The following are a collection of memories and stories from Ray (Ingham, Raymond 1977-1980) about his time at Loring Air Force Base, Maine. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When I was stationed at Loring (1977-1980), the Weapons Storage Area (where I worked) was quite a bit smaller than when it was originally built as "North River Depot" or "East Loring". Actually, the existing WSA in the late 1970's was probably only 1/6th of it's original size. The entire area that ran around the lake was not in use, and none of the support buildings outside the fence were used, except for the Vehicle Maintenance storage. In the Google Maps below, the red outline is the original size, and the green outline to include the far right side is the size in use when I was stationed there (the pinpoint in the green area is the IMF, where I worked, for Short Range Attack Missile maintenance).
Being young and ignorant, I never thought to ask the history of the WSA. If I had, there were people working there who surely would remember the larger East Loring, and would've probably enjoyed telling their stories. Ahhh, youth is such ignorance!
Any way, I don't remember why, but one day at lunch three of us decided to walk around the lake (lower left corner of the photo), and do some exploring. Again, at this time it was not secured, not in use, and as far as we knew, was just a lake. Off we go, and as we are walking to the shore, we start noticing little signs, RADIOLOGICAL signs, like the ones we see in the WSA. These are where rags, etc, used to clean out the warhead's during maintenance are buried. The signs are still there, and probably still there to this day.
As we begin walking around the lake, (I can remember it clearly - sunny day, not too hot, clear skies) we comment on how peaceful it is and how green the water looks. Don't see any fish or evidence of any fish. As we get to the far side of the lake, I notice something in the water. We look a little closer, and sure enough, there are what appear to be 50 gallon barrel's (not sure if they were metal, plastic, rubber, etc) at the bottom of the lake, probably no more than 50 feet out. The water is clear enough so that you can see them sitting on the bottom.
Well, being ignorant young Airmen, we don't think TOO much of it (of course, I wasn't stupid enough to wonder what the heck is in those barrels!), and we continue on around the lake.
We end our "tour" by going by the very building that, years and years later, some civilians (one of which I believe I remembered as a military member) got exposed to Radon gas when they opened it for inspection. There were signs on it, I believe, warning of some danger...
Later that day, we also went to the other side of the East Loring road, and looked at the old East Loring buildings. On one of them, was a sign warning of PCB's, again, this was found much later when they did the closing inspection and had to decontaminate it. As far as I know, PCB's were primarly used in power transformers, and who knows how many of those things began leaking!
Some 33 years later, I still wonder what was in those barrels at the bottom of the lake, and if they are still there.I remember reading about the Environmental studies done when Loring closed, and how they cleaned up the WSA, but in all the reports I read there was never any mention of inspecting that lake...kind of a mystery that I wish I knew the answer to!
<posted 22 Jul 2010>
Working in the Weapon Storage Area (WSA) was just like any other job, with a few exceptions. The additional security, obviously, and working in a building that had no windows (although we painted a "window" with a scenery of the outside on one of our walls) were some of those.
After I had been at Loring for a year, I began noticing that whenever we had nukes in the high bay, we would have flies crawling all over the floor. These flies would not be able to "fly", but acted like they were dying (and many did). However, whenenver the bay was "cold", meaning no nukes, the flies were flying around, having a merry time.
In my inquisitive mode I began asking questions. The first explanation was that the cold air from the doors opening and closing when bringing the missiles in caused the flies to act that way. Problem with that was it happened in the summer, too. Strike that explanation.
The next explanation was that it happened due to the doors having to be closed when "hot", and thus, any chemicals in use would cause the flies to get "stoned", and thus doing their death rattle on the floor. The problem with that one was, it NEVER happened when the bay was "cold", and we could be using the same chemicals. (Side Note: When I worked in the WSA, I was paranoid about using every bit of protection gear we were supposed to wear when using the chemicals we used - the warhead guys didn't feel the same way, and would actually get "stoned" on the fumes of substances like Alphatic Naptha, Methyl-Ethyl-Keytone, and other extremely hazardous substances).
Any way, I became convinced after reading a report from the Lawrence Livermore laboratory that one of the symptoms of a "dirty" warhead was insects doing the death rattle. So, I asked to have Bio-environmental come out and perform a radiation check. As you can imagine, this was met with some resistance. However, I have to say I was a persistent little airman, and refused No for an answer. Finally we got a Captain from Bio to come out.
