GREAT FALLS – Malmstrom Air Force Base has a decades-long history and has been host to fighter jets, bombers, refueling missions, and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
But how did it get its name?
Colonel Einar Axel Malmstrom was born July 14, 1907, in Chicago. He enlisted as a private in the Washington State National Guard on May 12, 1929, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant on May 25, 1931.
He was called to active federal service at Parkwater, Washington, September 16, 1940, as a first lieutenant. In May 1943, he moved to the European theater of operations and assumed command of the 356th Fighter Group in November.
On April 24, 1944, while flying his 58th combat mission, he was shot down over France and taken prisoner by the German Army.
He spent a year as a Prisoner of War and was American commander of the south compound, POW Camp Stalag Luft 1, Barth, Germany. For this duty, he was awarded the Bronze Star.
Returning to the U.S. in May 1945, he served at military bases in Louisiana, Texas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Ohio, and in February 1954 he was assigned to Great Falls AFB, serving as Deputy Wing Commander of the 407th Strategic Fighter Wing.
He was extremely involved in the community and was known for his charismatic personality, but on August 21, 1954, tragedy struck.
Colonel Malmstrom died in a T-33 plane crash about one mile west of the Great Falls Airport. His wife Kathryn, son James, and daughter Barbara survived him.
Rob Turnbow, the director of the Malmstrom Museum, said that after Malmstrom’s untimely death, civic leaders in Great Falls spearheaded the charge to have the base named in his honor.
Great Falls Air Force Base was renamed Malmstrom Air Force Base on October 1, 1955, and formally dedicated in June 1956.
-Margaret DeMarco reporting for MTN News