Air and Space Show brings up memories of Westover in its prime many years ago

July 19, 2018 | G. Michael Dobbs

I once wrote that I frequently see “ghosts” in my daily travels. No, not the spirits of the dead, but rather the memories of the way things used to look pop up.

Perhaps nowhere does this happen the most than when I have a reason to be at Westover Air Reserve Base.

You see, that’s ghost number one: I wanted to write “Westover Air Force Base.”

Westover has figured prominently in my life. My dad was career Air Force and was stationed at Westover twice and then retired from the base. During his career he flew a B-17 in WWII, a B-29 in Korea, a B-50 and then a B-52.

Like many Air Force personnel, he retired close to the base believing it would be there offering the services to veterans that had been promised to them.

He, like others, could not have anticipated that one of the nation’s premiere runway facilities would change.

I was at the Great New England Air and Space Show on Saturday morning along with thousands of other people.  I got onto the base through a way that relatively few people know about – the gate in Granby.

That’s the gate my parents used to access the base after my dad retired from the Air Force in 1968.

My memories of Westover go back to the late 1950s and early 1960s when my father commanded a B-52. My earliest memory is visiting him at the “Mole Hole.” When my dad’s crew was on alert, they lived in an underground facility ready at a moment’s notice to fly their bomber to where it was needed.

My dad would come out at a pre-arranged time, walk up to the fence that surrounded the Mole Hole and talk to us.

The Mole Hole is now the terminal at the civilian part of the base.

The older hangers that are still in use were part of the landscape, along with the commissary where my mother frequently shopped and the Base Exchange, another staple in our household.

The commissary is long gone, but the Base Exchange is still there.

Also gone is the base’s movie theater. For some reason the person booking the theater seemed to like horror and science fiction films. I recall my brother and I seeing  “Scream of the Banshee,” “Latitude Zero, and “The Devil’s Bride,” among others there.

When we moved to Granby, our home was under one of the flight paths for the base. There were people in town who hated the fact the planes approaching the runway for landing would go over their homes.

We didn’t. To this day hearing the scream of a jet actually comforts me a bit.

Also to this day, whenever I hear a plane overhead I look. That also came from my childhood in Western Massachusetts.

At the Air Show, I always make two pilgrimages. I have to see if there is a B-52 present as well as a B-17. At the end of my dad’s first deployment at Westover in 1962, he received permission from his commander to show his two sons a B-52. At that time, it was state-of-art technology and it wasn’t something members of the public could readily see. We saw the bomb bay and the cat walk that the rear gunner used to reach the only gun defending the plane in its tail.

It was truly impressive, as it remains to me today. It’s just no longer state-of-the-art.

The B-17 was my dad’s first plane and his favorite.  As a kid I saw one on display at Chanute Air Force base in Illinois. It looked huge.

Now I see one at the Air Show and I realize just how small they were. My dad once told me the plane was designed to carry the greatest number of bombs it could while the crew was crammed into some tight spaces.

It’s been a privilege to have flown twice in B-17s at previous shows.

The Air Show brings back so many memories to a person such as myself, but I also hope it allows people to achieve at least a small understanding of the responsibilities thrust upon members of the military, as well as the sacrifices they are asked to make.

I need to add that once agin the folks responsible for the presentation of the Air Show did a masterful job. it was a pleasure to attend and cover it.

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