MacDill Air Force Base celebrates 75 years

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MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa is celebrating its 75th anniversary.  The based opened in 1940 as the U.S. was gearing up for World War II.

"A week before the attack on Pearl Harbor, there was a mock attack on MacDill," noted Denny Cole, who was stationed at MacDill in the 1970's when he was in the Air Force.

"After December 7, everything changed. Two more hangers were to be built. The base expanded," he continued.

Cole has become a base historian collecting photographs and memorabilia from MacDill. Some of his favorite photos are from during World War II when MacDill was a huge training base for bomber crews.


MacDill would also figure prominently in operations to come. In the fall of 1962, Arthur Diehl wasn't around his Tampa home much for several weeks. His son Chip remembers: "He said son, I was in the nose of our B-47 and it was an event called the Cuban Missile Crisis."

Chip Diehl was born on MacDill Air Force Base. Coincidentally, he would return decades later to become base commander.

Now a retired brigadier general, he's helping head the anniversary celebration. He shows us the website,, where people can tell their own stories.


MacDill is named after Col. Leslie MacDill, a military aviation pioneer and veteran of World War I.

After training thousands of bomber crews, MacDill would become a base for fighters and then KC-135 aerial refueling tankers. Currently there are two groups of tankers based at MacDill, the 6th Air Mobility wing and the 927th Aerial Refueling Wing. MacDill survived rounds of base closure hearings. It now boasts two of the most famous commands in the military, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

Both are unified commands, meaning that they include all branches of the armed services. Two of the most famous generals of recent decades, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and Gen. Tommy Franks, were both commanders of CENTCOM. 


Diehl says MacDill is an important part of the local economy. He says studies show the base has an economic impact of nearly $14 billion with 140,000 jobs connected with the base.

MacDill is Hillsborough County's second-largest employer behind the school district. Currently there are plans for more tankers to come to MacDill as well as an Army helicopter unit that has outgrown its quarters at St. Petersburg-Clearwater Int. Airport.

"I think MacDill's future is bright," Diehl continued. He says more history will be made at MacDill over the next 75 years.

The MacDill celebration culminates September 18, the anniversary of the U.S. Air Force.