75 years ago, a Phoenix-area hotel and air base partnered to train World War II pilots

Mar 30, 2016, 5:54 AM | Updated: 8:39 am

(Wikimedia Commons Photo)...

(Wikimedia Commons Photo)

(Wikimedia Commons Photo)

PHOENIX — The last place you would expect rowdy military flyboys to hang out would be a luxury resort in Arizona, but 75 years ago, that’s exactly what happened.

As the United States geared up for possible war in 1941, the Wigwam Resort and a new air base just a few miles away teamed up to house and train fighter pilots.

“The Wigwam and Luke Air Force Base were established back when both our outposts were surrounded by cotton fields and tumbleweeds,” Greg Gooding, general manager and area managing director at the Wigwam, said.

Nine months before the United States officially entered the war, the U.S. Army Air Corps broke ground on a base 15 miles west of downtown Phoenix on March 29, 1941. The city had bought 1,440 acres of land and then leased it back to the government at the sky-high price of $1 per year.

Originally opened as the Litchfield Park Air Base, it would soon come to be called Luke Field by the more than 17,000 fighter pilots that trained in the skies above Phoenix throughout WWII and later termed Luke Air Force Base.

Meanwhile, about four miles away, the Wigwam Resort had just undergone a major expansion, growing from 24 rooms to 110 and doubling the size of its golf course.

Opened in 1929, the Wigwam was already garnering fame as a destination for those looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Phoenix and the recently-opened Sky Harbor Airport.

But as America’s eyes shifted toward the growing war in Europe — by March 1941, the Axis powers controlled all of central Europe, parts of Africa and some of eastern Asia — the Wigwam Resort would soon find itself housing a different kind of tourist: pilots.

“Honoring and supporting our troops has always been a huge part of the Wigwam’s philosophy,” Tom O’Malley, chief operating officer at the resort’s parent company, JDM Partners, said. “There is no greater example than what happened here during World War II.”

The resort and air base officially became partners in 1941, as thousands of pilots arrived to learn how to fight at the largest single-engine advanced flying training school in the nation. Until the war ended in 1945, the resort exclusively leased all of its rooms to those training at Luke.

The air base graduated more than 12,000 fighter pilots during the war. They racked up more than 1 million hours of flying time, leading some to tab Luke as the “home of the fighter pilot.”

But for those four years of partnership, some of those that trained at the “home of the fighter pilot” simply called the Wigwam “home.”

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75 years ago, a Phoenix-area hotel and air base partnered to train World War II pilots