Hidden in plain sight: Eastern Henrico’s decoy airfield during World War II

(Photo: Henrico County Recreation and Parks)

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The intersection of Portugee Road and Technology Boulevard in Eastern Henrico is unassuming, just like any other drivers pass day-to-day.

However, rewind 75 years this month when World War II was in full swing. The United States Government had big plans for more than 40 farms surrounding that very spot in Elko.

“They came in and said, ‘Get off your property, we need it,'” says Sandy Fischer, a long-time resident who now serves as a community historian.

Fischer explains the land became a decoy airfield to deter potential German bombers from Richmond Army Air Base where pilots trained.

“The airport was up here,” Fischer points out the landmark on a 1950’s era map.

In 1969, Fischer moved to the area from her native New York to be with family who had helped to settle Elko generations before.

She became passionate about learning about the airfield project which for years had been hidden in plain sight.

“The airplanes were made out of plywood and canvas,” she describes. “The buildings were just the tops of buildings because that’s all you needed.”

Fischer says residents knew soldiers were occupying the tract, but their true work was a mystery.

“It looked like from the air that it was an airport,” she explains.

Sadly, dozens of the aviation engineers who built the decoy were killed in a Pacific attack.

Survivors honored them in Eastern Henrico in 1978.

“They built a monument in front of the Elko Community Center in memory of their 108 buddies that didn’t come back,” says Fischer.

Remnants of runways remained until the early 1990’s. Today while what once was is no longer visible, the legend lives on.

“Most people didn’t know the chance of them being blown to smithereens by the Germans was right in their backyard,” Fischer says.

The surviving Elko Buddies, as the aviation engineers were called, met up somewhere in the country each year to reminisce about their unique work during the war.

Fischer says they held the final one in 1997 in Henrico County where their story began.

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