- Reveille for Sioux Falls: A World War II Army Air Forces Technical School Changes a South Dakota City by Lynwood E. Oyos
A United States Army Air Forces Technical Training Command School (aafts) operated in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, from July 6, 1942, to May 11, 1945, training radio operator-mechanics (roms). More than 45,000 students [End Page 150] flowed through the base, which at its peak housed 27,854 officers, trainees, and staff. The aafts quickly became, under its first commanding officer, Colonel Narcisse S. Cote, “the Number One radio school in the United States” (50). More than half the roms in the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces in Europe were graduates of the Sioux Falls facility. Professor Emeritus Lynwood Oyos of Augustana College, in an important regional study, explains the school’s course of study and assesses its impact upon the adjacent community.
Sioux Falls in 1940 was “a placid, agricultural community” (1) of 40,832 souls. Despite the known political efforts of Rep. Karl Mundt and others to secure the site, the almost-overnight population explosion sorely tested the city’s amenities. Restaurants, bars, theaters, and hotels were filled to capacity. Housing was the biggest issue, one never fully resolved. (Some greedy landlords allowed only one bath per week!) But the aafts, with a monthly payroll of $600,000, insured a welcome degree of prosperity after years of depression. It provided over eighteen hundred civilian jobs. Welfare rolls declined and employment and bank holdings surged. Wartime prosperity brought the usual afflictions of prostitution and venereal diseases, “khaki-wacky” Victory girls, and juvenile delinquency, but Sioux Falls was remarkably free of crime (only two murders), and relations between citizens and soldiers remained upbeat and cordial.
The aafts trained roms in electrical and radio fundamentals, including taking a bearing and direction-finding by triangulation, Ohm’s law and dit-dahs (Morse code), “superheterodyne” receivers and other equipment. One hundred sixty-one classes, of 425 to 450 trainees each, passed through the facility, including some three hundred African-Americans of the Eighty-Fifth Aviation Squadron, who were arguably treated fairly, although segregated on the base and in town. There were female civilians on the staff, and later, members of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (waac). Sioux Falls experienced a microcosm of wartime mobility and integration.
Professor Oyos’s sources are mainly local, including interviews and newspapers, especially the base sheet, the Polar Tech. He might have included a city map, so we could find West Twelfth Street and other locales. Sioux Falls benefited immensely from the aafts, inheriting at the end a modern airport, a sewage plant, railroad facilities, roads, buildings, an electric substation, and a population (by 1950) of over fifty thousand. This is an excellent, comprehensive, informative study of a wartime town on the northern Great Plains.
University of Montana