Navy Pier is a popular lakeside attraction in Chicago. Still, it wasn’t always a fun place to visit.
Created in 1916 for recreational and maritime purposes, it was known as the âMunicipal Wharfâ. When I grew up in Chicago, I was taught that Chicago is the hub of commerce in the United States. At that time, many imported items arrived by sea. Ships crossed the St. Lawrence Seaway to Chicago, where goods could be transferred on trains for delivery across the country.
During World War II, Chicago’s Navy Pier became the training ground for Navy pilots. The Navy bought two cruise ships and converted them into aircraft carriers to train Navy pilots. Ships were safe from attack by enemy submarines and could focus on training pilots on how to land on ships at sea.
We are learning from our mistakes and I have heard that there are a lot of planes at the bottom of Lake Michigan. More than 18,000 pilots were able to qualify for transport operations aboard the two converted cruise ships, the USS Wolverine and the USS Sable.
Today, an organization was founded to commemorate Chicago’s role in US Navy history by establishing a Chicago Navy Memorial at Navy Pier. This memorial will help us remember the contributions the people of Chicago made to help the United States win World War II. You can read more about this memorial and the history of Navy Pier at www.chicagonavymemorial.org.
While this memorial tells the story of pilots in the Navy, we also needed pilots in the Army Air Force. During World War II, there was segregation in the armed forces. Black aviators who wished to serve in the war effort were trained at the Tuskegee Institute and joined the Army Air Force. Airmen and anyone trained to help them accomplish their mission became known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Almost 1,000 pilots, including some from the Chicago area, have been trained under this program. They served in air combat missions over North Africa and Italy and in bomber escort missions over Nazi Germany. You can read more about the Tuskegee Airmen at www.tuskegeeairmen.org.
The US Navy continues to protect the seas with personnel trained on surface ships, submarines and air operations. On September 18, 1947, the United States War Department established the Air Force as a distinct and separate branch of the United States Army.
Happy Birthday to everyone who served in the Air Force and thank you for continuing to protect us and our values.