Selman Army Airfield

The military base was built at the site of a small Monroe, Louisiana civil airport constructed in the 1930s named "Selman Airport", which was named after a Navy Pilot, Lieutenant Augustus J. Selman, a native of Monroe, LA, who died at Norfolk, Virginia, on November 28, 1921, of injuries received in an airplane crash in the line of duty. The airport housed a small Delta Airlines terminal serving regular flights, a weather station, a regional center of Delta Crop Dusting (a large hangar and maintenance facility, the number of aircraft varying with the season) and a two-plane private aviation flight school.

Selman Army Airfield construction was activated on June 15, 1942, that is, given an official existence on paper. Land construction began soon after June 15th. On August 15th Pre-Flight (B-N) was transferred here from Maxwell Field, AL. A month later the Advanced Navigation School arrived here from Turner Field, GA. Selman Field was in full operation three months after starting from scratch. Selman Field was the only complete navigation training station in the country. Of the hundreds of fields that were operated by the Army Air Forces, it was only at Selman that a cadet could get his entire training-- pre-flight and advanced--and wind up with a commission and navigators wings without ever leaving the field.

In May of 1942, Colonel Norris B. Harbold came to Monroe as project officer of the Army Air Forces Navigation School which was to be located at Monroe. The plans were drawn, specifications made, and blueprints approved in the six weeks that followed. On June 15, the field was activated--given the paper status of a full-fledged military establishment--and Colonel Harbold was named Commanding Officer. Within three months the post was to be in full operation, with two schools transferred to Monroe and thousands of navigation cadets undergoing the complex and exacting training of their specialty. On August 8th, the first meal was served on the post in a partly completed mess hall. Forty enlisted men moved out to the post that night and a living military organization began to grow within the gates. On August 11, a motor convoy from Turner Field, Albany, GA, brought the cadres of the first squadrons of ground troops to the post.

On August 15th, the AAF Pre-Flight School(Bombardier-Navigator), then under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas V. Webb, was transferred to Selman Field from Maxwell Field, AL. The transfer, an example of superb organization, was completed in one day. The day after the arrival of the staff, enlisted men and cadets of the Pre-Flight School, classes were in session in improvised academic halls. The cadets had lost only one day of classes in moving nearly 400 miles--the day spent on the train.

The last elements of the Advanced Navigation School arrived on the night of September 14th, one day less than three months after the activation date. Under the command of Colonel Harbold, a pioneer in the Army Air Forces navigation training program, and later Colonel Earl L. Naiden, a veteran of the classroom and of combat in two wars, the field continued to grow. Once in operation, the Navigator school expanded rapidly. Over 15,000 navigators were trained at Selman Field, who flew in every theater of operations during the war. Thus, Selman Field grew in size and in stature as the nation's only complete school where the curriculum consisted of teaching picked young men how to "Get'em There and Get'em Back."

The cadet had to know all aspects of navigation in order to determine where he was, where he wanted to go and when he would get there. The science of navigation offered four methods of accomplishing this. The first is pilotage or navigating by landmarks, using maps and charts. The second is dead reckoning, which consist of keeping track of how far you have gone and in what direction since you started, using instruments which measure various aspects of the plane in motion, such as speed, deviation, wind drift and so on. The third method is radio navigation which consists of "riding the beam" from one station to another until you progress to where you want to go. The final way to navigate is by celestial bodies. These are immutable, but you must be able to identify them in their different configurations in all quarters of the heavens at all times of the night and day. Armed with the best knowledge and training possible, the navigation cadets graduated and became members of combat crews.

Navigator training ended on 1 September 1945 when the school was closed. With the end of the war in the Pacific, students at Selman AAF were asked if they wanted to remain in the postwar Air Forces. Those who elected to remain were reassigned to Ellington to continue their training, and those who elected for separation were assigned other general duties on the field.

If you have pictures to add or comments, e-mail Mike Radowski at: mradowski@mac.com