I remember like yesterday this guy messing with his meter, taking background readings and trying to calibrate the thing. He picked up radiation levels on a training warhead (I had to explain to him that it was empty, so no radiation), and even picked up radiation on himself. Finally, he finished his readings and prepared to leave. I asked him when we could expect the results. He said we would not get the results but would be told if it was clean. Huh? Any way, about a month later, they came and said it was "clean", but as a precautionary measure, they would install two large exhaust fans in the bay. You can see those fans to this day in the high bay of building 261, the old Integrated Maintenance Facility...btw, the flies still did the death rattle.
<posted 21 Feb 2010>
As a lowly Airman, I was assigned the duty of Vehicle Monitor. Basically that meant I was responsible for checking out the metro step-van we used each morning, and turning it in for maintenance when anything was wrong with it.
We worked in the WSA, but in the winter-time we would store the van over in the squadron headquarters (they had a heated bay). So, every morning, I would head to the squadron, check-out the vehicle, drive it over to the WSA. At night, drive it back, and turn the keys into Munitions Control.
I used to take the long-circuit out to the WSA, using the "public" road. However, I realized if I took the same route we used to convoy weapons to and from the flight-line, I could be done a lot quicker. So, I began taking that route, which would take me to the back side of the flight-line, and then cross over to the squadron building.
This went on pretty routinely for a few weeks. Then one night, as I was coming to the edge of the flight-line, I noticed another vehicle coming towards me with his bright's on. It looked to be one of the aircraft tow vehicles, and his lights were blinding me.
I continued moving forward, and began clicking my brights on and off, trying to get him to dim his lights (they were seriously blinding my vision). Just as I get to the edge of the flight-line, where I would've drove onto it, the "vehicle" turns.
What I assumed was a vehicle with his brights on was actually a B-52 taxing out to the runway. He turned, and I swear his wing-tip seemed like it passed in front of me not more than a foot or so. If I would've kept coming, and he turned, he definitely would've hit me, and guess whose fault it would've been?
I had to stop right then and there, and calm myself down. That was the last time I drove the old step-van across the flightline at night!
<posted 21 Feb 2010>
When I had been at Loring for about a year, a new guy came in to the dorms named Mike. He worked in the Conventional section out in the Weapons Storage Area (WSA). The building was just outside the entrance to the "newer" WSA.
Mike was a nice guy, zero ambition, but he sure did love to eat. We used to go down to the chicken shack in Caribou and this guy would buy a 20-piece bucket of chicken and eat the whole thing in one sitting. Obviously, this caused weight problems and he was constantly on the weight program.
We used to sit up all night (3 or 4 of us) on weekends, listening to music, drinking beer and eating pizza, playing cards and talking. Mike was a nice guy, and sure did hate to see him leave.
Well, he did leave (got out of the service) before I left, and as I recall, since he got there after me, and left before me, he must've got out because of the weight thing. Any way, he had bought this little Volkswagen Bug from one of the other guys, and let me tell you he loved that car. He used to drive that thing all over the place.
Any way, when it came time for him to leave, he had taken the bug to the hobby shop and did the usual minor stuff for a road trip, change the oil, spark plugs, etc.
He left out on a warm sunny day, and that's the last I thought I would ever see of Mike.
About 3 hours later, I got a call from him. He was at a garage down near Bangor, and was needing me to come and get him. Seems that when he had changed the oil in the Bug, he forgot to put the oil cap back on. As he was driving down the road, the little VW engine was pumping the oil out. Since the engine was in the back, Mike didn't see the oil as it pumped slowly out. After enough had pumped out, the engine seized up. The Love Bug was a goner.
Any way, needless to say, I went and got him, brought him back to the base, and he stayed in my room that night (he had already processed out, so he had no room). Next day he got a ticket out and I took him to Presque Isle and watched him take off.
I really felt bad for the guy cause he loved that Bug. And 30+ years later, I can still see Mike wolfing down that 20-piece bucket of chicken like he hadn't eaten for a month!
