Some 70 years ago, it was an air base without airplanes or even a runway.
Rather, the Santa Ana Army Air Base, or SAAAB, served as a nearly 1,300-acre basic training camp where thousands upon thousands of young Americans prepared for war.
Starting at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, the student center at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa will play host to the 37th annual Santa Ana Army Air Base Reunion that, among the festivities this year, has a special element that organizers say combines old veterans with the new.
There will be a small ribbon-cutting ceremony for OCC’s Veterans Resource Center, said Liz Parker, a foundation specialist with the OCC Foundation.
“This particular event is full circle. It really is,” she said, calling Saturday’s event a great reunion of those in the service decades ago and those recently returning back to civilian life.
The center already displays images of SAAAB, which was activated in February 1942 and operated through March 1946, after the conclusion of World War II. The land where OCC sits was used for SAAAB, as was present-day Costa Mesa High School, City Hall, the Orange County Fairgrounds, TeWinkle Park and Vanguard University.
From 1942 to 1944, SAAAB was a pre-flight training base for pilots, navigators and bombardiers. During that period, it accepted nearly 200,000 cadets, according to the Costa Mesa Historical Society.
Artifacts from the base, pictures and full-size replica airplanes from the period are planned to be displayed for the reunion.
Jonna Doolittle Hoppes, the keynote speaker, will also give a 40-minute presentation on her grandfather: Gen. Jimmy Doolittle. Throughout his long military career, the aviation pioneer was awarded the Medal of Honor and served in multiple wars, from World War I through the Korean War.
Hoppes said her grandfather’s story is just one of many from the era, all of which are equally important.
“All of these stories are the threads that make this country the country that it is,” she said, adding that as WWII veterans die each year, that chapter of history “is about to close.”
“I think the overall picture of honoring our veterans and, in this case, our World War II veterans that trained in this area, is extremely important,” Hoppes said.
About 70 attendees are expected, and reservations are requested by calling Parker at (714) 432-5707 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Attendees can pay the $25 fee at the door. The proceeds benefit a scholarship for OCC students.
Parking is available at the OCC campus’ Lot B, near Fairview Road and Arlington Drive.