The long and storied history of the Rickenbacker Air Force Base in southeast Columbus is chronicled in a new book, "Crossroads of Liberty."

The long and storied history of the Rickenbacker Air Force Base in southeast Columbus is chronicled in a new book, "Crossroads of Liberty."

While writing the book, author Rob Stroup did exhaustive research into the history of the military base. Stroup was surprised to find that a comprehensive book about Rickenbacker had not yet been written.

"I thought, 'What an opportunity,'" Stroup said. "I didn't even know where to begin."

Stroup undertook his research in the winter of 2005, assisted by Warren Motts, proprietor of the Motts Military Museum near Rickenbacker, and Don Porter, a veteran and local military historian.

Stroup tapped the archives of The Columbus Dispatch as well as those of the Air Force's 121st Air Refueling Wing, which is based at Rickenbacker. The 121st Air Refueling Wing gave Stroup access to photos, press clippings and historical documents.

"The 121st Air Refueling Wing probably had 40 percent of what I needed to do the project," Stroup said. "The Internet was a huge tool in which I was able to network with people."

Through military-related Web sites, Stroup was able to get in touch with retired officers who had been stationed at Rickenbacker.

"I started to write letters and month after month began to pick up steam," he said.

With the vast amount of material he'd gathered, Stroup decided to divide the book into decades, beginning with the life of Eddie Rickenbacker, a Columbus-born American fighter ace in World War II who won the Medal of Honor.

"I did the World War II years, the post-war years, the '60s, '70s, the '80s, the '90s," Stroup said. "It all just sort of fell into place like putting a puzzle together."

At 160 pages, "Crossroads of Liberty" conveys the history of the Rickenbacker Air Force Base through narration and photos.

"It's a collector's edition. It's a really prized piece," Stroup said. "There's more than 150 photographs in the book."

"Crossroads of Liberty" includes important aspects of Rickenbacker's history, such as the fact that the Tuskegee Airmen, the legendary African-American military unit, were based there during World War II. The book also includes little-known facts from when the base was still known as Lockbourne Army Air Base.

"Lockbourne was under consideration to host the United States Air Force academy," Stroup said. "That could have been the Air Force academy instead of Colorado Springs. I think (Air Force officials) determined they needed several thousand more acres, which they could have taken. It would have moved toward Ashville."

"Crossroads of Liberty" also chronicles the first presidential visit to the base by Lyndon B. Johnson in the spring of 1964.

"Johnson launched his war on poverty from Lockbourne. He flew in there from Air Force One, gave a speech, and we have it word for word and a photo of him greeting people on the flight line" in the book, Stroup said.

The book also includes a picture of President Clinton visiting Rickenbacker the day after he gave his first state of the union address.

"We've got a nice picture of him coming off Air Force One," Stroup said.

"Crossroads of Liberty" spans a wide cross-section of the base's history, from the reverential to the paranormal.

"I tell the account in the book of two incidents that connect the base with UFOs," Stroup said. "I just tell the accounts. I don't say whether this is true or not."

Readers may also be interested to discover that Rickenbacker served as the backdrop for several exterior shots in the Harrison Ford blockbuster "Air Force One."

"All of that was shot there at Rickenbacker," Stroup said. "You do see the terminal and the lights."

The final chapter describes how Rickenbacker has become a commercial epicenter for the region, with Federal Express and UPS hubs and the Columbus Regional Airport Authority charter terminal.

The book concludes by documenting "how the facility has evolved into a joint commercial/military facility," Stroup said.

Through words and pictures, "Crossroads of Liberty" offers insight into Rickenbacker's past, present and future.

"It's a narrative story. I didn't want to write the book. I wanted to buy a copy," Stroup said. "I thought, 'If I'm going to do this, I'm going to buy what I would have wanted.'"

cbournea@thisweeknews.com