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San Antionio Military HistoryFrom the early days of the Spanish exploration of the West to providing the cutting edge in battlefield health care training, the history of San Antonio is closely linked to military history.  The Presidio de Bexar served as the seat of government and headquarters of military power in Colonial Texas, and became the focal point of the battle for independence from Mexico through the historic Battle of the Alamo.  A strategic center during the epic wars between Native Americans and the U.S. Calvary, the military presence in San Antonio is unbroken for nearly 300 years.  Occupied by Conquistadors, Texas Rangers, Confederate and Union troops, and serving as the recruiting and training grounds for Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, San Antonio’s military history is a colorful as its many fiestas and festivals.  The first military airplane flew at Ft. Sam Houston, Eddie Rickenbacker learned how to fly at Brooks Field in World War I, and the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo Astronauts were trained for the rigors of space flight at Brooks Air Force Base.  From Korea to Vietnam, Operation Desert Storm to Operation Iraqi Freedom, San Antonio has trained, equipped, and cared for America’s fighting men and women as they defend our way of life.

Read the history of these San Antonio Military Landmarks:



San Antionio is Military City USAThe Mexican Mission San Antonio de Valero was established 1718 and named in honor of Saint Anthony de Padua and the Spanish viceroy, the Duke of Valero.  The present site was selected in 1724 for the avowed purpose of Christianizing and educating the Indians.  It was abandoned in 1793.  A company of Spanish soldiers from Alamo de Parras, Mexico, used the buildings of the abandoned mission as barracks from 1803 until 1835, when it was surrendered to Texas forces.  San Antonio has thus had a strong military connection for most of its existence.

The Alamo, as a military property, was in ruins after the siege in 1836 by Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and was returned to the Catholic church by act of the Republic of Texas in 1841.  In 1848 the United States government took over the buildings and grounds and used them until the Civil War, when the Confederates used the buildings.  With the close of the Civil War, the US government again took it over for use until 1876.  Custody was disputed between the Roman Catholic church, the government of Texas and the US government.  It was purchased by the Texas government in 1883 and placed under the control of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.

  Daughters of the Republic of Texas

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Historic Fort Sam HoustonDuring the Mexican War a US quartermaster depot was established at San Antonio and in 1849 it was named headquarters of the United States Army Eighth Military District and space was leased at the Alamo.  By 1870 the Texas Department of the United States Army had moved to San Antonio, and in 1876 work was started on 93 acres of land donated by the city for a military installation.  In 1890 the post was designated as Fort Sam Houston, and by 1891, 43 acres and 60 buildings had been added.

During World War I and additional 1280 acres northwest of the Fort were added and called Camp Travis.  Brooke Army Medical Center opened in 1938 with 400 beds and soon expanded.  By 1949, Fort Sam Houston had 1,500 buildings on over 3,300 acres and was headquarters for the Fourth United States Army.

Fort Sam Houston is home to the Fifth United States Army and many other commands and organizations.  It supports all National Guard and Army Reserve units in Texas and is the site of a National Cemetery and several museums. 
Information about the current role of Fort Sam Houston can be found in the “Active Installations” section of this site

Sources:  Handbook of Texas Online, Fort Sam Houston

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Camp Bullis in San AntionioLocated on the northwest side of San Antonio, Camp Bullis (named for Brigadier General John Lapham Bullis) was established to train troops in preparation for World War I.  Used as a training facility for the Civilian Conservation Corps, Civilian Military Training Corps and others during the 1920’s and 1930’s, Camp Bullis became a  processing and training center during World War II.  Largely idle during the inter-war years, Camp Bullis was very active as a training facility during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.  With some shrinkage for other uses (about 1,500 acres), Camp Bullis continues to be used for unit training.

Sources: Handbook of Texas Online, Camp Bullis

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Camp Stanley in San Antonio
The Leon Springs Military Reservation was established in 1906 and 1907 on 17,323 acres to address the lack of range facilities at Fort Sam Houston and designated as part of the San Antonio Arsenal.  It was briefly called Camp Funston (1917) until it was discovered that a Camp Funston existed in Kansas, at which time it was renamed Camp Stanley.  Designated as an infantry cantonment in 1917, in 1922 it became a subpost of Camp Travis and was used as a temporary garrison.  In 1933, Camp Stanley was transferred to the ordnance department and in 1947 was consolidated with San Antonio General Distribution Depot. In 1949 the designation was changed to the Camp Stanley Area of Red River Arsenal where it remained until 1985, when it was made a subpost of Camp Bullis.

Camp Stanley and Camp Bullis are together known as the Leon Springs Military Reservation, which today covers approximately 26,000 acres.

