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Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base

49 Crossing’s history doesn’t start in 2003, when Port KC was tasked with building an industrial hub on 2,300 acres of land in south Kansas City.

Its story began in January 1952, when the United States Air Force acquired this same land. Over the next four decades, the Air Force built a base that employed 5,000 people at its height and more than doubled surrounding populations.

In 1957, the Air Force renamed the base to remember two Kansas City veterans killed in action, First Lieutenant Jon Francisco Richards and Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Williams Gebaur Jr., becoming the Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base.

Lasting legacy

In 1994, all active military operations ceased, and the City of Kansas City, Missouri, acquired most of the land. Port KC took on the land in 2003 to commence intense clean-up and attract private development and jobs to the area.

Today, the land is home to the National Security Agency, the I-49 Industrial Center, Kansas City Southern, and many small industrial businesses at Port KC’s Richards-Gebaur Commerce Park. Together, they are named 49 Crossing.

Remembering local heroes

First Lieutenant John Francisco Richards

John Richards was born in 1884 to a prominent Kansas City family, known for the Richards-Conover Hardware Company. Upon graduation from Yale University in 1917, Richards enlisted in the US Army; the United States had just entered World War I.

Richards trained to become a pilot and fought in air battles across France. In September 1917, he flew his plane on a reconnaissance mission:

“On Sept. 26, 1918, – the first day of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive – Richards crossed German lines on a dangerous surveillance mission. His worn out Salmson 2A2 biplane was shot down and he was killed.” (link source)

Richards received the Silver Star for his bravery after his death.

Lieutenant Colonel Arthur William Gebaur Jr

Less than a year after Richards’ death, Arthur William Gebaur Jr was born in 1919. Gebaur was a graduate of Northeast High School in Kansas City, and while at school, he was part of the Reserve Officer Training Corps.

Similar to Richards, Gebaur enlisted shortly after the United States declared war. Gebaur served as an instructor pilot through World War II.

Richard spent his career in the Air Force, rising through the ranks to Lieutenant Colonel. He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. During an air run over North Korea, his plane was shot down:

“On Aug 29, 1952, Gebaur led a series of ground attacks on communist positions. During one bomb run, Gebaur’s fighter was hit by an 85 mm explosive shell. He pressed on and bombed his original target, then turned and spotted eight quadruple .50 cal gun positions. He re-attached and silenced the guns, but his fighter crashed.” (link source)

He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Cross of Service.

Through all future development and progress, Port KC will continue to remember and celebrate our Kansas City veterans and the Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base’s undeniable contribution to our nation and south Kansas City.


Photos courtesy of the United States Air Force

For more information: Namesakes: Richards-Gebaur, Tale of the Kansas City Heroes