73rd Bomb Wing Association donates records dating back to Pratt Army Air Field and World War II.
The B-29s that used to fill the skies above the former Pratt Army Air Field have long since faded into history and are just a memory.
Some of those PAAF memories have made their way back to the airfield, now the Pratt Regional Airport, and will eventually be on display for all to see.
The 73rd Bomb Wing Association archives have been passed to B-29 Museum Inc., said Milt Martin, B-29 Museum vice president and digital archivist.
The archive boxes, over 60 of them, were transferred to Pratt from Wichita and are in secure storage in the Pratt National Guard Armory. Don Livengood, The 73rd Bomb Wing Association historian has been caretaker of the records since 2000.
Those records include data, documents, photographs and videos of the B-29 Bomb Groups, including a part of the 73rd Bomb Wing, that trained at PAAF, the first B-29 training facility in the world, along with the other three B-29 training fields in Kansas at Great Bend, Walker and Smoky Hill near Salina.
Specific items for the 497th Bomb Group that trained in Pratt are included in the collection.
During a 73rd Bomb Wing reunion in Wichita, their board of directors came to Pratt to talk to the Pratt Board about transferring the archives to Pratt. The 73rd numbers were dwindling and they wanted a place to not only take the archives but also to display them for the public.
Other museums had offered to take the documents but to just put them in storage and that is not what the 73rd wanted. They wanted the material to be on display and available for research.
Dave Stitt, the B-29 Museum vice president, took up the ball and followed up with e-mails and contacts. Finally, during a 73rd Bomb Wing reunion in Washington D.C., the decision was made to transfer the archives to Pratt.
The 73rd had groups that trained at all four bases in Kansas including one with the 497th Bomb Group that trained at PAAF.
That included Bob Morgan, the leader of the 497th Bomb Group and pilot of the B-17 Memphis Belle, the first B-17 to complete 25 missions allowing the crew to retire and fly the Belle across the country on recruiting flights.
Although Morgan had piloted a B-17, he wanted to fly the B-29s.
His background allowed him to become the leader of the 497th Bomb Group and train at Pratt.
"This is a significant find for us. It's a significant set of records for the entire wing," Martin said. "It will be added to the information we have already collected. We will continue to collect information about the four bomb groups."
Other records, like the 40th Bomb Wing that also trained at Pratt, have been previously dedicated to other museums. The 40th went to the New England Air Museum. The 346th Bomb Wing has also given permission to use information from their web site as well.
Pratt has gathered information from those web sites to add the Pratt Collection, Martin said.
Currently, the former parachute building at PAAF is undergoing a renovation and will soon become the temporary home for some of the archival material, said PAAF Board President George Stevens.
In the meantime the 73rd material will be held at the National Guard Armory. Stevens, formerly with the National Guard, knew Sgt. John McGraw of the Pratt Armory and also knew the Battalion Commander. Those contacts allowed Stevens to easily make arrangements for storage at the armory, Stevens said.
Eventually, the B-29 Museum wants to build a new display building just north of the parachute building at the airport. When complete, the new building and the parachute building will become a tribute to the crews that trained at Pratt.
Norden Vaults on National Registry
The Norden Bombsight Storage Vaults at the former Pratt Army Air Field has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The vaults held the Norden Bombsight that vastly improved bombing accuracy on the B-29s. Plans for the vaults include replacement doors from other bombsights at other World War II airfields in Kansas as well as restoring the wooden building that used to cover the storage vaults. The vaults will eventually be part of a proposed B-29 Museum walking path on the airfield. The Museum committee also wants to get an actual Norden Bombsight for display in the museum.