Maxwell Air Force Base
Maxwell is a familiar name to those who wear the blue uniforms of the U.S. Air Force, because one of America’s oldest Air Force bases bears that name. Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, has been associated with aviation so long that it actually goes back to the Wright Brothers. The legendary inventors traveled south from their Dayton, Ohio, home to use that Alabama site to establish their first civilian flight school. Later, the flying field began being used for military flight, and it evolved into a full-fledged Air Force base. Although the base still has an active runway, it is primarily a non-flying base as the home of the Air University, the Air Force’s center for professional military education.
Like many bases, this one took its name from an early hero in military aviation. The hero in this case bore the Maxwell name. William Calvin Maxwell was a native of Monroe County, Alabama who entered the Army in 1917 and became a military aviator. After flight training at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas, he received his wings and a commission as a second lieutenant, serving stateside duty for the remainder of World War I.
After the war, he was transferred to the Philippines, and it was there, while stationed at Camp Stotsenburg in Luzan, that Maxwell lost his life heroically. On August 12, 1920, he was on a routine flight in a DH-4 Liberty aircraft when his engine began to misfire and he aimed for an emergency landing on the grounds of a sugar plantation. As he prepared to touch down and was about thirty feet off the ground, he spotted a group of children playing in the path of his plane. To avoid hitting the children, he turned and hit a flagpole. The childrens’ lives were spared, but Lieutenant Maxwell was killed instantly.
Two years later, the commanding officer of the Montgomery Air Depot recommended that the name of the Montgomery, Alabama, installation be changed to honor Lieutenant Maxwell. The recommendation was approved by the War Department, and the base has borne his name ever since.