Whitesburg KY

Letcher County recruits did training at Sampson Air Base

When war broke out in Korea in June, 1950, Sampson Air Force Base, N.Y., was opened the train all recruits in the eastern states. I was picked to open the printing department.

I reported to the base Dec. 17, 1950, two months before training started.

I drove into Geneva, N.Y., and stopped at a service station to ask for directions to Sampson. No one could tell me how to get there. A policeman came by and gave me directions. Sampson was a Navy base during World War II.

When I arrived, the snow, high grass and weeds were everywhere. I drove through the main gate, no Air Police or anybody to show me where to go, and then found out they only had three building in use: the mess hall, barracks and the headquarters.

I signed in and found out there were 37 enlisted men who had come from five training command bases all over the U.S. I arrived at Sampson a month after my 21st birthday.

I had three years in grade as a corporal, with six years in the service. I found the print shop. It was a small broom closet with one printing press.

I turned the press on and it walked all over the floor. I was told to type up orders on all the enlisted men to receive the next highest strip. Those promotions were the first special orders at Sampson.

Our barracks were just off the lake, and we had an old Navy bus we rode to the mess hall each morning. Someone had to go out with a razorblade and cut the frozen spray from the door of the bus so it could be opened.

Having been assigned to Lackland Field for three years, I almost froze to death that first winter.

Basic training started Feb. 4, 1951, and we had 18 printers by that time.

I wrote a letter to be printed in The Mountain Eagle in the early 1950s, telling parents of their boys taking training at Sampson, that their sons could get in touch with me if I could do anything for them or if they just wanted to talk to someone from home.

By working in the base headquarters, I had a lot of pull and could get the young men the career they wanted, and the school or base they wanted.

I got some of them assigned to Sampson. Two of the men I went to school with in Jenkins. I helped some the Letcher County boys get what they wanted.

Maybe I saved some from death in Korea. A couple of parents came to visit their son, and took me out for lunch. At one time I knew some of their names. The only ones I know now are those who went to school with me.

Four years later, the talk was that Sampson was going to be closed down, the war was over. Bad location and the bad weather were the reasons given.

I didn’t want to get caught in the mad rush of people getting out of there, so I put in for a transfer. I did not have it as bad as some of my friends. I was the only staff sergeant with quarters on base because of the job I had.

Contributing writer Everett Vanover lives in Fairfield, Calif.

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