In 1941, even though the United States had not yet formally entered World War II, the U.S. military was anxious to shore up defenses along the eastern seaboard, which some feared was a vulnerable target for a German attack. Early that year, the Connecticut General Assembly approved the purchase of 1,700 acres of former tobacco farmland in Windsor Locks and immediately leased it to the U.S. Army for the purpose of building a new air base. Surrounded by what was then mostly flat, rural farmland, the airfield’s engineers utilized a novel camouflage scheme to render the base nearly invisible from the air, painting the runways and taxi lanes with a special patchwork pattern mimicking tobacco crops and dirt roads.
By late July, the new Windsor Locks Army Air Base was ready to welcome the first waves of military personnel and Army pilots. The atmosphere of optimism, camaraderie, and patriotic pride shared by the brand-new base’s inhabitants was quickly dashed, however, not long after the first official training exercises began. On August 18, during a mock dogfight training exercise, 24-year-old Lieutenant Eugene Bradley blacked out after entering a steep dive in his P-40 Warhawk and crashed into the nearby woods, becoming the air field’s first fatality. Bradley, a recently-married native of Oklahoma, had arrived at the base with his new bride only three days before the tragic accident occurred.
Not long after Bradley’s fatal crash, an editorial in the Hartford Times called for the new air base to be renamed in honor of the patriotic young pilot. Evidently, the Army brass agreed, and several months later, on January 20, 1942, the U.S. War Department announced it was changing the name of Connecticut’s newest air base to Army Air Base, Bradley Field. After World War II was over, the air field was converted to a commercial airport for civilian use. Today, as Bradley International Airport, the Windsor Locks airfield still honors the World War II pilot in both its name and airport code (BDL), and also serves as home to the Connecticut Air National Guard. A dedicated pilot remembered with a fitting memorial, on this day in Connecticut history.
Jerry Roberts, “Windsor Locks: Bradley International Airport,” Connecticut Explored
“Bradley Field and Eugene Bradley,” Grating the Nutmeg podcast
“Crash Site of Bradley Airport’s Namesake Pinpointed,” New Haven Register
“The Case of Lieutenant Eugene M. Bradley,” New England Aviation History