A local construction firm completed a small airfield known as Naka Hikojo, or Yara Hikojo, just prior to the 1 April 1945 invasion of Okinawa known as Operation ICEBERG. The airfield was built near the Ryukyuan village of Kadena. This airfield was one of the first objectives of the Tenth Army at the time of the invasion. The field was captured and secured just hours after the initial landings. American troops found a deserted and badly damaged 1500-meter coral-surfaced runway. U.S. Army engineers went to work filling craters and making other repairs; by nightfall that day, the airfield was usable for emergency landings only. Eight days later, with the addition of eight inches of coral, the airfield became fully operational. By August 1945, an additional runway was built, and the existing strip lengthened in order to accommodate bombers.
Kadena Air Base was first used as a fighter and medium bomber base. The 316th Bombardment Wing was the first unit responsible for operating the base. The wing fell under control of the Eighth Air Force and Lt. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, whose headquarters was established on Kadena Air Base in July 1945. President Harry S. Truman announced the end of the offensive action against Japan on 15 August 1945. The formal surrender of Japanese forces in the Ryukyu Islands came on 7 September 1945. Gen. Joseph W. Stillwell accepted the surrender on Kadena Air Base with General Doolittle in attendance.
The 316th Bombardment Wing remained at Kadena Air Base, coming under the control of the 1st Air Division until the wing's inactivation in 1948. On 1 December 1948, the 13th Air Force moved to Kadena Air Base. When the 13th Air Force moved on to Clark Air Base in the Philippines in 1949, the 20th Air Force became the host unit on Kadena Air Base. From the end of World War II to the beginning of the Korean conflict, Kadena Air Base supported operations and training for B-29 bomber aircraft and reconnaissance units. On 27 June 1950, two days after the invasion by the North Korean Army, the 19th Bombardment Group moved from Andersen Air Base Guam, to Kadena Air Base. The bomber aircraft moved quickly, arriving before the end of the month. In August 1950, the 307th Bomb Group, under Strategic Air Command, moved from MacDill Field, Florida, to Kadena Air Base. The bomb group's B-29 aircraft enlarged the bomber force on Kadena Air Base.
The signing of the Korean armistice on 27 July 1953 began the exodus of B-29 aircraft from Kadena Air Base. By October 1954, the last bomber aircraft departed the island of Okinawa. In November 1954, the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing moved from the Republic of Korea to Kadena Air Base. The 18th brought two flying squadrons equipped with F-86 Sabrejets to Kadena Air Base. A third flying squadron from Clark Air Base, joined the wing within a few months.
The organizational make-up of Kadena Air Base has undergone many changes over the past 56 years. Many different units have played host on Kadena Air Base, beginning with the U.S. Army's 13th Combat Battalion of the 7th Infantry Division from 2 April through 4 September 1945. The 316th Bombardment Wing followed the Army from 5 September 1945 to 31 December 1949. The 6332nd Air Base Wing assumed host responsibilities on Kadena Air Base from 1 January 1950 until 30 April 1955. The first major U.S. Air Force unit reorganization took place on 1 May 1955; the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing took over the duties of host unit until 31 January 1957.
On 1 February 1957, the 18th Air Base Group transferred from the 18th Wing to the 313th Air Division and assumed the base duties. Then, on 1 October 1957, the 6313th Air Base Wing, under the control of the 313th Air Division became the host unit until 9 December 1964. The 824th Combat Support Group, under the 313th Air Division, would hold the host honor for almost ten years. The final unit to host Kadena Air Base would be the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing on 1 October 1974. Even though the wing's designation has changed over the years, the host unit has remained the same for the last 26 years.