Clark Air Base was the largest overseas U.S. military base in the world, with 156,204 acres. While most of that was unoccupied fields and jungle, the base grew up around the old cavalry post’s large parade field, surrounded by wide, magnificent trees. At one end, the 13th Air Force Headquarters occupied buildings that went back to the early part of the 20th Century. At the opposite end stood the base headquarters and the administrative centers for GIs assigned there. There were about 30,000 military and civilian people at Clark when the base was active.
By April 1991, magma flowing beneath Pinatubo caused thousands of small earthquakes and foreshadowed events to come. And by June, the volcano was spitting out deadly sulfur dioxide gas. Ash clouds left their sooty deposit on the town and base. The Air Force started evacuating people from Clark to the U.S. Navy base at Subic Bay June 10. On June 12 — Philippine Independence Day — Pinatubo erupted. Pinatubo exploded June 15. It was the second-largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. It turned the day into night on what locals came to call “Black Saturday.” From the crater, high-speed flows of hot ash and gas oozed toward Angeles City and Clark. In some valleys the flow was more than 650 feet deep. The massive eruption blew away one cubic mile of the mountaintop — about 1,000 feet off the 5,725-foot peak — and created a crater one and one-half miles across. It produced an ash cloud that rose 22 miles into the atmosphere and spread out for hundreds of miles. Ash fell as far away as the Indian Ocean. And the ash clouds circled the globe. The ash fall devastated Clark and Angeles City. The ash caved in the roofs of many homes and buildings. The high-speed avalanche of ash, rock and gas — called a pyroclastic flow — sped toward Clark. It stopped just short of the base, near a housing area.
In June 1991, the United States Air Force began its departure from Clark Air Base, which had suffered extensive damage from the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. Pinatubo continued to erupt on and off through September 1991. The Air Force sent back some 1,500 airmen to pack up what they could salvage. Then, in November, the Air Force lowered the Stars and Stripes and transferred Clark to the Philippines.
Volcanic damage and uncertainty regarding future eruptions resulted in the decision to relinquish Clark Air Base even before a final base agreement was negotiated with the Government of the Philippines; the base was formally turned over to the Philippine Government in late November 1991. Clark was a valuable regional logistics hub. Its associated instrumented air training range, known as Crow Valley, provided a unique air training capability for US forces and Asian air forces which conducted bilateral and multi-lateral training exercises there. The Air Force moved much of the training it previously conducted at the Crow Valley range to Alaska.
The American departure did force a culling of the businesses in the local economy. Gone was more than $1 million-a-day the base poured into Angeles City. So today there are fewer businesses. Now only the best survive. The nightlife Angeles City was famous for in the past is a bit more subdued, but not gone. The former Air Force base has a thriving resort hotel, a world-class golf, course, two casinos, several upper-end restaurants and a host of duty free shops.
Clark got its name from Maj. Harold M. Clark, of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Born in Minnesota and raised in Manila, he was the first American to fly in Hawaii. Clark died on May 2, 1919 in a seaplane crash in Panama and is now buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.
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