The area that is presently Lucius D. Clay Kaserne has a long history dating back to the Roman period. In 1184 a national festival was held on the grounds and the German emperor Friedrich I knighted his sons there.
In later years a racetrack, known throughout Europe for its horse racing competition, was built on the site. On May 11, 1913 Prince Heinrich of Prussia landed in a field near the racetrack, thus completing the first recorded landing by an aircraft on what is now the airfield at Clay Kaserne. Around 1917, sponsors included aerial demonstrations as a regular part of the program. During these flying programs some of the most famous German stunt pilots made their appearance at Wiesbaden.
In 1926 a retired German Flying Corps officer, Joseph Aumann, conceived the idea of turning the racetrack into an airfield. He convinced city officials that the airfield would attract more visitors to the spas of Wiesbaden and stimulate business.
In 1929 the Wiesbaden-Mainz airport was opened. Private and sport flying grew in popularity in Wiesbaden through 1933 when the Third Reich came into power. Flight training was organized for future German Air Force, or Luftwaffe, pilots at Wiesbaden during this time.
In 1936, Luftwaffe Headquarters in Berlin designated Wiesbaden Airfield as an air base, or Fliegerhorst. Construction of the military barracks, or kaserne, the runway and hangar complex were completed in 1938 and the first German military unit, the famous “Ace of Spades” fighter wing, occupied Fliegerhorst Wiesbaden. Wiesbaden was used by the Luftwaffe throughout World War II as a fighter and bomber base. At the peak of its use as many as 40 bombers took off every 3 hours on assigned bombing missions. Naturally, Wiesbaden was the target of numerous allied bombing missions and at one time as many as 76 bomb craters were counted on the runway. To this day unexploded ordnance from those bombing raids is occasionally found during construction projects close to the airfield.
In late March 1945, Fliegerhorst Wiesbaden was abandoned by the Luftwaffe and occupied by advancing American soldiers. U.S. troops remained on Fliegerhorst Wiesbaden after the war, and in September 1947, the U.S. Army Air Corps became a separate service — the U.S. Air Force. At that time in 1948, Fliegerhorst Wiesbaden was designated Wiesbaden Air Base and was the home of Headquarters U.S. Air Force in Europe.
During the Berlin Airlift 1948-1949, airmen from Wiesbaden distinguished themselves in support of “Operation Vittles.” C54s and C84 “Flying Boxcars” of the 60th Troop Carrier Group flew missions daily from Wiesbaden to Tempelhof Airport in Berlin. The streets on Clay Kaserne are named after the 31 servicemen who gave their lives during the Berlin Airlift.
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy visited Wiesbaden Air Base.
In 1976, USAFE and all USAF flying units moved to Ramstein and were replaced at Wiesbaden Air Base by a U.S. Army Mechanized Infantry Brigade. In 1984 the unit was deactivated and the decision made to use the Air Base for its primary purpose — that of an aviation facility. Although it retained the name Wiesbaden Air Base, at that time Wiesbaden AAF became the primary airfield of the U.S. Army V Corps.
In 1998, the Air Base was officially renamed Wiesbaden Army Airfield.
As the headquarters of U.S. Army Europe started moving to Wiesbaden from Heidelberg, Wiesbaden Army Airfield was renamed Gen. Lucius D. Clay Kaserne in 2012.
This column was compiled using Herald Union and U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Public Affairs archives.