By David H. Bergquist
More than a thousand Bangoreans braved the cloudy and cool early April afternoon and lined the fence along Dow’s runway to watch the last two Air Force aircraft leave the Strategic Air Command base. They witnessed history that April 5th and the end of an important era in the life of the riverfront city – an era that helped to define the Queen City’s living character. At the controls of the mighty B-52 Stratofortress, labeled the “City of Bangor, was Colonel James Flanagan, Commander of the 397th Bombardment Wing of the 8th Air Force. “The City of Brewer”, a KC 135 Stratotanker followed in its wake. Colonel Flanagan tipped the wings of the huge bomber in a final salute as it roared off into the sky.
In two short months, Dow Air Force Base would be defunct, the result of the Department of Defense’s effort to trim costs and reduce defense spending by closing many installations across the country that were now deemed unnecessary. Officials in Washington made the official announcement on November 20, 1964, shocking the city which had for so long counted the air base as part of its corporate body. Indeed, over the next few years until its official closing on June 30, 1968, more than 13,000 individual who called Bangor home would leave for distant assignments.
This event was in marked contrast to the War Department’s announcement of August 19, 1940, that Bangor was slated as home for a large air base as part of the nation’s build up of defense installations in response to worsening events in Europe and in the Far East. The ensuing 28 years saw a “city within a city” develop on the city’s western, flat, and nearly vacant side. For nearly three decades, Dow Air Force Base, put Bangor on the national and international map- a notoriety it had not enjoyed since the heyday of its lumber industry. The World War II base, simply called Dow Field, played a crucial role in the country’s fight against Nazism. Thousands of bombers, fighters, and their crews winged their way over the Great Circle Route to Fortress Europa. When the war was over, a brief period of shrinkage and closure followed. The Korean War and the rise of the Cold War, though, brought new life to the base now known as Dow Air Force Base. The federal government revitalized and reinvigorated the base with upgraded facilities and modern weapons now ready to meet any impending crisis of that tense international period of East vs. West. Dow Air Force Base served an important role in the Strategic Air Command.
Bangor, much to its credit, accepted the presence of the thousands of airmen who worked and lived within its boundaries as one of us – Americans serving to defend our nation. People from afar came and went but were always welcomed. Service people formed lifetime friendships with local citizens and participated in the community while they were here. For many Bangoreans, it was hard to see these friends leave.
Bangor at first grappled with what to do with the massive air base that would soon be theirs. Despite challenges and hardships, effective civic leadership pressed ahead with a vision to have a viable municipal airport and provide space for other services including educational, business, and medically related endeavors. Today, Bangor International Airport is a thriving and vibrant part of the Queen City. Still for our older citizens, myself included, the western edge of the city will always be known as “the base.”