The Hippo


Jun 4, 2020








History takes off at Grenier Field in Manchester. Courtesy photo.

Grenier Field Homecoming Event

Where: Aviation Museum of New Hampshire, 27 Navigator Road, Manchester
When: Saturday, July 19, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Cost:  $8 for members, $10 for non-members, free for U.S. military personnel and their families
Call: 669-4820

Grenier Field revisited
Pilots return to former Air Force base


 At 91 years old, Bob Fortnam can still vividly recall his time as a pilot during World War II. He also remembers flying out of Grenier Air Force Base in Manchester in the 1950s and ’60s — and it was from there that he really got to see the world.

“The world is 360 degrees, and I’ve been around 300 of them,” he said. “I’ve been as far east as Vietnam and as far west as Iran.”
Fortnam may be one of the few living pilots left who have flown out of the airfield, which was known as Grenier Field between 1940 and 1966. The Aviation Museum of New Hampshire is hoping to find the rest of those pilots at the Grenier Field Homecoming event on Saturday, July 19.
“The event began as a way to welcome people who [had] served during the Grenier Field days back to the base,” said Jessica Pappathan, the executive director at the museum. “There’s been a lot of interest in the history, life during the period, what the barracks look like.”
The older generation can congregate and swap stories of their experiences on the base during military occupation, Pappathan said, while simultaneously providing a first-hand history lesson for visitors who only know the grounds as they are now — home of the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.
The history of the airfield dates back to the 1920s, but the event will focus on the time between 1940 and 1966, when the United States Air Force assumed control of the base. When researching the airfield for his book, Manchester Airports: Flying Through Time, Ed Brouder found that the base was used as the last checkpoint for military planes, such as B-17, B-24, and B-25 bombers, to land in the United States before taking off to Europe and North Africa during World War II.
“It was originally built by the city as a municipal airfield. But in late 1940, the U.S. War Department took over. Commercial airlines were no longer allowed to use the airport,” said Brouder, an author and former radio broadcaster. “For a lot of people around the country, Grenier was the last place they would step on American soil before getting deployed.”
Brouder, along with the co-author of the book, Maurice Quirin, will host a guided bus tour around the airfield. According to Brouder, when the armed forces moved its base over to Pease Airport and Grenier adopted the commercial planes again, many of the sites had been removed.
“If a guy came back [to Grenier] who was assigned to fly during the Korean War, he would barely recognize the airfield because it’s changed so much,” he said. “As far as we know, there is only one military building still there, and it’s a storage shed. It’s even still got the [identification marker] ‘T-457’ on it.”
Following the bus tour, the Aviation Museum will offer a final tour of the New Boston Air Force Tracking Station. The tour will take participants to remnants of important sites, including the practice bombing target in Joe English Hill Pond, the Practice Strafing Field, and, depending on the weather, a hike to Cpt. Elmer V. Kramer’s P-51 crash site.
The museum has collected several things from the Grenier days, including WWII memorabilia, patches and badges; parachutes that pilots used in the 1940s; and historic vehicles.
A presentation of John Grenier will give participants a history of the man behind the name. Brouder said that when the military took over the airport, they asked the city to give them a name of someone local whom they could commemorate.
“The city gave them two names,” said Brouder. “One was the former mayor Arthur E. Moreau, who was in office when the base was built. The other was Jean Grenier, who was a native to the West Side. He was dead long before WWII. He was actually a military pilot who died in 1934 when his plane went down in Utah while delivering U.S. airmail.”
Fortnam grabs a manila envelope and slowly pulls out photographs he “ran across recently” of his younger days as a pilot. The photos are in surprisingly good shape, considering that some were taken almost 70 years ago. The last is one of him swearing his oldest son in to the Air Force in 1966, the year the military moved from Grenier to Pease.
“I taught all my boys to fly, my three boys,” he said. “We’ve got a history of pilots that’s gonna go a long way.” 
As seen in the July 17, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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