<posted 16 Feb 2010>
As part of trying to get as many veterans of Loring AFB to submit their profile, I sent an email to everyone on the AMMS website that showed they were at Loring AFB. The email simply asked them to consider reviewing this website, and submitting their profile if they wished. I further explained that this site IS NOT and NEVER WILL be a commercial site, no solicitations, no asking for contributions / dues, etc. It is an historical project of my own personal time, and I gladly do it.
Most of us can identify with the skepticism of the following reply I received from one of the members of the AMMS Site below. (I have deleted his name for privacy reasons). I don't remember the last time I was flamed on like this, but I respect him. Please note the response I gave him. Thanks!
<posted 15 Feb 2010>
We had a guy who worked in the 463 (warhead) section of our building who was...well, let's just say he was curious. Joe (not his real name) was the guy in high school who everybody knew was kind of a loser, but he didn't think he was. Well, in fact, Joe was kind of book-smart (seemed to know a lot about his job), but he definitely did not fit into that shop. Come to think of it, he would probably have fit much better in with my shop, Missile Checkout.
Since he didn't fit in with the other guys in the Warhead section, they were always doing things to him. I have to admit he didn't help things much with his personality and attitude towards them. He would come across as really being cocky, and that would just make them come up with new ways to torment him.
One day, I was sitting in the break room, and we heard what sounded like a scream (not a long one, just a short scream like a gasp, sort of). We didn't think much of it (those warhead guys were always messing around in the bay).
A moment later, we heard what sounded like the overhead hoist and then a short scream again. Now, curiosity got the better of us.
We go out into the bay, and we hear "Joe" yelling profanities, but in a painful sort of way. As we get into the high bay (where the overhead hoist was, we see why "Joe" is yelling....
He is strapped down to a MHU-141 trailer, on his back, with his hands and his feet tied down (sort of like in the old westerns when the Indians would tie down the cowboys). The 463 guys had taken a belly strap (just a long, 5000 lb tow strap) and wrapped it underneath his back. Then, they had brought both ends of the strap up together, and attached them to the Hook of the overhead hoist.
They had started lifting the hoist until the strap's slackness was gone, and this was why "Joe" was yelling. He looked like an upside-down "V", and they were telling him if he didn't take back what he had said (what it was, we did not know), they would hoist him until he broke in two like a pretzel!
About that time, "POPS" Sager (the branch chief) made his way out into the bay and of course you can imagine the look on his face. After a lot of swearing and chewing up and down, "Joe" was released from his torture device, and everything was back to normal...for the time being, that is...
<posted 06 Feb 2010>
I had entered the Air Force in 1976, knowing one thing - I was not ready to go to college but wanted to in the future. The GI bill was ending soon, and by entering, I would have 4 years of benefits at the end. So, off to the recruiting center I go. The guy tells me that if I go into Missile Systems, I can be stationed anywhere in Florida (made sense, fighter bases, fighters, fighters have missiles). What he neglected to tell me though, is that I would be a 316X0T, and the T meant ONE missile, that was only carried by B-52 and FB-111. And, of course, I didn't know there was NO base like that in Florida.
I got through basic, and on to Chanute AFB, Ill for technical school training in December, 1976. Get off the bus, and it is snowing (Florida boy, never seen snow). It is cold as anything, and for the next 6 month's I am in school.
At about the 4-month period, we are told we can see our upcoming assignments. Now, remember, I am thinking I can go to Florida, so on my "Dream Sheet" (your list of preferences of where you would like to go), I had put:
I walk up to the board showing everybody's base, and I see Loring AFB, ME. I look around and say, "Where the heck is Loring at?" At first I think it is Minnesotta, but someone quickly points out that it is MAINE. MAINE? Where is MAINE? I've never been north of New Jersey, and never in the winter time.
I quickly figure out that my recruiter LIED to me. Of course, I guess technically I did get my preference (East Coast), but no one told me it would be southern Canada...
So, finish technical school, and I am home on leave in Fort Lauderdale (June) before making the trip up north. My dad thinks it would be a good idea to rent a 40-ft house boat and go camping for a week in the Everglades, so I leave from Miami, and actually get on I-95 at the very beginning (or end, if you take the position that I-95 ends in Florida).
I had bought a car (1975 Mercury Montery Brougham, I sure did love that car!), and head out for Maine. Stop in Georgia to visit the brother, and again in Jersey City to visit with a tech school buddy (do the sight-seeing thing, and even went up the Twin Towers).
