miles to the south, the town of Madras, county seat of Jefferson County, was in those days a raw dry-farming and ranching center of maybe 600 people, somewhat overwhelmed commercially and socially by the near presence of the Base, and although by the time the 546th Squadron arrived it had an active “USO” unit (organized by the theatrical wife of the founding Base Commander, Col. Joseph P. Arnold, younger brother of General “Hap” Arnold, Commander-in-Chief of the Army Air Force), the Base and its surroundings must have seemed over the edge of nowhere to newcomers.
In the “ready room” of the South Hangar (still in use in 2009), young pilots left their marks Kilroy-like in pencil along the walls, A few are patriotic and upbeat: “Take care of everything. Will be back when the Rising Sun sets!” But most are cryptic grumbles in the timeless GI style about the godforsaken place they were temporarily condemned to:
“8-23-43—Came, looked, and left.”
“3-1-44 to 3-29-44—And glad to go!”
–Jarold Ramsey, from “Airacobra: in Memoriam 2nd Lt. Robert L. Cranston, 1924-1944”