Cold War Memories at Westover
April 1, 1955: The Strategic Air Command (SAC)
takes control of Westover AFB. The 4050th Air
Refueling Wing becomes the host unit of Westover
as the Strategic Air Command (SAC) takes over
the base from the Military Air Transport Service
Sept. 24, 1958: Capt. William H. Howell, 99th Air
Refueling Squadron, captures a world weightlifting
record flying a Westover KC-135A Stratotanker,
airlifting a 78,089-pound payload more than one
mile into the air.
Jan. 9, 1961: The 347th Bombardment Squadron –
one of three B-52 flying units of the 99th Bomb
Wing – is reassigned to McCoy AFB, Fla., leaving
the 346th and 348th Bombardment Squadrons at
April 1962: Strategic Air Command (SAC)
establishes a auxiliary airborne command post at
Westover. This was a Boeing EC-135 packed with
Nov. 10, 1965: The last KC-97 tanker leaves
Westover for the boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB,
April 1, 1966: The Air Force Reserve’s 905th Military
Airlift Group, flying C-124C Globemaster II
transports, moves to Westover from Bradley
International Airport, Conn.
March 31, 1970: Eighth Air Force headquarters
concludes operations, ending almost 15 years at
Westover, and moves to Andersen AFB, Guam.
Sept. 15, 1972: The 4713th Defense Systems
Evaluation Squadron, with its EB-57 Canberras,
begins operations at Westover.
July 12, 1973: The 590th Air Force Band performs its
farewell concert. Among the first active-duty Air
Force units to leave the base following the Air
Force’s announcement of the partial closure of
Westover, the band left on Aug. 24 for McGuire
May 19, 1974: Westover becomes the nation’s first
Air Force Reserve base.
Sources for this article include the history archives of the
439th Airlift Wing, past editions of the “Patriot,” Westover’s
base newspaper; a Strategic Air Command website; “An
Historical Walking Tour of Westover Air Reserve Base,” the
Pioneer Valley Planning Commission; and “Active Air
Force Bases Within the United States of America,” by the
USAF Historical Research Center; and “The Development of
the Strategic Air Command 1946-1981
Web site visitors share memories of Westover
Air traffic controller recalls working RAPCON in late 1960s
A 439th Tactical Airlift Wing C-123K Provider takes off by the control tower in this mid-1970s
photo. Note the famous SAC emblem still on the tower. When was the emblem removed?,
If anyone has any information on when this might have occurred, please let me know by
clicking on the Comments page. Crews literally tore the 1962-built structure down to the
ground in July 2002. Being the Westover history nut that I am, I retrieved a concrete block
from the rubble as a keepsake!
- photo from Westover Patriot newsletter archives
We had a west departure scope for
departing aircraft where another controller
would work. We had an arrival controller
where another controller sat and worked
the inbound traffic. And we had the
capability to open up a separate scope for
traffic around Barnes Airport. We did
control arrivals of course into Westover but
also into Westfield, Northampton and
Palmer airports. There were seven people
on each shift - all military.
Q. Did the aircraft use 15/33, like the C-5
pilots do these days?
A. Yes, when the wind dictated it we did.
Northwest winds we used 33 and southeast
Q. Did you work a lot of the minimum
interval takeoffs with the tankers and
A. Yes, MITO for short and I remember the
scrambles with the B-52s. Also MARSA
where Military Assumes Responsibility for
Separation of Aircraft.
Q. Was everything on UHF in those days?
A. No, civilians were on VHF so we had the
capability for both. Although civilians did not
land at Westover we worked them into
Westfield, Northampton, Palmer and
Q. Was there anything you particularly liked
about working at such a large and important
base? Anything you disliked?