Sources: Handbook of Texas Online, Camp Stanley   Handbook of Texas Online, Leon Springs Military Reservation

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In 1917, a mobilization cantonment with 1,400 temporary buildings was erected in three months generally on the site of Camp Wilson. More than 100,000 soldiers trained here, including the 90th and 18th Divisions. Designed to be a nearly self-sufficient city, it contained its own power plant, hospital, fire stations, remount station, bakery, warehouses, laundry, chapel, mess room, post exchange and barracks. Camp Travis was absorbed by Fort Sam Houston in 1922.


Camp Travis in San Antonio

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Camp Wilson at Fort Sam Houston - circa 1916
Camp Wilson  Marker commemorates the 1916 mobilization of the National Guard for service along the Mexican border after Pancho Villa’s raid on Columbus, New Mexico. During the mobilization, more than 100,000 members of the National Guard were called up. Guardsmen from forty-seven states and the District of Columbia served.

Many of the called up units trained at Camp Wilson, a division-sized tent camp
covering the area bounded by Wilson Road, Garden Street, Harry Wurzbach Highway, Eleanor Avenue and New Braunfels Avenue.

View above is to the southwest. Visible on the horizon are the tower in the Quadrangle, the Gift Chapel and the radio towers which stood near Building 2271.


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Brooks Field began in 1917 as Gosport Field, a 1300 acre Army flight training site.  It quickly became Signal Corps Aviation School, Kelly Field No. 5 and in 1918 was renamed Brooks Field to honor Sidney Johnson Brooks, Jr.  From 1919 until 1922 it served as a training school for pilots of balloons and airships, and served from 1923 until 1931 as the primary training school for Army aviators.  The School of Aviation Medicine was moved to Brooks in 1928 and moved to Randolph Field in 1931.  It was used to train paratroopers, bomber pilots, and aerial observers for the Army Air Corps until the Air Force separated from the Army in 1948, when it was renamed Brooks Air Force Base.  In 1959, Brooks transitioned from a flight training base to a center for medical research and education.  The School of Aviation Medicine returned to Brooks in 1959 and all flying ceased in 1960.  Brooks became part of the Aerospace Medical Division, which became the Human Systems Division in 1987.  In 1995, military planners approved the transition of Brooks to ownership by the City of San Antonio.  This was accomplished in 2002 with the creation of Brooks City-Base, owned and maintained by the City of San Antonio and home to the Air Force Human Resources Lab, the Air Force Drug Testing Lab,
the Harry G. Armstrong Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory, the Air Force Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory, and the laboratory functions of the School of Aerospace Medicine.

Sources:  Handbook of Texas Online, Brooks Air Force Base  Brooks City-Base

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Kelly Field in San AntonioKelly Field was created by act of Congress in December 1916m when the lease of 700 acres of land was authorized.  It became the home of the 3rd Aero Squadron and on June 11, 1917 was named for Lt. George E.M., Kelly.  Later that year it was expanded with the addition known as Kelly Field Number 2, home to the flying training center.

The General Supply Depot moved to Kelly from downtown San Antonio, where it was joined by the aviation repair depot from Dallas in 1921, forming the Intermediate Air Depot.  The Advanced Flying School moved to Kelly Field Number 2 in 1922, training pilots in advanced skills such as pursuit and bombardment. 

In 1925, Kelly Field Number 1 was renamed Duncan Field in honor of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Duncan and Kelly Field Number 2 became simply Kelly Field.  In 1943, with the rapid expansion of programs to train pilots needed in Europe and the Pacific, congestion became a real threat, so Kelly and Duncan were reunited as Kelly Field.  When the training mission was separated and moved to the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center, which was to become Lackland, the primary mission of Kelly Field became maintenance and supply.

Because of the need for space, the Normoyle Ordnance Depot (“East Kelly”) was annexed in 1945.  In 1948, with the creation of the United States Air Force, Kelly Field became Kelly Air Force base.  In 1974 the San Antonio Air Material Area became the San Antonio Air Logistics Center while the mission remained the same. 

In 1992 the Defense Logistics Agency took over all warehouse space on the base.  1993 saw the creation of a Defense Megacenter, one of 19 nationally and the only one in Texas.    In 1995 the Base Realignment and Closure commission voted to relocate the activity of the San Antonio Air logistics Center and on July 13, 2001 the runway, tenants, and base operations became part of Lackland Air Force Base.  The rest of the base became a business park called Port San Antonio.

Paul Profit History of Kelly Field

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Stinson Field in San AntonioDating from the latter part of 1915, Stinson Field was the City of San Antonio’s first municipal airport.  It was created when Marjorie Stinson, who had been teaching flying from the parade grounds at Ft. Sam Houston, petitioned the City Council to create an airport.  When approved, she leased 500 acres of farmland and established Stinson Field where she trained pilots during World War I.  It became the city’s civil airport when the war ended but again became an Army Air Corps training facility during World War II.  It is still in use as a commercial and recreational air center, although San Antonio International is today the primary commercial aviation center.

