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Happy birthday, Tyndall!

  • Published
  • By Ted Roberts
  • 325th Fighter Wing historian
Tyndall Field first opened its doors on Dec. 7 1941, the same day that the Japanese heavily damaged the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Many don't realize that merely a year before, in December 1940, the idea of locating a Flexible Gunnery School near Panama City in the panhandle of Florida had barely been conceived.

What the war department called "Flexible Gunnery" is commonly called Aerial Gunnery today, and is focused on training aerial gunners usually manning .50 caliber machine guns in the ball turrets and rear doors of B-17 and B-24 bombers.

Between 1940 and 1941, residents of nine communities on the peninsula, that we now call Tyndall, were uprooted to make way for immediate construction of the military field. These former communities are incorporated into Tyndall names and landmarks today, such as Felix Lake, Redfish Point and Belle Isle.

Knowing war was coming, and that America was woefully unprepared, Congress authorized the use of Eminent Domain to legally take the land and reimburse the owners.

The majority of the former residents had vacated their properties by July 1941, but construction of the installation was in full swing by then. Buildings like Tyndall Chapel 1 and what we now call Hangar 3 were among the first buildings.

At its height in 1944, Tyndall Field was literally covered with barracks because it housed thousands of students, graduating 400 of them weekly. As WWII progressed, the barracks became sturdier and many still exist on the base today, although many are demolished each year. 

From 1942 to 1945, students expended over 60 million rounds of .30-caliber and .50-caliber ammunition much of which still remains on the lands and in the waters of Tyndall. At certain locations heading towards Mexico Beach, one can find rounds by the thousands lying on top of the sand even to this day.

The gunnery school continued to pump out students until early-1945 when the war in Europe was basically won. While few Tyndall personnel are as famous as movie star, Clark Gable, who trained in the gunnery school at Tyndall nearly 71 years ago, each pilot, maintainer, air battle manager, security forces warrior and support personnel is part of the mission to guard America's airspace and project combat airpower.

Tyndall was named in honor of Lt. Francis B. Tyndall, a Sewall Point, Fla. native who shot down four German aircraft in World War I. Awarded the Silver Star, Tyndall was killed in a 1930 crash of his military plane in North Carolina.