A. It was like a miniature city with its own
schools, hospitals, stores, etc. Very
self-sufficient. Loved being on the fast pitch
softball team. Actually the beginning of a
long time playing softball for me. Also was
on the bowling league. I disliked having to
work the shifts we worked. It always seemed
like you were working. We started on the 5
p.m. to midnight shift. Then came in the next
day at noon at worked until 5 p.m. Then came
in the next morning at 7 a.m. until noon, then
back at midnight. Short shifts but always
working. Then two days off and into the same
Q. Where did you live - on-base or off-base?
A. I had a room in the barracks but did
mostly live at home in Enfield, Conn.
The following is my e-mail interview with Tom Hildreth,
an excellent photogapher, former Air Force and Air
National Guard historian, and someone who lived next
door to Westover during the base's busiest era. You
can see Tom's photos on many of my pages.
Q. Glad you liked the 1957 aerial. Very interesting
indeed! You can see there are no KC-135s yet. But
look closely on the flight line and you'll see a B-47
parked between the BUFFs.
A. Yes, I noticed that Stratojet. Actually there were probably
more B-47 wings that reported to HQ 8th AF at Westover
than B-52 wings. That is just because there were so many B-
47 wings-they made 2,000 Stratojets.
Q. When did you live in South Hadley?
A. We moved from Holyoke to South Hadley in spring, 1955.
At both school systems there were many USAF dependents,
and I had many as friends. My best friend’s dad in South
Hadley was a navigator on the KC-135s from 1956, having
arrived from Little Rock. Only through knowing Ritchie Jones
did I learn there was such a thing as racial problems, as
Little Rock was an historic moment for African Americans
Q. I can only imagine the sights and noise from the
base. It must have been very busy.
A. An early South Hadley recollection is watching the F-86Ds
at dusk blasting out over Granby in afterburner, flame
showing brightly. A few years later the 337th FIS had F-
104As and routinely broke the sound barrier,
Tom Hildreth and his friends pictured above are the late
Daniel H. Moore (center) and Paul Bernier, left, all from
South Hadley Falls, Mass. They are standing underneath
B-52C #54-2685 during a Westover Armed Forces Day.
Karen Malinowski lived in Chicopee. I
interviewed her in the fall of 2001. She
recalled what it was like to grow up near
Westover. She lived in a house near Granby
Road until she was 19.
Q. What was the flight activity at Westover like back
A. It was constant. When I was a kid it used to make us
feel good because my dad was in the military, and he
used to say, ‘As long as you hear those planes you know
you’re safe.’ As kids it was excruciating. They
constantly flew over and they were real close. They
were just taking off because we were in their flight
path. By the time they were over our house it looked
like they were on the roof of our parents’ house when
they took off. They were that close.
Q. Was it to a point where you got used to it or did you
ever get used to it?
A. Well, you kind of got used to it. When you were out
playing, you would just stop for a minute. Then when it
was gone you started talking again. But then
sometimes it was annoying because they would come
one after another after another. And you’d wonder
when are they going to stop?
Q. Describe a typical afternoon as a child in your back
A. We used to lay on our backs and look up in the air
and watch them. The way the base was … when the
planes took off … you thought you could almost touch
them. We could read the writing on them. They had
little funny designs on them. One would have
something like Woody Woodpecker or something on
it. The jets were huge and loud, oh my God loud. I
remember you hear them go through the sound barrier.
It was like this pop noise or something like that.
Q. What was it like growing up next to a huge Air Force
base? Describe the human connection.
A lot of the kids whose parents were stationed there
went to our school. It was just kind of sad though
because a lot of them would be there for a short time
and then the following year they wouldn’t be back,
because they had to move. My sister was really
devastated when a friend of hers that she was really
close with had left. You’d meet all of these new friends
and have a ball and then all of a sudden the following
year they would be gone, and that was the bad part of
it. I loved having that base there. I saw men and
women in uniform everywhere.
Q. What about the base today?
A. It makes me feel good. I like the planes there. I like
that base there. If it were to be gone I think it would
bother me. I feel safe with it there.
99th Bomb Wing, 814th Supply Squadron, POL
December 1964- June 1968
I have many recollections of Westover, I was here during the "Great Blackout of the Northeast," I was here during "Operation Arc Light" and when the Reserves
moved her from Bradley Field with their C-124s.
