ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — From celebrities to military luminaries, Kirtland Air Force Base has been home to many noteworthy people through the years. Albuquerque’s world-renowned balloonist Ben Abruzzo selected the Duke City as his home after being stationed at Kirtland. Famous musician Jim Morrison spent part of his childhood there. And numerous officers served important roles at Kirtland, only to move on to even bigger stages within the Air Force. Stuart Purviance, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who is now executive director of the Kirtland Partnership Committee, helped identify a few.
Balloonist breaking records
Ben Abruzzo, balloonist, real-estate developer
Abruzzo was known for making the first trans-Atlantic balloon flight in 1978 with Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman. He participated in Albuquerque’s first Balloon Fiesta in 1972 that saw the launch of only 13 balloons.
Abruzzo was a first lieutenant at Kirtland in the early 1950s. Born in Rockford, Ill., he graduated from the University of Illinois in 1952 and then entered the U.S. Air Force. He was stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base short thereafter.
Abruzzo adopted New Mexico as his home, staying even after leaving the military in 1954. He lived in Albuquerque until his 1985 death when a small plane he was flying crashed.
Star in the making
Jimmy Stewart, actor
Stewart was an American actor born in 1908 who starred in numerous films, many of which became classics, including “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Rear Window” and “Vertigo.”
He was stationed at Kirtland for five months in 1942. He had just been promoted to lieutenant in July and became a pilot of an AT-11 Kansan, which were used to train bombardiers. He was then sent to Hobbs for three months. He eventually became a World War II bomber pilot and earned more than a dozen medals during his military career.
After the war, he continued to serve in the Air Force Reserve, becoming a two-star general and also continued his acting career. “It’s a Wonderful Life” was the first movie he filmed after returning to acting. He died in July 1997.
Combat pilot to commander
Gen. Charles Holland, commander
Holland was at Kirtland in the early 1990s, where he commanded the 1550th Combat Crew Training Wing (now called 58th Special Operations Wing).
He served in both the Vietnam and Gulf wars. His final assignment was serving as the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command Headquarters before retiring in 2003.
Holland graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1968 and subsequently flew 100 combat missions.
Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, third woman to become a four-star general
Pawlikowski is currently the commander of the Air Force Materiel Command at Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. She was assigned to the post last year, earning the rank of general.
The command has 80,000 employees and a $60 billion annual budget. The Materiel Command offers logistics support for the entire Air Force. Pawlikowski must make sure the Air Force has the tools it needs to fight around the world. Previously she was commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center.
She was stationed at Kirtland from 2000 to 2005 as a colonel who directed the Airborne Laser Program. She is well positioned to become the first female chief of staff.
Chief of staff
Gen. Lew Allen, 10th chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force
Allen is a four-star general who served at Kirtland from June 1957 to December 1961 as a science adviser to the Physics Division of the Air Force Special Weapons Center.
Allen specialized in the effects of high-altitude nuclear explosions. He was the science director of a major high-altitude rocket experiment. The Air Force wanted to measure the characteristics of electrons at high altitudes after an explosion.
He would go on to become director of the National Security Agency and finally chief of staff before retiring from the military in 1982. He became director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory after retirement and worked there until 1990. He died in 2010 in Potomac Falls, Va.
Henry Edward Roberts, engineer
Roberts was a computer engineer and captain at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory at Kirtland in the 1970s.
Many may not recognize his name immediately but he was responsible for inventing the first commercially successful personal computer. He co-founded Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems in Albuquerque, which sold electronics kits to model rocketry hobbyists. He hired two unknown men – Bill Gates and Paul Allen – to work at his company. Gates and Allen of course would go on to start Microsoft.
In his later years, Roberts retired in Georgia where he became a rural doctor. It’s said that Gates visited Roberts in the hospital shortly before his death in 2010.
A famous dependent
George Morrison, Navy admiral, father of Jim Morrison
Morrison commanded a Navy unit at Kirtland AFB from 1955 to 1957. With him came his family, including a young Jim Morrison. The younger Morrison would go on to become an iconic rock star and the lead singer for The Doors in the ’60s.
George Morrison graduated from the Naval Academy in 1941 and was assigned to Pearl Harbor where he witnessed the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941. George Morrison also commanded the U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin during an incident that would escalate the Vietnam War.
Jim Morrison died in 1971 several decades before his father. The elder Morrison donated several of Jim’s childhood items to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland before his own death in November 2008 in Coronado, Calif., at the age of 89.
Sources: Albuquerque Journal, New York Times and the Air Force website, AirForce Times