War broke out in Korea in June, 1950, and I was told that I was being assigned to Sampson Air Base, Geneva, N.Y., one of the three training command bases to train our men for this new war.
I arrived in Geneva the 19th of December, 1950, right before Christmas. I was one of the first to arrive and, not knowing where the base was located, I stopped at a restaurant for food and directions.
Immediately the waitress picked up all the menus and replaced them with new one with new prices. They were going to make a fortune off of the ‘new soldiers,’ as we were called by them.
I went to the base and found the gate chained and locked, and a couple of men standing around with their hands in their pockets. We went back to town for a hacksaw, and cut the chain.
When the Navy left the base after World War II, they seemed to have locked the gate and just walked out. They left cars, bicycles, Cushman scooters in the motor pool, and a couple of small boats were found tied up on the dock. We had a grand old time pilfering the base until a couple of officers arrived.
I had just turned 20 years old a month before, but I already had five years of military, and was to be the NCOIC of the base printing department.
Most of the guys who left Lackland Air Field in San Antonio, Tex., to go to Samson were volunteers, as their parents lived in the Northeast. I was not one of them and was somewhat disappointed with Samson and the town of Geneva.
Within days and weeks, other permanent men arrived, all from Southern bases, and it was a cold January. It was more like an outdoor camping trip than a military base. The weeds were high, windows were broken out and doors were missing, water lines frozen, and none of us Southern boys knew how to fix a furnace.
Wives and children were left behind as there was no place to live that we could afford as the prices in town went up as soon as we arrived. Six or eight months later some of the barracks were converted into apartments. I had been named ‘key personnel’ with the job I had, and was lucky enough to be the only staff sergeant to get one of the apartments on July 26, 1951.
I was at Sampson for the four years of the war in Korea. I was taking The Mountain Eagle at that time, and I wrote a piece in the newspaper telling the folks in Letcher County to have their sons stationed at Sampson to get in touch with me and I would try to help them.
I talked to many boys from Letcher County and helped some of them to get the school they wanted or the assignment they wished for after their basic training. I even had a few on detail in my print shop that I talked to and took some of them to our mess hall. They loved it.
I also talked to some of their parents who came to Sampson for a visit with their sons.
When a classified report came across my desk from the Pentagon saying they were closing the base, I was the first to get out of that cold place.