Eaker AFB was almost Ramey AFB

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of pieces on the history of the former Eaker Air Force Base, which was closed 25 years ago. Later this month, the CN is also publishing a magazine chronicling the base’s past and looking ahead to the future.)

Blytheville has had more than its share of war heroes.

And one of those men nearly had the honor having the base named after him.

Blytheville pilot Gordon A. Ramey was killed on a volunteer mission in attempting to bring a wounded crewman to safety during World War II.

“Tactical Air Command, when Blytheville Air Force Base became a permanent installation informed Dud Cason Post of American Legion it will consider giving the base the name of a local World War II veteran,” a 1955 CN story read. “This quickly narrowed the list for the Legion committee-headed by E.A. Rice—which investigated the matter. Mr. Rice pointed out that many Blytheville airmen and servicemen of both world wars could have been considered for the honor, “but we felt if we were to get the privilege of getting the base named for a local man, it would be to our advantage to select a man whose career most closely followed the desires of the Air Force in the matter.”

“Otherwise, we felt, the Air Force could just as well over look our case and either continue to call the field Blytheville Air Force Base or to name it after a nationally-known air war hero.”

The piece went on to say that Gordon Ramey graduated from Blytheville High School with the class of 1937. In the fall of that year, he entered the Art Institute of Chicago, graduating in 1941.

On graduation, he went with a Chicago advertising company as a commercial artist. He worked there until 1942 when he volunteered for the Army Air Force.

He went to airplane mechanic school in Oakland, Calif. and graduated, then began air cadet training.

He took various training at Santa Ana and Sacramento in California and in Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona. As a B-25 pilot, he flew with his crew from Savannah, Ga., to Corsica, joining the 12th Air Force’s 447th Bomb Squadron, 321st Bomb Group.

He began his tour as a combat pilot in May, 1944. As D-DAY for Southern France drew near, his group began pounding fortifications from its Corsican Base.

In September, he was promoted to First Lieutenant and received the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Presidential Unit citation went to his squadron.

It was November, 1944 that he volunteered for a mission to hit strategic rail communication lines near the Poe River in Italy.

On that mission, the War Department stated, immediately before and after the instant of bomb release, First Lieutenant Ramey’s aircraft received numerous close bursts of flak, which rendered the left engine, inoperative and critically wounded the bombardier.

“Although his aircraft was virtually uncontrollable and with the ever-increasing probability of his right engine becoming inoperative because of the strain placed upon it. First Lieutenant Ramey elected to remain with the aircraft in an endeavor to bring the wounded bombardier to safety.”

“First Lieutenant Ramey gave the remaining members or the crew the option of abandoning the aircraft or remaining with him while he endeavored to affect the emergency landing. When nearing the emergency field, three members of the crew abandoned the aircraft the instant the right engine ceased functioning.”

“The necessitated a forced landing in which First Lieutenant Ramey, the co-pilot and the bombardier were instantly killed.”

“First Lieutenant Ramey’s exemplary courage and gallant endeavor to save a member of his crew at the risk of his own life are commensurate with highest traditions of the military service and his actions reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States of America.”

Thus, did the War Department confer on him the Distinguished Service Cross.

It was his 64th B-25 mission and he was slated for return to the United States when he volunteered to fly it. His plane crashed near Pisa, Italy, and he is buried in Vida, 16 miles South East of Leghorn. In writing a biographical prologue for the scrapbook of his parents Selma Lentz Morrison wrote, “ Gordon began his life the year his country entered World War I and gave his best and last effort for his country in its second world struggle.”

“His years were few and full. He set for himself a pattern of clean living, clear thinking and thorough work.”

“He was conscientious and active in church and school. He held his employer’s respect and admiration. His teachers saw him grow in integrity, ability, and mature responsibility.”

“Gordon’s family hold in their hearts his tenderness, thoughtfulness and devotion. And of all of us who knew him, he lives.”

Gordon Ramey was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest honor, the Distinguished Flying Cross, a presidential citation signed by President Roosevelt and several other honors for his service to the United States, making him the second highest decorated officer in this area. The Blytheville air base was deactivated in the early 1950s. When the base reopened it was almost named Gordon Ramey.

It is not uncommon to for Air Force Bases to be named after local heroes, but when looking into the possibility the United States Air Force found that another base in Puerto Rico was already named after a Ramey. However, the Ramey was no relation of the Ramey Family in Blytheville. Since no Air bases can have the same name, the base was called Blytheville Air Force Base.

Through the efforts of the American Legion and Gordon Ramey’s friend, Oscar Fendler, the Ramey Youth Complex opened on the base in April 1989. The building was constructed for the base’s youth and had a full gym, music room a lounge and several other activity rooms. It was dedicated in memory of Gordon Ramey. The Ramey Center is now used for Westminster Village activities.