Historic WWII Airfield Damaged By Fire

Dec 9, 2020, 9:23 PM | Updated: 10:12 pm

WENDOVER, Utah – A building that housed the men who worked on the mission to drop the first atomic bomb during World War II was destroyed in a fire.

It doesn’t matter how many times Jim Petersen has walked through the front doors to some barracks in Wendover.

Every time he does, it hits him.

“This is a unique place. I love this place,” he said while looking around at the old military uniforms and bunk beds.

The history, the honor, the sense that this small place used to be a big deal.

“You just know that you’ve walked back in time 60, 70 years,” he said.

Petersen is president of the Historic Wendover Airfield Foundation.

He has dedicated nearly 20 years of his life to restoring and preserving buildings at the airfield.

The barracks are where the crew of the Enola Gay was based during World War II. The Enola Gay is the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan.

“Here is where the young men trained that helped end the war,” he said. “It’s important history.”

So, when Petersen came here a couple of weeks ago and saw one of the barracks had burned down, he knew more was lost than just a building.

“It’s just a heartbreaking thing to see,” said Petersen while looking at the burned rubble and charred wood left behind.

A person who was leasing this hangar for a woodworking shop kept a woodburning stove in it.

When that person left on that last night, the fire in that stove wasn’t all the way out.

“They don’t have fire sprinklers in them. They’re old buildings. If they’re not properly taken care of, they’re easy to lose,” he said. “And when you lose these, you don’t get them back.”

Petersen said with it being a total loss, rebuilding this particular building probably isn’t going to happen.

It would just be too expensive.

“Unfortunately, just cleaning up this mess is going to be a big expense, too,” he said.

Instead, Petersen would like to use the limited funds the foundation has to focus on protecting the barracks that are still standing.

“I think it behooves us more to make sure this doesn’t happen again and secure the rest of the barracks that are here,” said Petersen.

Most are in tough shape. 

However, one of the barracks has been restored, as well as other buildings on base, like the Enola Gay hangarofficers club, and control tower, to show what things looked like during World War II in the 1940s.

“There is no other airfield as historic as Wendover,” said Petersen. “We’ve had veterans come through here and look at the buildings and say ‘Oh, I remember coming in here’ and I think it’s important to save them because if we don’t, we won’t be able to say that anymore and we’ll lose a piece of history.”

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Historic WWII Airfield Damaged By Fire