A tale of two bases

by Brig. Gen. Rich Johnston
KMC and 86th Airlift Wing commander

***image1***December 1 marks the 50th birthday of Ramstein Air Base as we know it, but linked to the birthday is an all-but-forgotten story about how Ramstein almost had a different name: Landstuhl Air Base.

At the end of World War II, the United States disbanded most of its combat forces in Europe, including the 86th Fighter Wing. This soon proved to be a mistake, and with the beginning of the Cold War in the late 1940s, the United States and France, who were occupying southwestern Germany, decided to build two new, 3,000-acre air bases near Kaiserslautern. In April 1951, the bases were designed by the French, built by 8,000 German and Eastern European workers, and occupied by American flying units. 

Landstuhl Air Base was the southernmost and was built as an operational air base with a runway, control tower, ramps and the associated flying and support units, south of today’s Kisling Memorial Drive. Landstuhl began to function on Feb. 17, 1952 when Detachment 1, Headquarters 86th Fighter-Bomber Wing arrived. By Aug. 5, 1952 enough construction was completed that Landstuhl Air Base was opened and two weeks later all the Republic F-84 “Thunderjets” of the 86th Fighter-Bomber Wing arrived.

Ramstein Air Base was built to the north and contained the base support activities, family housing, the base exchange, commissary, dependents’ schools and other administrative offices. On June 1, 1953, Ramstein Air Base was formally opened and Headquarters, Twelfth Air Force was activated on the base.

The separate base structure was awkward, and on Dec. 1, 1957, the Ramstein and Landstuhl air bases were consolidated into the largest NATO air base in Europe. Since the land for the base had been taken entirely from the boundaries of the Ramstein district, the civic leaders of Ramstein insisted their district’s name be placed first, and the new base became Ramstein-Landstuhl Air Base. The base informally became Ramstein Air Base, and the official name change was made in late 1958 and remains so today, 50 years later.

The Landstuhl name is now assigned to the regional medical center, and both continue to play a vital role in American military operations.