Whitesburg KY

USAF — A great way of life

At McGhee-Tyson Air Force Base, all the aircraft of the 354th FIS were to be flown to different bases in the U.S. All would be gone by Oct. 15, 1957. The 469th FIS would stay on the base and be assigned to the Tennessee National Guard. The base would be completely shut down by Dec. 15. One master sergeant, who was nearing retirement, would stay as an advisor for the National Guard.

We started inspecting the aircraft and the spare engines. All that were in good condition were shipped and flown out. The last plane left the first week of October and the last engine a week later. All extra engine parts were shipped to Tinker AFB, Okla. In the jet engine shop, we had nothing to do.

A bulldozer was sent to the golf course, where it dug a gigantic hole. All the vehicles in the motor pool awaiting parts were towed to the hole. Typewriters, aircraft tugs, picnic tables, desks, tables, and chairs were dumped into the hole. Another hole was dozed out, then another was dozed out and filled. We dumped millions of dollars of used equipment into these holes, then the dozers covered them up. Grass and bushes were planted on top of them.

I cleaned out the squadron commander’s office. I found all the old squadron photos and took them home. (I later sent them to the Information Office of the 354th FIS when it was reorganized in Korea in 1969.)

The first of November, everything was gone except us. We would come to work, have roll call, police up the area, and go home. By the end of November, we just called in every day.

Assignments came in. We lined up at Personnel. The ones of the base the longest got the best assignments. I was third from the end of the line for jet engine mechanics. There were three assignments left. I could choose between Plattsburgh AFB, New York; Minot, North Dakota; or Great Falls, Montana. I chose Plattsburgh.

We had a parade, and the base was officially closed. The Air Force gave us the Presidential Outstanding Unit Award.

The Air Force came up with a program where if you had over three years in the service, you could reenlist for six years. I did just that, and got a bonus of $468, a fortune to me. I felt sad when I left Tennessee.

The same time the base closed, the local Alcoa plant also closed, and 2,000 people lost their jobs. Two years later, I drove by there, and all the service stations and other stores were boarded up. It was a great loss for that town.

My wife was seven months pregnant. My father and father-in-law came and picked us up and drove us to Colson. I wrapped up in a quilt and rode home in the back of the truck on Dec. 19.

It was time I found out what it was like living in the north. I stayed home for 20 days, the caught the bus to Plattsburgh AFB.

When I left basic training in New York in August 1955, I saw some very large yellow vehicles in the motor pool. I didn’t know what they were, but I was soon to find out what a snowplow was.

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