Reach the Maine State border, thinking I am nearly there now. 3 hours later I am to Bangor, thinking "Where the heck is this base?". Just an hour or so later, and I-95 goes from 4-lanes to 2 lanes...not a good indicator of what I am in for. 2 more hours, and I-95 ENDS! I have driven the entire length of I-95!
Of course, all the way back at the beginning, when we were in the Everglades, I had started my trip on US-1, the BEGINNING of US-1 (then turned onto the BEGINNING of I-95). Now, I am turning off the END of I-95 onto, you guessed it, US-1, which will END at the Canadian border, just past Loring.
Get to the base, and down into the barracks. It is a horseshoe shaped dorm, with MMS dorms to the left, and FMS (?) on the right. What was in the middle, I don't remember. It is a beautiful sunny day, probably in the 70's, and everyone seems to be outside, throwing footballs, cooking on the bar-b-ques and listening to music (it's 77, but they are listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, etc). Things are really laid back.
I get my stuff put away, and go down to the first-floor day room. It's probably 2 hours later, and someone has placed a 6-foot white cross in front of some guy's window. The guy is a black SSgt whose last name was Joseph. I come to learn he was not liked, as far as I can tell, not because he was black but because he had graduated from college and tended to treat everyone else as inferior to him.
Well, you can imagine that a 6-foot cross which "they" are probably going to light up as soon as the sun goes down (and it's almost down now) didn't go over very well. So, here I see an LE (law enforcement) cop car coming down the horseshoe. They get halfway down, see what's going on, and how every one is in a much "rowdier" state than when I first got there, and promptly back right back up the horse shoe and leave.
Now, the MMS commander (Billy Wallace, a really nice grandfatherly type of guy) comes down, and I can see a Lt Col actually pleading with his troops to take the cross down and go inside.
No such luck.
Next, I watch two Security Police trucks with dogs in them heading down the horse shoe. Everyone else does, too, and they begin to scatter.
Don't remember much more about that day other than thinking "I am 18 years old, first day here....HOW DID I END UP HERE!"
<posted 7 Feb 2010>
During the winter, you could be randomly picked to do snow removal off the planes on the Bomber Alert pad. I happened to get picked during a snow storm, and went out to the BAA (Bomber Alert Area). The first time this happened, I was jacked up because I was supposed to have a code for that area on my exchange badge (You hand them your badge, they check the code to see if you are supposed to be there, if you are, they hand you back their badge for you in that area).
The next week, out I go again, this time with the exchange badge thing cleared up. We get a quick briefing on how we are supposed to do the snow removal. It basically went like this:
So, we do the rope thing, and I go up on the wing. Never been on a B-52 wing before, but that's okay, you are just sweeping snow off, right? As I am walking up and down the wing, I keep hearing crunching noises. I look down, and notice these little fins sticking up from the surface of the trailing edge of the wing. Well, let me rephrase that - they USED to be sticking up. Now they are flattened down because I have been walking across them as I go up and down the wing, sweeping the snow off. CRUNCH, CRUNCH, CRUNCH...
All of a sudden, the Klaxxon goes off. Now, I aint that bright but I do know what that means, it means they are going to be racing out to these planes and starter cartridges are going to start up the engines, and then they will be...taxiing! With Me up here? Uh Uh, No Way...
I turn to tell "Heavy-weight" to walk with me down the wing so I can come down the ladder...but he's nowhere around. Seem's he heard the klaxxon, saw the trucks coming, and decided he didn't want to wait for me...took the rope off and is nowhere to be found.
This is serious now...I am up on top of a slippery wing (up by the fuselage of the aircraft), attempting as quickly as I can to quick-step down to the ladder at the tip of the wing. I can hear the starter cartridges starting to fire, and as I approach the tip - no ladder! Seems the obedient Crew Chief took it out of the way (for the taxi).
I decide I do not want to be a "Wing ornament" so I get to the tip and jump. Luckily I do not break my neck, and just as I get up, get over to the side, the big old BUFF is starting it's taxi...All I can think of is how far would I have made it during the taxi on top of that wing before I took the big leap?
Needless to say, I told my supervisor I would never go out to the BAA on "Snow Removal" again...
