Armed Forces Day Parade or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Here comes the United States Air Force. I can recall being disappointed that they did not march with rifles. Armed Forces Day Parade, Plattsburgh, N.Y., May 1964.

 

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.

 

My sister Ronni taking a pose while waiting for the parade. Plattsburgh, May 1964.

 

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

 

That’s me Charles Moore posing while my sister take a photograph. She showed more skill with the camera than I did. Plattsburgh, N.Y. May 1964.

 

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.

 

Armed Forces Day Parade with a local high school marching band. May 1964.

 

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.

We got very use to having these big ugly fat fellows (BUFF) around. If you ever watched one take off with a full load you would swear that they flapped their wings just like a bird as the came down the runway.
Boeing B-52 Stratofortress: B-52F Boeing photo
PictionID:44795985 – Title:Boeing B-52 Stratofortress: B-52F Boeing photo – Catalog:16_005979 – Filename:16_005979.tif – – – – – Image from the Ray Wagner Collection. Ray Wagner was Archivist at the San Diego Air and Space Museum for several years and is an author of several books on aviation –

 

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.

This is one of the missile silo sites just a few miles from Plattsburgh.
Convair SM-65F Atlas, Site 6 Au Sable Forks NY.
This image or file is a work of a U.S. Air Force Airman or employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image or file is in the public domain in the United States.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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33 Responses to Armed Forces Day Parade or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

  1. Luanne @ TFK says:

    I could never figure out what was accomplished by us hiding under our flimsy little desks! What a false sense of security. On another note, that is such a beautiful area of the country. So lovely.

  2. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Enjoyed your travel through time.

  3. GP Cox says:

    I was only in Plattsburgh once, but really don’t remember much. Although these pictures and your story brought back many childhood memories I do recall – thanks, Charles!!

    • chmjr2 says:

      It was a different time that is for sure. The memories that come over me when I look at old pictures for my blog sometimes surprise me, as they are of things I thought I had forgotten. Glad you like the post.

  4. KerryCan says:

    Once again, Charles, your memories are so much like mine! It was odd how we just got used to the sound of the B-52s and the cargo planes taking off. Now when even a small plane comes around I notice but I never really heard all that big noise. My cousin recently had some slides from the late 1930s scanned to a CD and many of the photos showed military maneuvers, complete with tanks, up on Rand Hill! Lots of military history here.

  5. flamingdarts says:

    The words which stuck out to me were, “…have your parent sign a slip stating what time you got home.” Fat chance of that happening today. Well, if perchance you survived, checkers would be good. Better than taking an electronic game, which the EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) would definitely terminate. Othello would be good too. My daughter (now 45) always whips me at checkers, while I can hold my own with Othello. One mightn’t think so, but this brought back the “good ol’ days.”

    • chmjr2 says:

      Yes having a parent home at noon time today is not very common. I am never sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Othello is a game I just can’t play well. Checkers was the game for me.

  6. Peter Klopp says:

    Here again you excel in making history interesting by connecting it with your own family history. These were dangerous times threatening world peace, but you and your family felt safe and protected. And that was the most important thing, Charles.

    • chmjr2 says:

      Thank you once again for your kind comment. I must agree they were very dangerous times and also very interesting. I would not trade this time period to grow up in with anyone, if it were possible.

  7. Amy says:

    I also remember hiding under our desks. It was so frightening and so pointless. I wonder what message they were really trying to send. They must have known that sitting under a desk was never going to keep us safe. Were they trying to scare us so we’d hate the Commies? Or were they trying to make us believe we could be safe in the event of a nuclear war?

    Great post, Charles.

    • chmjr2 says:

      Perhaps it falls under the heading of doing something is better than nothing. From what I can recall and read on the subject many people thought civil defense could save lives. Perhaps, but for what? Plattsburgh had a civil defense plan that even won an award for being one of the best. When they were interviewed by some large newspapers and asked about the plan they said the plan was really simple. “To get out of town as fast as you can” I still smile when I think about this.

      • Amy says:

        LOL! Being so close to the Canadian border, perhaps they thought they’d be safe if they crossed the border?

      • chmjr2 says:

        Montreal to the North of us, Atlas Missiles to the South and all around, Lake Champlain to the east, so we planned to go deep into the Adirondack Mountains. At least it was a plan.

  8. Miss Quoted says:

    I think checkers was a great idea. Personally, I’d want to bring a couple of books. If you are going to be stuck away from home for any amount of time, you’d definitely want something to do, right?

    • chmjr2 says:

      For whatever reason checkers was important to me to bring. So in the box it went with the canned goods and other necessary items needed to survive.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    I appreciated your long post about life then. I too remember hiding under my desk in first grade(1953). We thought it was protection against flying glass. When I was in Guam for work in 1973, B-52s were taking off to bomb Cambodia even though we weren’t bombing Cambodia. Not too secret a war. I just made a donation to some Viet Nam vets collecting outside our Dunkin Donuts. What startled me is that they are now older than the WWII vets I remember from high school in our parades.

    • chmjr2 says:

      Yes time does march on and we (the lucky ones) all age. Also one has to be careful about flying glass. I do recall that is one of the dangers they talked about.

  10. These are some wonderful memories – I especially enjoyed the details about slipping through the chain link fence to watch movies on the base. The photos are great. Thank you for sharing.

  11. I grew up near a naval base in Alameda, California. The base in now just a memory, but we would have drills too. We would have to hide under our desks. I have visited Pennsylvania once, many years ago. It is such a pretty state, an I loved the history of the places I visited.

  12. chmjr2 says:

    Did you ever get to go on base a go on a ship? The air base would have a open house about once a year if my memory is correct.

  13. Green Sun says:

    Great post! I remember in elementary school, we still had to do nuclear drills. Even in second grade I was a little concerned that my pressboard desk wouldn’t do too much against a ballistic nuclear missile. But who knows? Maybe the asbestos in the school roof would have shielded us. 🙂

    • chmjr2 says:

      Some of the stuff does seem silly. Goes with the times I guess. Now schools have active shooter drills, with safety measures that really are just as good as hiding under your desk waiting for the bomb to fall. But the asbestos risk is for the most part gone.

  14. Spyro says:

    I will never forget crouching under the desk in elementary school for air raid drills. Thank you.

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