2017-09-09 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

Michigan’s Rich Military History
By George Weeks

The recent celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Selfridge Air National Guard Base prompts a reflection on Michigan’s rich history as a site of military bases, especially Up North.

“The base is Michigan’s only active base, and one of three in the nation to have operated this long,” Brig. Gen. John D Slocum, Commander 127th Wing Selfridge ANGB, said in The Detroit News.

The 127th Wing flies both A- 10 and KC-135 aircraft out of Selfridge and serves all military branches, including the Coast Guard and Homeland Security. The Selfridge future is a hot state issue.

A big pending issue in national military circles is the possible announcement that the F-35 Lightning plane will be trained at Selfridge.

While the latest planes may be based at Selfridge, my focus today is, thanks to Wikipedia, a sampling of Michigan’s earliest bases.

There were early French fortified trading posts. Native Americans established temporary war camps—Chief Pontiac’s six-month encampment during siege of Fort Detroit had about 1,000 warriors.

“The earliest French bases were quite small and short lived,” Wikipedia reports. “Later some installations would be in use for over a century,” including Fort Mackinac, and spread over large areas, including 147,000 of Camp Grayling.

Among other northern facilities little remembered today:

• Fort de Buade. In 1683, this Jesuit mission at St. Ignace was fortified. Fort de Buade was built in 1690 and used until 1701.

• Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit, built in 1701, replaced Fort de Buade, and was turned over by the French to Britain in 1760, who used it until 1779, when it was replaced by Fort Lernoult. Pontchartrain in modern times long was the name of a popular hotel in Detroit.

• Fort St. Philippe de Michilimackinac (commonly called Fort Michilimackinac) at the Straits, built in 1715 during the Fox Wars, turned over by the French in 1761 to Britain, which used it until 1781. It was replaced by Fort Mackinac.

• Fort de Repentigny at Sault Ste. Marie, built in 1751, was captured by the British in 1760. The British assumed control of French forts in Michigan after defeating the French in the French and Indian War.

The British assumed control of French forts in Michigan after defeating the French in the French and Indian War. For example, Fort Michilimackinac, in use from 1761 until 1781, was replaced by Fort Mackinac.

Fort Mackinac, built in 1781, and turned over in 1796 to the Americans, was captured in the War of 1812 and again under British control 1812-1815 closed in 1895.

There also was Fort Brady at Sault Saint Marie, built in 1822, which was closed in 1944, except for antiaircraft battery in place until 1962.

In short, northern Michigan has a long history of being host to major military bases and critical installations.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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