I first arrived at Westover in December of 1964 and remained stationed there until June of 1968 (5 June); the first thing I can recall was watching the assassination
of Robert Kennedy on the day of my discharge.
When I first arrived here I remember being told of the population of the base...25,000 military and dependents. It’s considerably smaller now but the dedication of
those here remains just as committed as when SAC was here.
Westover has been a major influence on me virtually my entire adult life and quite frankly know one could ask for a better influence.
18th Communications Squadron
I came to Westover after completing a 12-month tour on North Mountain at Thule AB, Greenland. I was assigned to the 18th Comm Sqdn, and worked in the
maintenance section at the Short Order Receiver Site which was located near the curve on the road (by Ludlow gate)to the then Stony Brook AFS.
Our transmitter site was off base in Granby, Mass. "Short Order" was SAC's primary HF radio net, and as such, it played a vital part in SAC's Primary Alert Function.
Westover, Barksdale, and March field, along with Offutt in Omaha, NE., were the four primary bases (each was HQ to a numbered Air Force) and along with their
respective Combat Operation Centers coupled with the "Looking Glass" aircraft, enabled SAC to be in continual communication with any SAC base, or aircraft,
anywhere in the world.
My wife and 4-month-old daughter and I first lived in Gill's trailer park, just outside the main gate. It took us awhile to get acclimated to the noise the BUFFs made
at takeoff routinely, and ORI's were particularly LOUD. We used to joke that the "wheels rubbed the trailer roof" on that one...(seemed like it was especially loud
during inclement weather).
Even the "Cocoa" alerts were noisy living that close. Later we moved to an apartment in South Hadley Falls, and slept better. Among our many memories, I would
include seeing the Kennedy's when they visited in Oct. 63, just prior to their fateful trip to Dallas. We had a big-time alert the day of the assassination, and for a
period afterwards until things calmed down.
Also, the Broken Arrow of 64 in Cumberland, Md. I was on the 8AF Disaster Control Team, but was alternate for that incident and did not make the trip. Our second
daughter was born on base 21 JUL 65. I left Westover in SEP 65 and returned to civilian life, but I will always remember the tremendous spirit that was part of the
many people that I met and worked with while being stationed there.
"Peace is Our Profession" and "Zero Defects" were two campaigns I remember that spoke highly of the people of Westover, and SAC. Westover was the largest
employer in Mass., at that time.
Thanks for what you’re doing with the web page. Keep up the good work.
I was with my father at the groundbreaking ceremony at Westover. He took the only photo that I’ve ever seen of the first spadeful of earth turned that day. The
"groundbreaker" we always thought by me to be Mayor Anthony Stonina, however I've since learned that the person pictured was Chicopee businessman J.G. Roy,
who at the time served as President of the Chicopee Board of Aldermen. Mr. Roy wore a soft hat and, in the photo, his head is tilted forward as he stepped on the
shovel, obscuring his face.
At the time of Westover's 50th anniversary I turned the photo over to people at Westover for what was supposed to be a permanent exhibit on the base. Many items
were donated by many people.
At P.J. Scott's (restaurant) there are many more historic Westover photos. I think that they may available for your use. I have other photos Pop took that day...of the
reviewing stand and a flight of B-18 bombers passing high overhead. I'm not sure that the B-18 photos are usable because with the box cameras of the day the
planes are mere dots in the sky.
I think that you've done a masterful job with the website. I have a number of anecdotes regarding Westover. Summers while attending Chicopee High School, I
worked at what was then known as the PX restaurant on the base.
99th Bomb Wing
Still serving with 439th Airlift Wing at Westover
You might have found the answer to the following already but in case you haven't the last B-52 left Westover in late March of 1972 and never returned.
We got the call to go to Guam and Thailand about mid-March of 1972. I was working 2nd shift 3 to 11 pm the night we got the call. I closed up the aircraft we had
about 2130 and headed home. about 2230 I received a call to report back to Dock 14.
