Historians recently paid tribute to the Leesburg airport’s role in World War II with a ceremony and presentation of a plaque.
More than 50 people, including elected officials and veterans, gathered Jan. 17 at Leesburg International Airport for the unveiling of the historic bronze marker. The Mary Ellen Robertson Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution presented the marker, which is affixed to the Airport Administration Building at 8807 Airport Blvd., a news release states.
Charyl Winner, regent of the local DAR chapter, noted that there already was a plaque at the airport commemorating the pilots who trained there in WWII. The new marker recognizes servicemen other than pilots—including anti-aircraft artillery, anti-aircraft searchlight battalions, 91st Service Group, and Army Air Force School of Applied Tactics—who also were stationed at the airport for training.
The Army Air Corps started construction of Leesburg Army Airfield in late 1941, the release states. By 1943, servicemen of the 313th Tactical Fighter Squadron, also known as the “Lucky Puppies,” were training to fly P-40s and later P-47s in the skies over Leesburg. The airport was used by the Army for training and testing, and for a short time as a POW camp. The site was deactivated in 1947, and in 1948, it was deemed surplus and deeded to the city of Leesburg.
While researching the Lucky Puppies, Charyl learned the extent of Leesburg Army Airfield’s involvement in the war effort, and the DAR chapter decided it was important to memorialize the historical significance of the airport.
Dawn Lemongello, Florida state regent of DAR, says the marker will make people take notice of the airport and educate them on the role Leesburg played in WWII.
“This marker will make people think,” Dawn says in the release. “Maybe they’ll dig a little deeper and understand more what was going on about WWII and (the) historic significance of their town of Leesburg.”
Benjamin Mack-Johnson, 16-year-old founder of the WWII Veterans History Project, spoke about the history of the airport, those who trained there, and the importance of preserving our nation’s history.
He noted that the pilots who trained in Leesburg were some of the best the Army Air Force had during WWII. The Lucky Puppies served with the 50th Fighter Squadron and endured fierce fighting in the European theater. Only 29 of the 80 combat planes they flew returned home at the end of the war.
“After starting my nonprofit organization around 3½ years ago, I began to understand that preserving history was not just a passion I had, but a duty that we should all embrace,” Benjamin says in the release. “I am honored to be here today at the Leesburg Army Airfield, a historic WWII treasure here in Florida. With the dedication of this important marker, all who visit moving forward will remember how this location helped the United States succeed during WWII.”
The effort to bring the marker to the airport started almost a year ago. Airport Manager Tracey Dean thanked the local and state DAR members for their efforts.
“I am thrilled they approached me with this idea,” Tracey says in the release. “Regardless if it’s past events, current, or looking to the future, it’s great to see how many people appreciate this airport and enjoy it.”