Joint Base Andrews’ origins date back to the Civil War, when the Union occupied a small, country church as headquarters for soldiers camped nearby. Today, that church is known as Chapel Two, and the base community still uses it for worship services.
The present site of Andrews was often discussed in the early part of the 20th century as a potential civilian airfield. In August 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the Secretary of War to acquire the land and build a military airfield. Construction began later that year. April 19, 1943, the first permanent unit, the 463rd Base Headquarters and Air Base Squadron, arrived from Westover Field, Mass., with 105 enlisted men and five officers.
Camp Springs Army Air Field became operational May 2, 1943, when the first Republic P-47 Thunderbolt arrived; 75 other P-47s arrived that first month. The field’s early mission was to train fighter pilots for overseas combat duty. The following day, the general who the base would eventually be named after, Lt. Gen. Frank M. Andrews, died in a B-24 crash over Iceland.
Camp Springs became Andrews Field May 2, 1945 to honor of one of the Air Force’s founding fathers, Lt. Gen. Frank M. Andrews. Ironically, he died in an airplane crash the following day. Shortly after the Air Force became a separate service in 1947, the base’s name changed to Andrews Air Force Base.
After World War II, Andrews served as headquarters for Continental Air Command, Strategic Air Command and the Military Air Transport Service. It was also headquarters to the Air Research and Development Command and its successor, the Air Force Systems Command, from 1950 to 1992.
The first permanently assigned jet-powered aircraft, an F-80 Shooting Star, arrived at Andrews in 1947. With the onset of the Korean War in June 1950, Andrews became involved in combat readiness training for B-25 medium bomber crews.
However, almost since its establishment, Andrews has been known for its Special Air Missions—the transportation of senior government and military leaders. President Harry S. Truman was the first to fly a presidential flight out of Andrews, Nov. 24, 1946. In 1959, Detachment 1, 1254th Air Transport Group received its first jet aircraft, a VC-137. While the president’s official aircraft, a C-121, Columbine III, remained at Washington National Airport, the president often used the new VC-137 for longer trips. President John F. Kennedy’s official aircraft, a C-118, permanently transferred from Washington National in March 1962, and Andrews officially became the “Home of Air Force One.”
In 1963, the Naval Air Facility moved to Andrews and is currently headquartered on the east side of the base.
Andrews has served as a solemn backdrop for national tragedy. After the Nov. 22, 1963 assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas, the president’s body arrived at Andrews later that evening, accompanied by his widow Jacqueline B. Kennedy and newly sworn in President Lyndon B. Johnson. Thousands of mourners jammed the air terminal, including one of the largest gatherings of news media representatives ever assembled at any time on Andrews.
More recently, the bodies of slain Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Department of State employee Sean Smith and former Navy SEALS Glen A. Doherty and Tyrone S. Woods were transferred at Joint Base Andrews after their deaths in the Sept, 2012 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Libya.
Andrews has also been the scene of many joyful returns and reunions. Among the many occasions, Andrews welcomed the first prisoners of war back from Vietnam in 1973, saw the return of the U.S. hostages from Iran in 1981, and welcomed former POW Army Private First Class Jessica Lynch home from Iraq in 2003.
The 89th Airlift Wing became the host unit for Andrews in 1991, continuing Andrews’ rich history as the elite Air Mobility Command wing for transporting VIPs around the world. Andrews routinely provides service for America’s senior officials as well as kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers and military leaders from foreign nations.
In June 2004, the world watched as the remains of former President Ronald Reagan arrived at Andrews for the state funeral services in Washington, D.C. A few days later, thousands of mourners paid their respects on Andrews’ flightline as President Reagan’s body departed for California.
In June 2006, the 316th Wing, under the Air Force District of Washington, became the host unit of Andrews.
On Oct. 1, 2009, Andrews Air Force Base joined Naval Air Facility Washington to become Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility Washington, or Joint Base Andrews.
In October 2010, the 316th Wing was inactivated and the 11th Wing, formerly the host wing at Bolling Air Force Base, was re-designated the host wing here at Andrews. The “Chief’s Own” 11th Wing, while adopting the missions of Andrews, continues to oversee all operations of the Air Force Band, Honor Guard, and Chaplaincy which are still located at now Joint Base Anacostia/Bolling. The 11th Wing is proud to be host of the base bearing the name of one of the true founding fathers of today’s most powerful air, space, and cyberspace force.
Andrews today is also home to the Air Force District of Washington headquarters, the Air Mobility Command’s 89 AW, the 79th Medical Wing, the District of Columbia Air National Guard’s 113th Wing, the Air Force Reserves’ 459th Air Refueling Wing and several other partner units. Andrews has evolved from the muddy fields and wooden buildings of the 1940s to become one of the most modern air bases, and solidify itself as “America’s Airfield”