A Short History of Clark Air Base

Scroll back to the Spanish era, in 1887, when British engineers built the Ferrocarril de Manila-Dagupan  (Manila—Dagupan Railway), opened in November 1892, which passed through the sleepy towns of Angeles and Mabalacat, obviously a very strategic asset to whoever wanted to rule the Philippines.

 

In August 1896, and the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish, which received support from the U.S. and culminated two years later with a proclamation of independence and establishment of the First Philippine Republic, but a cruel twist at the end of the Spanish-American War when the Treaty of Paris transferred control of the Philippines to the United Sates, in which the US paid the Spanish $20,000,000.  On February 6 1899 the U.S. Senate voted to annex the Philippines, and naturally the revolutionaries were reluctant to accept this treacherous, and declared war against the U.S. on June 2 1899.

General Aguinaldo retreated north to set up his government in Nueva Ejica and then on the 17th March 1899 moved the seat of government in Angeles City, then in July to Tarlac ahead of the advancing American army. The battle of Angeles started on the 13th August 1899 lasting for 3 days.  Opposing Major General Douglas MacArthur’s (“I shall return” Douglas MacArthur’s father) 8th Army Corps were Brigidier Generals Maximo Hizon, Servillano Aquino, Pio del Pilar, Vernancio Concepcion, and Tomas Mascardo.  Despite re-inforcements led by Colonel Alberto San Miguel, and General Makabulos the Filipinos were forced to withdraw, taking up positions on the Mabalacat side of the Abacan River.  They were again forced to withdraw to the north on the 5th November due to the 7th Cavalry’s flanking movements.

 

By October of 1902, American forces quartered themselves near the Angeles Railroad station in. what is now, Lourdes Sur barangay, but the cavalry foragers had to graze their horses on a fertile plain to the north west of town, and in 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt signed an executive order establishing Fort Stotsenburg—a 7,700 acre military reservation,  (along with Camp Wallace in La Union, and Camp John Hay in Baguio).  Fort Stotsenburg was centered on the old Parade Ground in the commercial district by the Holiday Inn (formerly Chambers Hall).  In 1908 An executive order expands Fort Stotsenberg from 7700 to 156,204 acres, which covered much of modern-day Clark and the mountainous region to the north.

Fort Stotsenburg was named after Captain John M Stotsenburg sixth cavalry and Colonel of the First Nebraska Volunteers, who was killed leading his regiment in action near Quingua, Bulacan, Luzon on 23rd April 1899.

 

The United States air force in the Western Pacific started in 1912, when Lt. Frank Lahm established the Philippine Air School with one aircraft at Clark  Field—a grass airstrip.  Named after Major Harold M Clark of the US Army Signal Corps.  Born in Minnesota, and brought up in Manila, Clark rose to become executive officer with the Aviation Section in Panama until he died on 2nd May 1919 in a seaplane crash in the Panama Canal Zone.

In 1917 Five aircraft hangars are constructed at what became the motor pool, and in 1919 a small runway began on what is now Dyess Highway. Three additional hangars were built.  In November the 3rd Aero Squadron was formed,  the tag would continue in many squadrons in the following years (e.g. 3rd Engineering Sqaudron).  The first plane to arrive was a DeHavilland DH-4.

 

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbour, the Japanese (who at that time occupied Taiwan) struck at 12:30 on the 8th December 1941 (5 hours later), and caught the P-40’s of the 20th Pursuit Squadron on the ground re-fuelling.  Within a few hours nearly all of Clark Fields aircraft were destroyed.

 

On the brighter side Captain Boyd D (Buzz) Wagner, commander of the 17th Pursuit Squadron, who was flying reconnaissance from Clark a few weeks later was bounced by two Zeros, he throttled back and got behind them and shot them down.  He became the U.S.’s first WW2 ace by downing 5 Japanese Zeros.  Clark was evacuated on December 24.

 

April 9th 1942 American forces fell on Bataan and Corregidor, and so started the infamous Bataan Death March from Bataan to Camp O’Donnell, Capas.

 

After the surrender of the U.S. forces on Bataan, the Philippines entered its Japanese era, and Clark became the base for the notorious Kamikaze suicide airplanes.

 

All good, and bad, things come to an end and Douglas MacArthur fulfilled his promise to return the Philippines when he landed at Palo Beach, Leyte on 20th October 1944.  American forces started air raids on the Japanese at Clark in October,  In a four month period damaging over 1500 Japanese planes.

 

On January 31 1945 , American forces regained possession of Clark Field after three years of Japanese control. A few Japanese remained in the mountains, and sometimes sneaked onto base at night to sabotage American planes.  The Japanese surrendered on the 2nd September 1945.

The 13th Air Force transferred to Clark in January 1946, and the Philippines was given independence on July 4 1946, leading to the Military Bases Agreement on March 14 1947 which guaranteeing American possession of U.S. bases in the Philippines for 99 years.

