This is being written with my apologies to the movie “Dr. Strangelove…” but I just could not think of a better title. I was born and raised in Plattsburgh, New York, which is in the upper extreme right-hand corner of the state. Plattsburgh is a small city of about 20,000 people surrounded by dairy farms, apple orchards, and maple sugaring operations. It has a large state college which brings people from not only the state but from all over the world to study and teach. The Plattsburgh area is also on the shores of Lake Champlain and the edge of the Adirondack Mountains. It is a vacation paradise for those who love the outdoors. It also home to many retail stores. This brought many tourists into our area, especially from Canada. Many times the parking lots would have more cars from Canada than from N.Y. For many years (1815 to 1995) it also had a military base which of course drew in more people from many different places. When I was growing up, the Air Force Strategic Air Command was in full vigor in Plattsburgh. All theses things made the Plattsburgh area a unique and diverse place to grow up.
The pictures were taken by me on Armed Forces Day in May of 1964. Armed Forces Day is celebrated on the third Saturday in May. It was meant to replace the separate Navy, Air Force, and Army days that were (and still are) observed. Louis Johnson who was the U.S. Secretary of Defense created the observance in 1949. When you are young and live in a small town, a parade is a good way to spend part of your day. It was always a sight to see the airmen marching by in their dress uniforms. Local high school bands were sure to march also. Fire trucks, police cars, also were sure to be in the parade. So in 1964 my sister and I made our way downtown (yes we walked there all by ourselves) to watch the parade and take pictures
My intentions originally in writing this post was just to share these pictures from the days of my youth and talk about family pictures. However, as I started to work on this, I got to thinking more and more about how it was to grow up in a town the was home to a Strategic Air Command base that had scores of B52 Bombers fully ready to strike at Russia or any enemy of the United States. Not only did we have the air force base but our valley was ringed by Atlas Missile Sites, ready to launch at a moments notice. It was no secret that our little town was very high on the strike list of any enemy the U.S. was to have. Most people today would be amazed how normal life was even with all this danger around them.
I can recall sitting on our front porch on a summers evening and listening to the roar of the B52 engines being warmed up on the runway tarmac miles from us. How that sound could carry. It was as normal to hear that as it would be to hear the crickets chirp at night. We, of course, had air raid drills at school. Sometimes we would take cover in our classrooms by or under our desk. Other times in the hallway outside the classrooms, and about once a year we would march to a door where we were told was the air raid shelter. I think it was just the furnace room. Also once a year we had what was called a go home drill. We liked this one because you were let out of school early at about noon. You were told to walk not run and have your parent sign a slip stating what time you got home. We were told in case of an attack if we had enough time we would be sent home. I remember during the Cuban Missile Crisis everyone was to keep a box of necessary items to be thrown into your car if we had enough time to get out of town. I had wanted to put in a checker game into the box, but my mother said no. I have no idea now why I thought this game was a necessity, but I did. I wanted it in my mother did not. So we argued until my father stepped in. Now my father never failed to back up my mother (a lesson I used when I had children) except this time, when he said “let him have it. It won’t make any difference anyway.” Something in the way it was said gave me a better understanding of the trouble we were in.
I do not want you to think the air base was terrible. It was not. Like the tourist, the area people, and the college it brought much life and good to the area. The air base gave me the chance to meet people from all over the Untied States and helped me to sharpen and form my opinions and outlook on life. Why many of us city kids knew where in the chain link fence we could slip through and attend movies on base for almost nothing. I wonder what would happen today if someone was caught doing that. Friends were made good times were had, and I am glad to have these memories.