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McChord Field picture perfect in history book

Northwest Guardian

Published: 12:18PM August 1st, 2013
McChord Field picture perfect in history book

Somer Breeze-Hanson/Northwest Guardian

Air Force spouse Kimberly Peterson, pictured at Heritage Hill, authored the book “McChord Field.”

Kimberly Peterson has a passion for learning about local history — and finding the best way to teach others about it.

In 2011, Peterson’s family PCS’d to JBLM’s McChord Field, where her husband, Lt. Col. Edward “Pete” Peterson, is the deputy group commander for the 627th Air Base Group. Soon after their arrival, Kimberly Peterson started to dig through McChord Field’s history.

Peterson had the idea to preserve the McChord Field story through text and photographs and wrote “McChord Field” (released July 22) as part of Arcadia Publishing’s latest “Images of America” series.

Former Lewis Army Museum director Alan H. Archambault wrote “Fort Lewis” for the same series in 2002.

“It’s so important for people to understand what’s going on currently and to also preserve it for future generations,” Peterson said. “I have two small children, 7 and 8, and I want them to appreciate the airplanes and understand how all of it developed.”

The book’s cover features an image of Brig. Gen. B.K. Yount, assistant chief of the Army Air Corps, during the dedication ceremony of the official opening of McChord Field on July 3, 1940, when there were 1,821 enlisted men and 203 officers stationed at the base.

Peterson documents McChord Field history with almost 200 images covering 124 pages, starting with its origins and ending with an image of Airmen from the 62nd and 446th Airlift wings completing their 500th mission to Antarctica in 2012.

While the Petersons were stationed at McGuire Air Force Base prior to JBLM, the base historian put together a book about the base for Arcadia Publishing. Peterson learned the process of compiling photographs and writing captions, and the history buff thought it would be a fun project to take on.

“I just needed to find a subject,” she said.

As Peterson learned the history of McChord Field, she found there was no Arcadia book to tell the base’s story. She sent in a proposal in May 2012 and was approved to put together the book.

When she began her project the next month, she didn’t have a single photo. From past research experience, she knew the Air Force Historical Research Agency in Alabama had a wealth of information. She spent a week last July immersed in history to start her research and compilation.

When Peterson returned home, she made contact with Raymond Jordan and Ernest White of McChord Air Museum, where she became a volunteer. She also did research at the Tacoma Public Library.

She sorted through hundreds of historic photos and selected those she thought best told McChord’s story — from everyday life behind the gate, to the Doolittle Raiders and the women who served during World War II.

After she compiled 400 photos, she had the difficult task of narrowing down to 200.

Of those, one of Peterson’s favorites is a photograph of the dog, Butch, the Women’s Army Corps mascot, dressed in his uniform and stripes in 1945.

Another favorite is a photograph of a historic 1986 flight of a C-141 and a C-130 accompanying a C-124 to McChord Field, where it was put on display on Heritage Hill.

Three months after Peterson’s project started, her husband deployed for seven months. Peterson worked up to 30 hours a week on her book while he was gone.

“It helped to focus on something else besides how many days until he comes home,” Peterson said. “It helped having a deadline, and got me focused on what I needed to be working on.”

Through her research, the Gig Harbor resident was surprised to learn McChord Field opened the same week as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

She also learned of McChord Field pilots like Maj. Charles Ross Greening, a Doolittle Raider who was shot down and held as a prisoner of war for two years.

Peterson will be at the McChord Field Exchange Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for a book signing.