Nearly one-fifth of Costa Mesa’s land area was once an important training center for our nation’s effort during World War II.
Located at 88 Fair Drive at the Orange County Fair & Event Center, there still a few original buildings left, as well as some scattered elsewhere in town and around the county (see map on linked page).
History of the SAAAB
The Santa Ana Army Air Base (SAAAB) was under the jurisdiction of the West Coast Army Air Corps Training Command Center, located on West 8th St in Santa Ana, California. The other two centers were Southeast Army Air Corps Training Center at Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama and Gulf Coast Army Air Corps Center at Randolph Field, San Antonio, Texas. The latter two centers were activated on July 8, 1940, while SAAAB was activated on February 15, 1942. On June 20, 1941, the Army Air Corps became the Army Air Forces.
All three bases were classification centers, where aspiring cadets were tested for aptitudes and classified as pilots, navigators or bombardiers – however the SAAAB, as the largest of the three bases, was the only base to provide pre-flight training for all three classifications. Combat personnel who trained at the three bases contributed greatly in the battles of World War II. Numerous SAAAB cadets returned to the Costa Mesa area after the war and became a major factor in the growth of Orange County.
Today, the SAAAB land has been re-directed to other uses such as Orange Coast College, Vanguard University, Costa Mesa High School, Davis Elementary School, City of Costa Mesa Civic Center, Air National Guard 222nd Combat Communications Squadron, Orange County/State Fairgrounds, Tewinkle Park, and several commercial and residential areas.
In recognition of the role played by SAAAB and her personnel during World War II, the Costa Mesa Historical Society formed a SAAAB Wing in 1979 to keep the memory of the “Old Base” alive. The Wing keeps former cadets, military and civilian personnel, and friends of the Base informed of news, reunions, and deaths of Wing members. News and information is disseminated via The Cadet, a Wing newsletter that bears the same name as the Base newspaper during World War II. In addition to the newsletter, the Costa Mesa Historical Society supports Wing reunions and maintains a major collection of SAAAB photographs, artifacts and memorabilia.
One former air base building has been transformed into Heroes’ Hall, a museum dedicated to veterans.
|Official Ground Breaking||October 23, 1941|
|Activation Date||February 15, 1942|
|Deactivation Date||March 31, 1946|
|Size of Base||1,336.685 acres|
|Location of Base||Main entrance at Newport Boulevard; Baker Street on the north, Harbor Blvd. on the west, Wilson Street on the south, Newport Blvd. on the east|
|Buildings||Approximately 800, including 1,357,120 sq. ft. of barracks, 28 convalescent hospital wards, 18 school buildings, 155,000 sq. ft. of administration buildings, 4 chapels, 4 theaters, 17 warehouses|
|Utilities||Water system adequate for 40,000 people with 33 miles of water main lines, 28 miles of sewer lines, 31 miles of electric lines|
|26,000 Air Force personnel (excluding civilian personnel)|
|Primary Function||Classification and pre-flight training for pilots, navigators and
Approximately 149,400 entered the training, about 128,000 graduated, February 15, 1942 To October 31,1944.
Over 72,000 combat returnees processed between November 1, 1944 and March 31, 1946.
|Temporary Separation Center
Over 38,000 combat veterans discharged plus other veterans discharged from the base between September 14, 1945 and March 31, 1946
Events and More Information
More information on SAAAB Air Wing activities can be found at the following links:
If you are interested in joining or volunteering for the SAAAB, please fill out our Membership form or Volunteer forms.