In 1917 it was a federal offense to sell alcohol to the nation’s soldiers, but some local liquor merchants and the young men at Scott Field found their way to one another in the off-duty hours.
Belleville’s residents saw the need to provide more wholesome distractions for the “Sammies” training for World War I. The library, the YMCA, First Methodist Church and other local groups made efforts to reach out to the young soldiers. They took soldiers into their homes that Thanksgiving for dinner.
The base commander reciprocated the warm reception by inviting the community out for an afternoon of stunt flying by Scott’s aviators, the base’s first air show.
After 100 years, that warm relationship remains.
Scott Air Force Base is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. There will again be an air show, this time featuring the stunt flying of the aviators known as the Thunderbirds as well as a flight by a Jenny biplane as seen during that first air show.
A dinner tonight is an echo of those Thanksgiving dinners in 1917. The Belle-Scott Enlisted Dinner has been a formal event for 67 years, pairing enlisted military with local folks for an evening of mutual admiration. The first event on Nov. 29, 1950, was labeled the G.I. Pal Dinner.
Tonight’s dinner will honor four veterans for their service to the community and nation. Former congressman Jerry Costello also will be honored for his service: he not only kept Scott off base closure lists, but turned those threats into opportunities for the base to grow.
But the night’s biggest honorees may be the 90 enlisted people in attendance. They represent 13,002 active duty, reserve, national guard and civilians who keep the base running every day.
A century ago the community was worried about idle hands from Scott Field. Today we understand how much more those 13,002 folks from Scott Air Force Base contribute to our schools, civic groups and churches than we ever were able to give them.