The Chennault Aviation & Military honors veterans and soldiers from WWI through Iraqi Freedom. Through expansive collections of artifacts and compelling stories of the men and women who have served our country, the visitor receives a captivating insight into why we honor our history and our heroes.
The museum is housed in the last remaining classrooms of the Selman Field Navigation School, the largest navigation school in the U.S. during WWII. The Museum honors the story of General Claire Chennault and the Flying Tigers during WWII and how one man helped change the war in China. The bilingual “Way of a Fighter” exhibit is based on General Chennault’s book written in 1949. The museum also tells the story of how a small crop-dusting business evolved into the second largest airline in the world, Delta Airlines.
Opening its doors in 2000 with 3000 square feet, its expanded galleries have grown to 10,000 square feet providing over 11,000 artifacts and several veteran outreach programs. The aircraft restoration park will soon offer visitors a modern-day out-door facility with paved walk ways, covered pavilions, and restored military aircraft.
Selman Field was the nation's single complete navigation school of the Army-Air Corps. Only at this base could a cadet complete his pre-flight and advanced training, receive his commission and navigator's wings, and stay in the same location. Over 15,000 navigators who flew in every theatre of operation during World War II trained here. The story of Selman Field begins long before the war. “Selman Airport” was a small Monroe, Louisiana civil airport. It was named after a Navy pilot, Lieutenant Augustus J. "Gus" Selman. Lt. Selman was a native of Monroe who was killed on November 28, 1921, when his plane crashed into the ocean near Norfolk, Virginia. Big things were already happening at this little airport – at Selman, a small crop dusting operation called Huff Daland Dusters would develop into Delta Air Lines. Selman boasted the first Delta terminal, a converted gas station that serviced regular flights.
Selman also offered a weather station, a regional center of Delta Crop Dusting, and a two-plane private aviation flight school. Then the war came. Selman Army Airfield construction was activated on June 15, 1942 and Selman Field was in full operation three months after starting from scratch. Colonel Norris B. Harbold, a pioneer in the navigation training program, was named Commanding Officer. A cadet at Selman Field had to know all aspects of navigation in order to determine where he was, where he wanted to go and when he would get there. "Zero Zero" was the navigator's ultimate objective. It means navigating through hundreds of thousands of miles of space, wind, and weather and hitting a dime-sized objective "on the nose" at the precise second you said you would. One inch off is not Zero Zero. It means right on target, right on time—perfection.
Of the hundreds of fields that were operated by the Army Air Forces, it was only at Selman that a cadet could get his entire training without ever leaving the field. The graduating cadet left Selman Field as a Second Lt. Shortly after Japan surrendered, the Army Air Forces decided to concentrate all navigation training at Ellington Field in Texas. Navigator training ended on September 1, 1945. Students at Selman were asked if they wanted to remain in Air Forces after the war. Those who elected to remain were sent to Ellington, and those who elected for separation were assigned other general duties at Selman Field.
Selman Field was then used as a separation center for returning overseas personnel. By mid-December 1945, the last of the training aircraft were flown to reclamation centers for sale or scrapping. In early July 1946 Selman received orders from Air Training Command to shut down operations. The airport was returned to civil control on July 31, 1946.
The 15,349 navigation personnel who trained at Selman served our country with skill and courage. Sadly, many of approximately 10% of them did not get to come home. We are forever thankful for their sacrifice.
America has a long history of heroes who were born in unremarkable circumstances and humble beginnings. Claire Lee Chennault, born on September 6, 1893, in Commerce, Texas and raised in rural Gilbert, Louisiana, was that kind of hero.
Early disappointment taught him resilience and the bayou taught him self-reliance. Chennault lost his mother at the age of eight, and then lost his stepmother at the age of 16. He began hunting and camping by himself soon after his mother died. He learned how to track his prey and conserve his resources- skills that would serve him later in war.
Chennault was too young to attend college after he graduated from high school, so his father added three years to his age so he could attend Louisiana State University. (To this day, Chennault's date of birth is often erroneously cited as 1889 or 1890.) Chennault ended up finishing his education at Northwestern State University, earning a teaching certificate. He married Nell Thompson Chennault, another school teacher, and they started a family that would eventually include eight children. Chennault held a number of education jobs, even serving as a school principal at the ripe old age of 20 (the Kilbourne School in West Carroll Parish, Louisiana.)
When the U.S. joined World War I, Chennault went into the Army with the intention of becoming a pilot. His path was met with great resistance - the Army put him on a horse instead. However, he kept trying and after three attempts, earned his wings from the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1919.
Following the war, Chennault graduated from pursuit pilot training at Ellington Field, Texas, on April 23, 1922, and remained in the service after it became the Air Corps in 1926. Chennault became the Chief of Pursuit Section at Air Corps Tactical School in the 1930s. In 1932, as a pursuit aviation instructor at Maxwell Field, Chennault re-organized the Montgomery, Alabama-based Army Air Corps aerobatic team as "Three Men on the Flying Trapeze".
However, Chennault would soon meet with rejection again. In 1937, he should have been in the prime of his career. However, his health was plagued by chronic hearing loss (from flying without ear protection) and chronic bronchitis. His career was plagued by disputes with superiors, and he was frequently passed over as unqualified for promotion. The prevailing military theory of that time was that wars of the future would be fought by bombers, not by fighters. Chennault was at his lowest point.
Then he received an invitation that would change history. China wanted Chennault to command its fledgling air force and use his innovative approach to aeronautics to repel the superior Japanese forces. He resigned from the military on April 30, 1937; he separated from the service at the rank of Captain. While his contract in China was only for three months, Chennault knew instinctively that he might soon have a larger role to play. By being in China, he would help prepare our allies against the possibilities of a great Pacific war involving the U.S. He wrote to his brother, William Chennault, about this new position:
"[The job] may amount to very little except a good paying position, but it may amount to a great deal...it is even possible that my 'feeble' efforts may influence history...I couldn't possibly pass up this opportunity for, after all, very few boys from Gilbert, LA will ever have the slightest chance to influence the history of the future years."
Chennault was correct. In the summer of 1941 he was made a brigadier general in the Chinese Air Force and put in charge of recruiting pursuit pilots for the American Volunteer Group who became famed as the Flying Tigers.
Chennault was recalled to active duty by the Army Air Force April 15, 1942 as a colonel and was promoted to brigadier general a week later. In July he became commanding general of the U.S. Air Force in China and in March 1943 was promoted to major general and named to command the 14th Air Force in China. He spent the rest of World War II in this key combat role. He came home in July 1945 for a brief assignment to Headquarters Army Air Force and he retired from the service Oct. 31, 1945.
Chennault went back to China in 1946 and stayed there until 1950 as president of Civil Air Transports. He then made his last home in Monroe, Louisiana. On July 18, 1958, the U.S. Air Force gave him the honorary grade of lieutenant general. He died nine days later, on July 27, in New Orleans.
HISTORY OF DELTA AIRLINES
The company has its roots in Huff Daland Dusters, which was founded 1924 in Mason Georgia, by several partners including Collett E. Woolman becoming the world’s first aerial crop-dusting company. Huff Daland moved to Monroe, Louisiana the following year. In 1928 Huff Daland Dusters was purchased by C.E. Woolman and renamed Delta Air Service after the Mississippi Delta, where its route connected Dallas, Texas to Atlanta, Georgia with stops in Shreveport and Monroe.