So I get a telephone call the other day from someone at Griffiss Business
and Technology Park. My friend was interested in Griffiss history.
He asked, “Didn’t you write something a few years ago about the streets at
Griffiss and how they got named?”
I said I did. In fact, I wrote a few columns about the streets at Griffiss,
named after Lt. Col. Townsend Griffiss of Buffalo, N.Y., the first U.S.
airman killed in Europe in the line of duty in World War II.
If there’s an official listing of how streets at Griffiss got named, I
haven’t been able to find it. But we can figure it out, I told my Griffiss
friend, by using common sense and by remembering the streets were named when
Griffiss was an Air Force Base.
Brooks Road, for example, honors Sidney Brooks Jr, a newspaper reporter in
San Antonio, Texas. Before the start of World War 1, the 22-year-old Brooks
volunteered for U.S. Army service and was sent to Officer Training School.
After graduation, Brooks entered the Army Signal Corps Air Service, which
would one day become the U.S. Air Force, and began flight training at Kelly
Field, San Antonio, Texas.
On Nov. 13, 1917, Brooks took off on his first solo flight. His takeoff went
well, but as he turned to make his landing his aircraft plummeted to the
ground. Brooks was killed. He was posthumously awarded pilot’s wings and a
commission in the Signal Corps.
“Did you write anything about Donaldson Road?” asked my Griffiss friend.
Those familiar with the layout of Griffiss know that Donaldson Road is over
near Otis Road, named after Lt. Frank Otis, a member of the Massachusetts
Air National Guard and one of the first flight surgeons to attend the U.S.
Air Corps School of Aviation, graduating in 1935.
Otis was also a pilot. While on a cross-country training mission on Jan. 11,
1937, the observation aircraft Otis was flying crashed into the Illinois
River in Hannepen, Illinois. Otis was killed.
Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts was named in his honor. It is thought
to be the only base named in honor of a doctor.
“I don’t know about Donaldson Road,” I told my Griffiss friend, “but I’ll
bet it was named after an Air Force officer.”
After doing some checking, I’d also bet that the officer was Capt. John
Donaldson, a native of Greenville, South Carolina, a World War I flying ace.
In less than two months he shot down seven German aircraft. Then
Donaldson himself was shot down. He was captured and sent to a German POW
camp. But Donaldson and four others escaped, the first successful POW escape
of the war. Capt. Donaldson was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, among
After the war, Donaldson continued to fly. He was killed in an air race.
Donaldson Air Force Base, in Capt. Donaldson’s hometown, was named in his
honor. The base opened in the 1940s and closed in the 1960s.
Like Griffiss, Donaldson AFB was turned over to the community and today it
is Donaldson Center Industrial Air Park. Also like Griffiss, Donaldson has
become a strong economic force in its community. There are some 80 companies
at Donaldson which employ some 4,000 workers.
By the way, while researching Donaldson, I came across something
interesting. At Nellis Air Force Base, near Las Vegas, there is a Griffiss
Avenue. Guess where the Air Force got that name.
Joe Kelly is the editor and publisher of The Boonville Herald & Adirondack Tourist and