Like so many in the San Antonio community, Joe Glawson started and ended his military career at Kelly Air Force Base.
Originally from Commerce, Texas, Glawson began as a 19-year-old apprentice at Kelly in 1942, fought in World War II, and returned to the base where he worked his way up the ladder and retired as a branch supervisor in 1977. He was one of many in the community who established long, fruitful careers at Kelly, a place credited by many as one of the city’s largest economic drivers in history. At one point the base employed about 25,000 people, ranging in occupation type.
“It was good to me,” Glawson, 95, told the Rivard Report. “I can’t ever complain about it.”
On Saturday, he and hundreds of other men and women who worked at Kelly over the years celebrated the base’s 100th anniversary. The celebration, hosted by Port San Antonio at Floore’s Country Store, was meant to thank and honor all of those who served at the base, which closed in 1995, and look ahead to its growth as Port San Antonio, a leading, multi-industry job provider in San Antonio.
Over the past two decades, the 1,900-acre space has been incrementally redeveloped into a hub for aerospace, manufacturing, cybersecurity, energy, and more. The Port is home to “over 70 private- and public-sector tenant customers who directly employ about 12,000 people on our campus. That activity in turn contributes over $5 billion annually to the regional economy,” according to its website.
Glawson called Kelly Air Force Base’s evolution into what it is today “amazing,” but still has fond memories of the base as a place that helped introduce him to military service and also welcomed him back from serving his country in World War II.
“I enjoyed going to work everyday because I felt like we were doing something for the country,” he said.
After going through basic training, Glawson was deployed to Europe, where he fought in the Hurtgen Forest on the German-Belgian border. He was wounded during a battle to take the town of Mariaweiler, Germany, and later became a Purple Heart recipient and also received the United States Legion of Honor medal for his role in the liberation of France.
Some of the oldest former Kelly Air Force Base employees are in their nineties, like Glawson.
Like San Antonio, the base has changed and “modernized” a lot over the years, Glawson said. He remembers a Kelly Air Force Base with unpaved, dirt parking lots. He used to have to wait in a line of people to get his pay check. Those were the good ‘ol days, he said, but “I got to see it grow.”
It may not be the same Kelly Air Force Base that he left in the ’70s, but Glawson is pleased that it still sees as much action, collaboration, and innovation as it did at its peak.
The campus is changing, he said, but “I’m just real happy that it’s still here.”