We were told at that time that we were being deployed to Guam as part of Linebacker 1.
The day shift troops stayed and got the planes ready to go while the night shift troops went home to pack. The following day we all processed and by 2200 that
night we were boarding 4 commercial aircraft on the North ramp. All the 52s were launched by this time.
While in Guam we got the word that the Westover B52s would be transferred to other bases after the deployment and Westover was to be deactivated in 1974.
In September we rotated back to Westover for a 30-day basket leave but the aircraft stayed in Guam. I was getting out in January of 1973 so in October of 1972 I
watched everyone board the airplanes for their trip back to Guam.
Myself and about 6 others stayed at Westover till our discharges came doing numerous odd jobs just to keep busy. When I left in January there were no airplanes
parked on the ramp other than the reserves with their C-124s.
99th FMS electrical and missile tech.
I spent 4 years in SAC working mainly on the B-52 and also many various aircraft while in the 99th Field Maintenance Squadron from 1960 to Mar. 9th 1964. We
had mainly the "C" and "D" models of the B-52. Some of the aircraft I worked on were the F-100, F-101, F-102, F-108, B-58, BritainVulcan and Victor. I was
stationed at Westover for the Cuban Missile situation and got out just before Vietnam really got going. All in all, I liked being stationed at Westover and would
probably have stayed in, if it wasn't for the previous situation escalating in the forefront.
814th Air Police Squadron
Winters were brutal especially on midnight shift on nose or tail of the aircraft. We were issued severe weather gear called hawk gear which apparently was a term
used by airman from Chicago area as a term for wind.
It consisted of a parka with wolf's fur around the hood. Bulky lined pants and boots that were rubber and leather sheep skinned lined used by B-17 airmen on
missions over Germany. An old trick was to wear women’s nylon stockings under your pants as they were a great insulator. The only break was for chow where
they came around in a bus or 4-door international harvester pickup and dropped your relief for an hour.
We were on duty in all kinds of weather: sun, rain, wind, and snow. I remember riding out a hurricane in the wheel well of a B-52. I still recall that the tires had
strands of steel impregnated in them making it a bit uncomfortable. Keep up that great site.
814th Supply Squadron
I arrived at Westover from basic on June 14, 1963 and left Sept. 25, 1965 for Galena AFS Alaska. Westover means so much to me in precious memories that
- The lasting impression of the day working at base supply when we all received the word that President Kennedy had been shot.
- Walking into the day room at our barracks and seeing Lee Harvey Oswald being shot on television
- Remembering President Kennedy's trip to Westover the month before when he came to dedicate the Robert Frost Memorial Library at Amherst.
- My 21st birthday celebration at the Airman's club, countless visits to nearby towns. Hampton Ponds, the bar Ma Manning’s, standing up in two weddings when my
roommates married local girls
- Watching the pilots get out to the flight line for alerts from the base supply window
- All the great civilian and military buddies in the priority section of base supply where I was an aircraft monitor for grounded KC135 aircraft. I miss my friends I
never saw again after.
I think about Westover a lot. The B-52s sure made a heck of a sound I can still hear in the heart today. I thank God for all the good times the Pioneer Valley gave
me. I was discharged from Alaska, took advantage of college because of my military time, went on to teach school for 30 years and still live in my hometown of
Salamanca, N.Y. 60 miles south of Buffalo.
I wonder what ever happened to my girlfriend from Our Lady of the Elms College? The military and Westover made more of an impression than any other time
period of my life. It helped me to grow up with a sense of purpose and positive direction in my life.
Chuck Williams, 4050th Armament
Electronics and Maintenance Squadron
remembers the early 1960s:
|Though I only entered the Air Force to fulfill my national
commitment, I have always felt it was one of the best
moves I ever made in my whole working career.
