BANGOR – Many of the buildings are gone and those that remain at the former Dow Air Force Base have taken on a different life, but the memories remain strong for members of the 49th Fighter Squadron.
Marking three decades as an organization, the 49th Fighter Squadron Association held its annual reunion in Bangor over the weekend, celebrating its past and preparing for the future.
The squadron has been deactivated, reactivated and shuffled around the country since World War II. It now operates as the 49th Fighter Training Squadron at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.
In Bangor, the squadron was active twice in the past 60 years: from 1946 to 1949, and then again from 1952 to 1955.
For Paul Scoskie, a former squadron technician, the familiar feelings came back as he stood on the tarmac, not quite in the same spot where the squadron was located decades ago. But the terrain seemed the same, and just being at the site brought back memories, he said.
“It was a little bit teary,” said Scoskie, who lives in Miami.
For many of the 49th squadron, the weekend’s reunion in Bangor was the first time in many decades they had been back to the city, let alone to the former base that had been their home. More than 100 members returned, representing about half of the association’s roster.
The base closed in 1968, and, since then, its property has been shared by the city, the University of Maine System, businesses and the Maine Air National Guard.
“We had some fine times, we had some tough times, but what’s been my experience with Bangor is the friendly people,” said Scoskie, who served with the 49th from 1953 to 1955.
On a bus tour Saturday of the former Air Force base and current Maine Air National Guard base, the former squadron members rode through some old stomping grounds. But grass and empty space now mark where the barracks once stood.
A military hospital now serves as a child care center operated by the Penquis Community Action Program. Some buildings, now in the hands of the University of Maine System, are used as dormitories, while others have become offices.
An old ramp where the squadron planes once were parked was covered over with 8 inches of topsoil and serves as home for the Department of Human Services offices.
Nearby, a parking lot on the former ramp area is used as a practice location for bus and truck drivers, said Lt. Col. Mark Tuck of the 101st Air Refueling Wing. Tuck served as tour guide Saturday.
Even before the official tour, some association members had done a little touring of their own, trying to track down familiar landmarks.
Bob Craine of Portland, a former pilot who flew F-86s – known for being effective against Soviet-built MiGs during the Korean War – went looking for the Pilots Grill restaurant. He has passed through Bangor in the past, but had yet to stop and visit the former base.
When Craine served in the squadron, the popular restaurant was at the very end of the runway. Pilots heading down the runway took off close to the restaurant. “We practically went through the parking lot,” Craine said.
But over the weekend, Craine and others couldn’t find the familiar landmark where they hoped to get a nostalgic meal.
“We drove up and down Hammond Street and I said, ‘Hell, I know it’s supposed to be right there at the end of the runway,’” Craine said.
The problem was, the restaurant had moved in 1956, one year after the 49th squadron was relocated to Massachusetts. The relocated Pilots Grill has since closed.
For squadron members, the weekend was a reunion that almost wasn’t. A few years ago, the World War II veterans who founded the 49th Fighter Squadron Association in 1974 were finding it difficult to maintain the organization and seriously considered liquidating its assets.
About the same time, former squadron member Lee Briner was trying to locate Korean War era members of the 49th to hold a reunion of their own. Briner said that when the World War II veterans told him about the possibility of shuttering the organization’s doors, he insisted it stay open.
“Our children and our grandchildren have to know what you went through to make this world what it is,” Briner told the World War II veterans. Briner was elected commander of the association this weekend.
Post-World War II squadron members acknowledge that they, too, are getting older and one day will have to pass the torch.
But they are confident that with the continued presence of the 49th, there will be a next generation to continue to preserve memories of the squadron.
On Saturday, about a dozen planes from the 49th Fighter Training Squadron in Georgia flew in, and as they taxied, the canopies opened and the pilots pumped their fists in the air, as older members stood by and clapped.
The squadron is in good hands, Scoskie said.