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My MacDill is…

In May 1940, Private 1st class Heintzberger arrived at MacDill from Langley Field, VA. It was my second assignment in the Army-Air Corps and I was still green behind the ears. I vividly remember getting off the military troop train at Tampa’s Union Station where we were loaded onto trucks that convoyed us to MacDill Field. Over 200 of us arrived there in the evening and everything was well organized. The barracks were already constructed, although there were no paved roads yet. Everywhere I looked it was sand and palmetto scrub brush.
We were there to build MacDill Field from the sand up. The WPA had started the job, but more land needed clearing. Our small group of about 20 Aviation Ordnance men immediately set to work digging up endless palmettos and their root systems using grubbing hoes.
Besides unyielding roots, we also cleared out many a rattlesnake. After several months of this back-backing labor, we received a derelict 1921 Cletrac tractor that didn’t run. We had to do a major overhaul on it. Being mechanically inclined and with no one more qualified in our small Ordnance Corps, I supervised. That was a really good learning experience! After that the palmetto clearing went faster.
In July, eight of us were moved out of the barracks and into two tents. In addition to clearing scrub, our job was to protect all the equipment stored outside on a 24/7 security detail. We guarded the equipment and later and more importantly, the bombs that were delivered. I lived in that tent in the sand until May 1941. I didn't realize it at the time, but this was good practice and a precursor to my WWII life in New Guinea from 1942-45.
During this time I began to learn my Sgt. Bilko skills. MacDill had two mess halls, and I took good advantage of them. Four egg breakfasts with bacon and grits, turned into eight egg breakfasts with all the fixings as I mess hall-hopped in order to maintain my 29-inch waist while living and working in the Florida heat. It was on one of my runs between mess halls that I met Col. Tinker, the Commanding Officer. I was racing around the corner of a building and collided with him. As he picked himself up and dusted the sand off his sleeve, the colonel advised, “Try to be more careful there, Private.“ I stood there shaking in my boots. I’ll never forget his piercing dark eyes. Col. Tinker became Brigadier General Tinker that October and Major General Tinker in January, 1942. He died at the Battle of Midway six months later.
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MacDill still didn’t have an operational runway as of March-April 1941 when we received a small flight of B-23’s.
For bombing practice, we trucked sand-filled bombs up Dale Mayberry from MacDill to Drew Field, which really was just a cow pasture at that time. The military used whatever it could find or create. The swampy parts of MacDill were transformed by dredging up Tampa Bay to make more build-able land.
In May 1941 I was transferred to the Jackson MS air base to start all over again, building a new base from the soil up. Instead of sand and scrub, we had clay soil that, after a rain, was called Mississippi Goo.
After a 32-year career in the Air Force, I remember my MacDill days fondly.
This is My MacDill. What’s yours?
Bill Heintzberger

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