While I was at Westover, there were two crashes. A
KC-135 tail # 498 crashed two miles off the north end
of the runway and a VC-97 ran off the runway after
having landed with unsafe-gear conditions and
retraction tests which were completed there at
Westover. I think a general officer who later became
commander of 13th Air Force at Clark Field was at the
I was also there when the whole base was emptied as
a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
I think the most memorable site that I experienced was
during the "Coco" alerts. ( I think that was what they
All of the alert KC-135s and the B-52s taxied down the
runway during a simulated deployment. It was my
understanding that though they provided fairly realistic
training they were actually designed to reposition the
Westover fleet around the flight line.
I was almost crushed in the tail section of a KC-135
when I was working on APN-69 Beacon radar set.
Though red plaques had been installed on both yokes,
"Do not engage Auto-pilot, Maintenance personnel
may be injured" some one enjoyed watching the
autopilot trim wheels go around and began playing
with the yoke switches. The horizontal stabilizer jack
screw "ate" my field jacket just as I was trying to get out
ORI's, TDY deployments, and just day-to-day
operations was pretty heady stuff back then.
As I think back there were a number of things that
occurred while I was stationed there. As I said I believe
I arrived at the base in January 1962. I think while I
was still checking in, an Airman was acting as a wing
walker as they were moving a KC-135 (towing using a
tug) from the line to a nose dock or hanger area, and
because of the severe cold he had his hood up on his
parka. As a result, he did not watch where he was
going and was run over by the airplane.
I remember that I never marched in any formation all
the while I was stationed there.
Because I was single and there were several married
folks in my squadron, I worked mid-shift most of the
time. I was working the night 498 crashed. It was
raining cats and dogs. A B-52 came down around
10:30 p.m. and we had a KC-97 come back around 11
p.m. with no write-ups. We just had 498 left to go and
we could go to sleep if there were no write ups. We
waited (playing cards in the shop) for job control to call.
If I recall the boom operator was the only one that
was killed. I'm almost 65 years old now and my
memory isn't as good as it used to be.
For the most part I enjoyed my stay there. It was much
better than Sondrestrom, Greenland which is where I
was stationed before I got to Westover. However, I had
not been at Westover maybe 90 days and had
completed my basic cross training from AFSC 30453 to
30131, and had achieved fairly good grades, they sent
me back to Sondestrom for 30 or 60 days TDY to baby
set the KC-97's that Westover had prepositioned there
for 'Chrome Dome" emergency support. There were
three of us from the squadron that had to go. It was a
rotating situation and luckily I never had to do it again.
I wonder if they still have those incredibly good
"grinders" up there? They were submarine
sandwiches. Years later when I was working In
California for TRW a fellow opened a little sandwich
shop not far from the plant. I had one of his "subs" and
asked him where he learned to make it, "in New
England?" He said that's exactly where he learned
how to make them. They were that good.
John Vacon was assigned to the 18th
Communications Squadron at Westover
AFB in the late 1960s. He worked at the
radar approach control (RAPCON) facility.
He is the air traffic manager today at
Westover Air Reserve Base.
Q. Please tell me more about yourself -
where you were born, how long you were
in the Air Force, how and when you were
assigned to Westover.
A. I was born in Woburn, Mass., outside of
Boston in 1949. Was drafted in February
1969 so ran down to the Air Force recruiter
and signed up for what appeared to be an
interesting job: air traffic control specialist.
Did not know anything about it at the time.
Went to school at Keesler and lucked out
and got assigned to Westover upon
completion. It was the only base I was at
excluding school and basic training. After I
got out of the AF I got a job with the FAA at
Westfield, and then moved to Hartford, then
Bradley. In 1981 was caught up in the
strike. I became a fire marshal in
Connecticut for 24 years before getting
back into air traffic in 1998 back at Hartford
Brainard, and then was thrilled to get a job
here back at my old "alma mater." Liittle
did I know in the 60’s that someday I would
become the air traffic manager at this great
Q. Where was the RAPCON located?
A. At the present location of the fire
department (Ed. note: located along the
flight line near the Base Hangar).
