NAS Denver has proud, long history
By Ms Shawn Riem, 460th Space Wing Historian
/ Published February 07, 2011
BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- In June 1946, a Navy survey team descended on air fields in Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah seeking a suitable location for an inland Naval Air Reserve Station to serve the training needs of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and portions of North Dakota and Nebraska. Buckley Field (now Buckley AFB) quickly emerged as the most promising airfield, only made more desirable by the over 800 ex-Navy personnel who showed an interest in joining an air reserve.
By January 1947, an advance party had arrived at the site to set up shop and prepare the installation for transfer from the Army's Buckley Field to the Navy's Naval Air Station (NAS) Denver. NAS Denver lore has it that the men had to borrow a crowbar from the 120th Fighter Squadron (FS) to pry open the hanger (Building 909) only to find it in a state of complete disrepair and filled with surplus Army equipment. The men stuck with it, set up shop, and NAS Denver was formally established on 16 February 1947 with the Colorado Guard retaining operational control until 28 September 1947 while the Navy manned their new billets.
The installation quickly filled with over 70 aircraft. SNJ, SNB, and JRB planes were used as training aircraft. TBM-3E Avengers, SB2c-5 Helldivers, PV-2 Harpoons, R4D Gooneybirds, F8F-2 Bearcats, F2H-1 Banshees, F9F-6 Hellcats, F9F-7 Cougars, P2V-5/5F Neptunes, and F4U Corsairs all graced the skies surrounding NAS Denver.
NAS Denver soon became known throughout the Navy as both the "world's highest NAS" and the "NAS farthest from a major body of water." Locally, however, the installation was most known for its "Veteran's Villages," those five housing areas that provided temporary shelter for returning veterans facing a housing shortage brought on by wartime restrictions in construction. NAS Denver sought to familiarize the Denver area with the installations primary training mission and the importance of an inland NAS. In a successful, and quite humorous, attempt to do this, NAS Denver personnel created the Prairie Dog Navy, which boasted fourteen Admirals over the years--all prominent men and women from the Denver area (such as Bill Coors)and beyond (such as Jack Benny and Bob Hope).
When the call came for service members to join the fight in Korea, the men of Navy Fighter Squadron VF-713 Vultures answered the call and served honorably as part of CVG-15 aboard the USS Antietam (CV-36). CVG-15 held a "Denver Day" on 11 December 1951 during which all air strikes were flown in honor of the VF-713 and much of the ordnance dropped was marked with the names of prominent Denver area organizations and activities.
The squadron's tour ended on in March 1952 when Philippine Sea (CV-47) relieved Antietam. VF-713 returned home to a hero's welcome and a celebration that lasted more than a week with a "Navy Day" at the Bears Stadium and a formal gathering at Denver's City and County Building. The homecoming was short lived, however, as the squadron deployed again less than a year later with CVG-15 on the Princeton (CVA-37).
While operations continued at NAS Denver throughout the Korean War and into the post-war period, the end of NAS Denver was drawing near. The Navy, seeking to trim its budget, determined a need to close some of its nearly 30 dedicated Air Reserve installations and consolidate reserve activities wherever possible. NAS Denver was selected for closure in June 1959 and its units were either disbanded or transferred to other locations. Its personnel, likewise, either opted for an early out or affiliated with other units.
18 April 1960, after twelve years of ownership, NAS Denver was transferred from the US Navy to the US Air Force and renamed Buckley Air National Guard Base, becoming the first stand alone Guard base in the Air Force. The Navy, however, has maintained a constant presence as a tenant unit since relinquishing administrative control of the installation, first as Naval Air Reserve Center Denver and currently as Navy Operational Support Center Denver.