 

On April 15 1948 the first Philippine president, Manuel A. Roxas, died of a heart attack after speaking at the old Kelly Theater.

 

In May 1949  the facilities at Fort Stotsenberg and Clark Field were transferred to the U.S. Air Force, and from then on the entire base became known as Clark Air Base. The Air Force consolidated all its cemeteries, moving them to the current location near the main gate.

 

Clark entered the Vietnam War effort in March 1964 as KC-135 tankers staged from Clark and refuelled fighters enroute to Laos.   Tragically on May 11, a C-135B (serial 61-0332 of the 1501 ATW, 44 ATS, Travis AFB) carrying an Air Force band from Hawaii crashed in heavy rain 1500 ft short of Clark's runway 02, killing 79 (including 1 American on the ground in a taxi).

 

In 1966 6-story Chambers Hall building (now the Holiday Inn Clark), containing over 300 rooms for bachelor and transient officers, was opened. The Rusk-Ramos agreement was signed September 16 revising the 1947 Military Bases Agreement to expire in 25 years…..1991!

 

In August 1968 attacks against American servicemen led to both Clark and Angeles being placed on curfew . Demonstrations flared to a boiling point on October 4.

 

Filipino employees went on strike March 3 1971, the walkout lasting three days.  Another 15 day strike followed on July 25, and anti-American sentiment was at a peak.  In1972 President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law which remained in place until 1981.

 

The  first group of Vietnam POWs arrived February 12, 1973, and in 1975 Clark serves as a staging point for Vietnamese fleeing the North Vietnamese invasion. The first planeload, consisting of orphans, arrived April 5. As many as 2,000 refugees at a time were housed in a tent city in the Bamboo Bowl during April and May. A total of 30,082 refugees and 1565 orphans were processed through Clark.

 

On December 25 1978, hundreds of politicians rallied against Marcos in a carefully-written statement seeking to remove American military presence from the Philippines.

A revised 1947 Military Bases Agreement was ratified on January 7 1979  transferring command and security of Clark and other American bases to the Philippine government. The size of the Clark reservation was reduced from 156,204 acres to 131,000 acres, with the base itself remaining at 9155 acres.

On March 25, Clark's suffered it’s third major labor strike.

 

On January 17 1981 Martial Law ends.

 

The Military Bases Agreement was revised further in 1983. Starting October 3, unionised Filipino employees went on strike for four days over pay issues.

On March 12, 1984 the U.S. was permitted to begin flying its flag at the base cemetery.

 

On February 25 1986 President Marcos is forced out of office. Helicopters from Clark's 31 ARRS pick him up at his Presidential palace, and flew him to Clark where he transferred to a C-9A and was flown to Hawaii.

 

On March 22 at 9 p.m., civilian employees went on strike, forming large picket lines outside the main gates of all American bases in the Philippines. Ultimately the strikers blocked Clark's gates on March 25, preventing anyone from getting on or off base except those who were resourceful enough to sneak across base fences. The 3 CSG commander placed Angeles bars off-limits to servicemen, which pitted strikers against local merchants. Finally after a scuffle between strikers and merchants the strike was broken at 4:30 pm on March 30.

 

On September 16 the new nationalist government rejected extension of the Military Bases Agreement.

 

On October 28  1987 three servicemen were killed in simultaneous attacks near Clark AB by teams of the New People's Army (NPA) brandishing .45 caliber pistols.

 

On September 26 1989, shortly before Vice President Quayle's visit to Clark, NPA terrorists killed Ford Aerospace employees William Thompson and Donald Buchner at a roadblock near Camp O'Donnell. Terrorist tension reached a climax in December.

 

Clark's worst earthquake occurred at at 3:26 pm on July 16, 1990. It registered magnitude 7.6 and was centered about 80 miles northeast of the base. Baguio was devastated, with over 2000 killed and a million homeless.

 

In April 1991 pilots reported seeing smoke emanating from Mount Pinatubo, and by June it was clear that a major volcanic eruption was imminent. Evacuation of Clark AB began on June 10. The first "big" eruption hit June 12. On June 14, the base was drenched in a sea of ash, and the biggest eruption followed at 5:55 am on June 15 just as Typhoon Yunya was making its approach. The Philippine Senate rejected an extension of the Military Bases Agreement, and it expired on September 16. The U.S. Air Force formally transferred Clark in its entirety to the Philippines on November 26, ending its century-long presence in the region.

 

1992

The U.S. Navy withdrew the last of its forces from Subic Bay on October 1.

 

1993

On April 3 President Fidel Ramos approved the Clark Special Economic Zone and established the Clark Development Corporation.

 

1995

The Clark International Airport Corporation was established to manage the airfield facilities.

 

1996

Limited air service from Clark to Hong Kong began.

 

1997

The last U.S. forces leave the Philippines on November 24.

© 2017 Ray Haffenden                                         

Putting the Philippines on the map since 1992!