Q. According to the research I have done,
the volume of air traffic in and out of the
base was astonishing. How did you and
the other controllers manage to guide so
many aircraft around the traffic pattern?
A. I worked in the approach control so I can
only speak about that. We had two
positions of controllers who worked the
aircraft in on PAR approaches (precision
sometimes very loudly. That was later outlawed, and for
good reason. I was up on a long ladder painting my house
here in Vermont decades later and it occurred to me how
dangerous an unannounced supersonic flyover would have
been at that moment-I would have recoiled and likely fallen
off the ladder! One time the 337th went to Canada to do a
flyover at a new airport terminal. Supposedly they blew out
all the new glass windows in the terminal!
As far as noise from large aircraft was concerned, yes it was
pretty continuous. The KC-97 was never an offender, as it
hummed along pretty quickly. The C-124 Globemaster
(Many of which undoubtedly were used to transport the
nukes to Stony Brook AFS), was another story. Powered by
the same R-4360 engines as the KC-97, it had a three-blade
prop and lumbered over slowly and loudly. The B-36s from
Loring AFB, ME (mostly) were the same problem many
times over. The B-52s at Westover had loud J-57 turbojets
without noise reduction equipment. On takeoff the B-52s
(and KC-135s, for that matter) would often head out over
Chicopee and roar over the WHYN radio studio in
Springfield (near the old Springfield airport site, which was
long defunct by then). Around 5:00 PM the poor newsman at
WHYN would be trying to get through the news and in the
background, even though he was in an acoustic broadcast
studio, the roar of the B-52s was so pronounced you could
count how many of them were airborne. It was funny, I hope
someone has audio tapes of this. One sound that was
common at Westover and everywhere else in the Air Force
was the sound of the big ground power units. MB-40s? I was
trained on some of them and now I can’t remember what
their nomenclature was for sure. Think of a cold, foggy
morning, around 0200 hrs and you would hear those power
units droning. Then the engine troops would start the ground
runs on the J-57s. Some nights it would go on intermittently
all night. (I recall similar activity at Westover during Desert
Storm I.) Lots of work going on around the clock. I believe
that much of the time in the late 1950s there were at least
500 J-57s on base at Westover. The job of engine
maintenance simply couldn’t be completed during day shift,
there was way too much work.
Q. Records show that air traffic "peaked" at
Westover in 1962. There were more than 87,000
military aircraft departures and arrivals. I'm sure
that had something to do with the Cuban Missile
A. Before there were scanner radios I had a little aviation
band rig on which I could hear the Westover Radar
Approach (RAPCON) facility. Back then, civil airports like
Bradley had limited all-weather operational capability by
comparison. Westover’s RAPCON people used the old
technology that involved talking the approaching aircraft
down the glide path. Around the time I got out of the Air
Force in 1969, radar approaches at Westover were taken
over by the FAA at Bradley Field. The big radar at Westover
by the swimming pool was decommissioned around that
time, too-another indication that responsibility for Westover’s
airspace was in the hands of the FAA.
Q. As you probably know, Brig. Gen. Donald W.
Saunders was commander of the 57th Air Division
and was on board the KC-135 that crashed in June
1958. He and 14 other people were killed. I can
still see where the trees and brush were burned up
by the Mass Pike from the huge explosion so many
A. My brother woke me up that night. He told me he had
seen a bright light that illuminated all the trees and the sky
around our house. We speculated on what it may have been
well into the night. The next day we learned of the fatal
crash. I believe the performance of a fully-loaded KC-135A
on some takeoff profiles would be considered pretty
marginal today. I guess this tells us something about the
professionalism and skill of the crews back then. The
mission was pretty well defined, but the technology of the
day brought the crews a bit closer to the edge. Not that for a
minute I would take away anything from today’s airmen.
| Comments, questions?
Please include your name, rank, unit , and when you were assigned to the base
and e-mail to:
Memories of Westover