Senator Led Fight to Save Cannon AFB and Jobs in 1950sCannon Air Force Base, known as Clovis Army Air Field in the 1940s, was closed more than 50 years ago. The Defense Department's findings today, which recommend the closure of Cannon AFB, mirrored those of the War Department in 1946 when the base was put on reduced operational status. Similar to efforts today to save Cannon, the community and New Mexico's congressional delegation, led by Senator Chavez, rallied behind the base to support Clovis' economy. Chavez's efforts would make the Air Field's 1947 closing temporary.
The end of World War II brought a realignment of American military forces. To cut spending, the government trimmed the military and closed bases across the country. One of the bases set for closure was Clovis. Slowly, Clovis' soldiers were stationed at other bases until it eventually closed in May 1947.
The economic impact of the closure was felt throughout the eastside of the state. Residents wrote to Senator Chavez about the financial hardship it was causing. In a letter to Senator Chavez, Durwood O. Jones, a Clovis businessman, wrote, "Since (Clovis) Air Base has practically shut down, our City business has dropped one-third."
Businesses prepared to leave the community and the local chamber of commerce began lobbying Chavez for support — but Chavez was already fighting. To reassure his constituents, he wrote, "You may be sure that I am doing everything in my power to see that this base is reactivated."
In the 1950s, Chavez, a member of the Army and Air Forces Appropriation Subcommittee, recognized an opportunity to use Clovis as a training site. As support for a larger peacetime military increased in Congress, the Air Force was poised to expand and develop bases to accommodate new soldiers. Clovis, Chavez thought, would be perfect.
On July 27, 1950, Chavez took his constituents' cause to Thomas K. Finletter, Secretary of the Air Force. He wrote, "I hope the Department of the Air Force will utilize air fields in New Mexico which served so admirably during World War II, and particularly the one at Clovis, New Mexico." He later secured a promise from the Secretary that Clovis would be considered in the proposed expansion.
Chavez continued to receive telegrams, letters and personal visits from constituents who were determined to have their Air Base reopened. The Senator kept pressure on the Air Force and War Department to reopen Clovis. Finally, word came from the Air Force in late 1951 that Clovis would be reactivated. The decision revitalized eastern New Mexico.
Mr. Jones's letter is in the Dennis Chavez Archives at the Center for Southwest Research.