Source:  National Park Service

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Lackland Army Air Field in San AntonioIn 1942, the western part of Kelly Field was separated from that installation and designated as the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center in order to separate basic flight training from the need for training bomber pilots, which was a primary mission at Kelly Field.  On July 1, 1945 the mission and name were changed as it became the San Antonio District, Army Air Force Personnel Distribution Command for the purpose of receiving and processing combat veterans.  On Feb. 1, 1946 it was designated as the Army Air Forces Military Training Center.  On July 11, 1947 it was named for Brigadier General Frank D. Lackland.  It has had a training mission continuosly since 1946.  It was home to the Officer Candidate School  from 1946 until 1993.  In 1956 the Technical Training Group was assigned to Lackland, bringing with it air police training and in 1957 the cryptographic equipment maintenance training was moved here.  Several other training programs, language training, and programs for flight training foreign nationals are located at Lackland with the newest being the Force Protection Battle Lab (1997).

In 2001 the circle was closed when Lackland took over airfield operations at Kelly Field, changing the home of the 67th Network Warfare Wing  to Kelly Field Annex, Lackland AFB.

Sources:  Handbook of Texas Online, Lackland Air Force Base

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Randolph Field in San AntonioRandolph, original home of the Air Corps Training Center, was created when the facilities at Kelly and Brooks Fields were determined to be inadequate. It was named for Captain William Millican Randolph.  Basic flight training continued until 1943, when the mission was changed to one of training flight instructors.  It was renamed Randolph Air Force Base in 1948, and has always been a flight training base and is currently home to the Air Training Command.  Many agencies are headquartered there and over twenty tenant organizations are also hosted.

Sources:  Handbook of Texas Online, Randolph Air Force Base

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San Antonio ArsenalThe San Antonio Arsenal was founded in 1859 to furnish arms and munitions to the frontier forts in Texas. During the Civil War the twenty-one-acre reservation was occupied by Confederate forces and the supplies were used for the Confederate war effort. After the war the United States Army once again took possession of the complex, and over the course of the next half century it was gradually enlarged; by the end of World War I the arsenal comprised thirty-eight buildings. During both world wars it served as a major supply depot. The volume of operations reached its height during World War II, when it shipped more than 337,000,000 pounds of ammunition. The arsenal was closed in 1949, although its buildings continued to be used as federal government offices. In 1972 two acres and three buildings were transferred to the city of San Antonio to be used as parkland under the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Outdoor Recreation. Several of the remaining buildings were torn down. In 1985 H-E-B bought the remaining ten acres on the bank of the San Antonio River and remodeled the existing structures for the grocery company's corporate headquarters.

Source: Handbook of Texas Online, San Antonio Arsenal

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Railroads were key to moving men and materials during World Wars I and II, and the rail facilities of San Antonio were key to the success of the military mission.   Many rail connections have been removed.  Rail to Ft. Sam Houston and Lackland Air Force Base was removed in the 1990's, and the rail to Camp Stanley in 2001.  The Port of San Antonio (Kelly) is still served by rail, which continues to be a major asset for businesses located at the Port.

The San Antionio Railroads and the Military
Southern Pacific Railroad Depot in 1900


Texas Transportation Museum
The Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio (“The Sunset Route”) was chartered in 1850 as the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway Company, changing its name in 1870.  It was the first to provide service to San Antonio. Initial rail service linking San Antonio to Houston began after Bexar County residents voted $300,000 in bonds for rail service to the City in 1876, with service beginning in 1877. It was the first railroad to operate in Texas and just the second railroad west of the Mississippi.  In 1833, the first rail connection was completed to El Paso.  It was merged into the Southern Pacific in 1934.

Source:  Handbook of Texas Online,   Amon Carter Museum


International & Great Northern in 1881
The International and Great Northern Railroad, owned by Jay Gould and later part of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas,  began service to San Antonio in 1881.  The railroad was acquired by the Orleans, Texas and Mexico Railway Company in 1924, and sold to the Missouri Pacific in 1925 although operated separately. Entering receivership in 1933, it was merged into the  Missouri Pacific in 1956.

Source:  Handbook of Texas Online

San Antonio & Aransas Pass
The San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway Company was chartered on August 28, 1884, to connect San Antonio with Aransas Bay, a distance of 135 miles.  The line expanded but after a flirtation with bankruptcy was acquired by the Southern Pacific.  It was later divested and reacquired, before being acquired by the Texas and New Orleans Railroad.  Some of the last remaining rail belonging to the San Antonio and Aransas Pass connected Fort Sam Houston to Camp Stanley, and that was removed in 2001.

Source:  Handbook of Texas Online
San Antonio and Gulf Shore Railway Company
The San Antonio and Gulf Shore Railway Company was chartered on December 22, 1893, to connect San Antonio in Bexar County with Velasco in Brazoria County.  The San Antonio and Gulf was consolidated with the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway Company in 1905.

Source:  Handbook of Texas Online

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