Wheelus HS History

Opened: 1950
Closed: 1970

Wheelus American Dependents School was situated just a few short blocks from the Mediterranean Sea. The Dependents School became the Wheelus Elementary School and Wheelus Jr/Sr High School. According to the 1958 high school yearbook:

Wheelus Dependents’ School was founded at Wheelus Air Force Base, Tripoli, Libya, in 1950. The original school building which is still in use had only seven rooms. These had to serve as classrooms for the 110 students who had, until then, attended the British Army School in Tripoli. The faculty was composed of several NCO’s and Officers’ wives, and several teachers who were recruited from the United States.

At one time, the school became so overcrowded and the lack of teachers was so acute that a two shift program was initiated. There was a three hour shift in the morning for half the students and another in the afternoon for the remainder of the students.

The following year, however, a new school was completed and that, along with the old building and another temporary building, supplied enough classrooms for the school to operate on a full day schedule. During the present year, another new building has been added to the school plant which now consists of 3 buildings on one side of the Base and 3 other ones on the opposite side of the Base. To these have been added 4 small buildings which are in the junior high area and serve as classrooms.

With the expansion of the Base, the school enrollment has soared to its present 1400 students.

By 1957 other facilities were added to the JH/HS and the school library and science laboratories were renovated and expanded. With the additional facilities Industrial Arts and Mechanical Drawing were added to the curriculum.

Wheelus High School was accredited by the North Central Association in 1954 and had regular inspections every two years by educators from the United States.

The supervising principal for Wheelus for the 1956-57 school year was Raymond Reid and the high school principal was Donald B. Trull. They remained in these positions until the 1958-59 school year when Leona Greene was the Supervising Principal, Bryon Townsend was the high school principal, and James Heinlein was the high school assistant principal. For the 1959-60 school year, the Superintendent of Schools was Dr. Scott, and the high school principal was William Hathaway.

During the mid-fifties, the school’s enrollment increased from 270 students to 400 students by the 1959-60 school year. For the 1957-58 school year, the entire faculty for both the elementary and high schools was approximately 60, with 17 of the teachers in the junior/senior high schools.

Wheelus High School had a diverse extracurricular program that included the fine arts, sports, organizations, and clubs. The school had an active student council, National Honor Society, several musical groups, and a drama club. In 1958-59 the school had a marching band, The Sour Notes; a jazz band, The Saints; and a group called The High Hats in addition to three choruses. The sports teams included flag football against base teams, basketball against base teams and local Arab and Italian schools, soccer, cross country/track, and cheerleaders. Girls participated in intramural sports through the Girls Recreation Association. There were also organized teams/activities for junior high students. The school newspaper was Baracaan. The yearbook was published as part of the combined Air Force yearbook Vapor Trails. The school mascot was the Uaddan, which was a Barbary sheep. The school colors were blue and white.

The high school and junior high school were located in separate buildings, although some classrooms were shared by the students. In the mid-sixties, the Junior High had a separate administration, but most years the junior and senior high where under one administrative team with the assistant principal in charge of the junior high.

The principals for the 1960s included Mervin C. Dillner, Murl Anderson, Raymond Reistad, Leonard Heck (Junior High), Allan Peterson, Alvin Ritter (Junior High), Edna Ackal, and George Stevens. The assistant principals included Jack Richardson, Gustave V. D’Ari, and acting Deputy Principal Mrs. Y. Franz Barili.

The 1961 school year reported some of the unique events at the school during the first eleven years:

Wheelus High has seen many unique events at its Tripoli, Lybia, site since the first day it opened its doors eleven years ago. Students can remember the day its courtyard, with the typical Libyan date and olive trees glistening in the warm Mediterranean sun, was submerged and the rooms were inches deep in rain water! They recall the laughter that rang through the halls when everyone ran barefoot from class to class. And there may have been a few nostalgic tears when work began this year to beautify and level the courtyard.

Visits to the Italian and Libyan schools and return trips by their students will be among the memories too. Many will recall in future years the hurried trips to the junior high campus for art, music, shop, and home economics classes. They will remember the cheering of the student body as the Uaddans were victorious, some of the time, at the outdoor basketball games.

The list of memories will also include the many teachers, the tight bus schedules, the assemblies ranging from talent shows to a reading lecture, the trips to Leptis Magna and other historical sites in this ancient nation, and the smell of shahi.

Last, but not least, Wheelus students will recall the friends met and the opportunities enjoyed. Wheelus High School will remember each person as a piece of her history, and each person will remember the school as a steppingstone to the future.

We will all remember . . . the halls of Wheelus High and the Shores of Tripoli.

The 1962 yearbook highlighted the school atmosphere:

Wheelus High School may boast with justifiable pride, that in recent years, its rate of growth and general standards have skyrocketed to surpass previous expectations. We, the student body, are proud to be a part of an organization to which we, ourselves, have contributed both time and effort. Directed by the Student Council, we have planted grass and shrubbery on our campus, laid down sidewalks, and erected fences. Our school may be proud of the fact that we have one of the few High School Radio Stations in the world. Also, we have received recognition for the productions of our drama club and for the highly successful carnivals run by the upper classes in the local, as well as American, community.

The academic standards of Wheelus High School are, at present, at an all-time high. Not only do we maintain scholarship, but we support it with a community scholarship fund and a Student of the Month program designed to give recognition to deserving students.

The pride reflected in our recent history and in the present endeavors of our student body is the product of continued cooperation among our classes, the administration and base officials. Our memories of school days spent at Wheelus will long be cherished, for her waving palms and fresh sea-breezes will, all too soon, be a part of days gone by.

Some highlights of the 1962-63 school year were the first Russian Club and a unique venue for a school drama production. The students presented Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream amid the ruins of the Roman theater in Sabratha, Libya. By the 1964-65 school year, the junior high students had their own newspaper, The Inkspot, and the name of the yearbook became Nomad. The school’s Alma Mater is listed below. Distributive Business Education and a Work Experience Program were added to the curriculum for the 1964-65 school year. In 1969 the school newspaper became The Sandscript.


By the shining coastal waters
Stands a school so true.
Wheelus High, our Alma Mater,
Banners white and blue.
Wheelus High School, Wheelus High School,
Loud her praise we tell;
Wheelus High, our Alma Mater,
School we love so well.
Gently are the palm trees swaying
With the sands of time
Wheelus High will live forever
In your heart and mine.


When the school closed after the 1969-70 school year, there were thirty-eight faculty members for the over 575 students in grades seven through twelve. In September 1969, King Idris I was overthrown by a group of military officers centered around Muammar Gaddafi. Before the revolution, the US and Libya had already reached an agreement on the withdrawal of US forces from Wheelus. This withdrawal proceeded according to the plan and Wheelus Air Base was turned over to the Libyan authorities on 11 June 1970.


Information from school yearbooks

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