It was the winter of 1978 and I was headed home to Florida on leave. A guy who worked in the VACE (Verification and Checkout Equipment) office had a Toyota Corolla he had just bought off the shop chief and was heading to Boston on leave. So, we decided to car-pool to Boston, where I would catch a flight to Florida, saving me and him money.
We set off for Boston, and on I-95 (don't remember exactly where, but it was still the 2-lane section) I am driving and his engine-light comes on. I shut the engine off (stick shift) but it doesn't sound good. It's snowing, and COLD and we are stuck in the middle of what seems to be nowhere.
Soon a car stops and takes us down to the next town, where there is a repair shop. It's about 5:00 at night, and by the time the tow-truck get's his car to the repair shop it's past closing. The owner says we are welcome to sleep in the shop over-night and he will take a look at the car the next morning. So, we sleep in the car.
Next morning, it's bad news. Seems the engine blew up on the little Corolla. So, we pay the shop to take us back to Loring in the tow truck, leaving the Corolla behind. Before we go, the owner of the shop says the piston had let go and that it looked to him like a material defect. He suggests that we call Toyota, explain the problem and see what they can do.
We get back to the base, I get my flight changed to leave out of Presque Isle, and leave the next day. When I come back from leave, I talk to the guy about his Corolla.
He tells me that he called Toyota, and after explaining to them what the auto repair shop had said, they said they would be in contact soon. The next week, he tells me the engine was replaced FREE of charge (including labor). Toyota had asked the repair shop to ship the piston to them (pre-paid) and when they looked at it they agreed it was a material defect and should never have broken like that. So, they said they would pick up the entire cost of repairing the vehicle.
Now, remember, this was a USED car and he was the SECOND owner. That's when I became really impressed with Toyota as a car company. Try getting that kind of service today!
(Added 09 Feb 2010)
When I worked in the Weapons Storage Area, the one thing I thought was strange was how the different shops seemed to have their own peculiar personality.
For instance, the VACE (Verification and Checkout Equipment Repair) shop were probably the smartest guys in the IMF (Integrated Maintenance Facility) because they worked on and fixed all the electronic test equipment. This included our "computer" used to perform functional tests of the AGM-69A missile. I used quotes around computer because though technically a computer, it was rather a strange one. It was as big as two refrigerators, and you loaded the "software" by reel-to-reel metal tapes with holes punched in them. Any way, they were always the "Nerdy" type guys and were the techno-geeks of their day.
Our shop (Missile Checkout) was a group of guys who seemed to be the class clowns of the building, never really taking things seriously, and really not like we were in the military at all. The Shop Chief (John Williams) was so laid back he reminded me of a surfer dude.
However, the Warhead guys were the kicker. They acted crazy, and did crazy things, and I suppose working on a nuclear warhead makes you a little crazy. They would do things like take the governor off the coleman tug's we used to tow the missiles around the WSA, and instead of being limited to 30 MPH, they would go screaming around the WSA at 40-50 MPH, trying to "get some air" (which they sometimes did). In the winter, they would "ski" behind the tug around the WSA, pulling each other with the tug and skiing on the road in their boots.
One summer, for no apparent reason (to us any way), the F-106 interceptors began flying over our building in the WSA. Now, we thought (note I said thought) that this was against the rules, as we were a Nuclear Storage facility. What if the plane crashed into the WSA? So, we began calling the tower and informing them that the 106's were not supposed to fly over us. This went on for a week or so, and then the Warhead guys came up with a plan.
They confiscated about 5 gallons of white paint, some roller brushes, and then spent a couple of days taking turns going up on the roof. Our Branch Chief, "Skip" Sager (though we always called him "Pop") was kept in the dark. After they had finished their project, we thought everything was back to normal. However, the next day, when the F-106's flew over us, it wasn't an hour before our MMS Commander called out to our building. "What the $%^&^ is going on out there?" he said to Pops. Of course, Pops didn't have any clue. Well, the Commander then informed him.
Seems that when the F-106 pilot flew over the WSA, he noticed a message waiting for him. In big, 8 foot letters, painted in white against our black roof, were two words:
Except of course, there was no *, but an F. The pilot immediately called the Control Tower, who called MMS, and the Commander then decided to chew Pops out. Needless to say, the message was heard loud and clear that day by all concerned!