Gowen Field and Mountain Home were airbases during World War II, but so was Army Airbase Pocatello. The Pocatello Regional Airport is located on the site of the old base. That’s where the Mexican Air Force trained.
Wait. What? Yes, Mexico declared war on Germany on May 28, 1942. In 1944 the Mexican government offered an Air Force squadron to President Roosevelt to support the war effort in the Pacific. That’s when the 201st Mexican Expeditionary Air Force Squadron of Mexico moved to the U.S. for training.
The squadron called themselves Aztec Eagles. They trained first at Randolph Field in San Antonio, where they were given medical exams and received testing for flight and weapons proficiency. Next, the squadron went to the army base at Pocatello to receive specialty training in each man’s area of expertise, such as armament, communication, or engineering. They finished their training at Gunnery School at Harlingen, Texas.
Thirty-eight pilots and more than 300 support personnel from the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force flew into Pocatello for three months of training in 1944. The Mexicans were surprised to meet female pilots while they were there. The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) shuttled airplanes from one base to another. The Mexican Air Force had no equivalent, but they soon learned to respect the skills of the women.
The Aztec Eagles joined the war effort in the Philippines in June, 1945 as part of MacArthur’s promised return. They flew 96 combat missions, dropping some 1500 bombs on Luzon and Formosa, helping to drive the Japanese from those islands.
While fighting in the Philippines the Aztec Eagles lost five pilots, three who ran out of fuel over the ocean, one who crashed, and one who was shot down.
In November 1945, the Aztec Eagles returned to Mexico and were welcomed home with a military parade, honoring the first Mexican troops to ever participate in military combat overseas.