´¯`•. June 02, 2015

Vacation Time!

((day six, part two: Back to the Base))

NoTe:  I split day six into two parts – everything but KISAFB was yesterday, and today we tackle KISAFB.  It will probably be far too picture and memory intensive, but… here goes!  Oh, and… click to enlarge any picture, okay?  I didn’t downsize them, like usual.

Today was THE day.  The day I went home.  Which… to be honest, was scary.  There aren’t many people out there who can honestly say that their hometown became a ghost town.  Mine is.   It’s called K. I. Sawyer Air Force Base, and thanks to President Clinton and the Democrats, it’s closure was announced in 1992, and by 1995 it was done.  Because Democrats are all about systematically taking apart the nation’s defenses, whenever and wherever possible.

Did I mention that K.I. Sawyer was THE largest employer in Michigan’s Upper Penninsula… so those marvelous Dems also crippled half a STATE?  Don’t get me started.  I’m a disgruntled Air Force brat who believes the closure never should have happened.

And I knew it was going to be bad.  I’ve seen pictures on Facebook of it… I knew that it was really, really changed.  I was partially braced, mostly.  But how can you truly be prepared to see everything you remember completely gone?  I mean, it’s surreal.  To go in seeing building after building after building, boarded up, smashed in, rusting pipes, weeds sprouting in parking lots and around hangars?  How can you not respond to that?

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Story Time:  We drove on the base, and I started talking a MILE a minute.  And missed getting a picture of the officer’s club, which is what you see, first.  It looks like it might be a restaurant, now… a very sad, sorry looking restaurant.  I was all, “I went to senior prom there!”  Not that it was a particularly wonderful memory.  I went alone and think I left after something like twenty minutes.  It sucked.  Almost as bad as my prom dress.  But we were driving on, and my husband was in the car beside me, watching me bounce in my seat and point and talk… and “oooh, ooh, ooh!!“… and he laughed.  A lot.  “Oooh, ooh, ooh!   There’s the cop shop, and that used to be the Jet Stream Pizza, and was the roller rink – we did aerobics there with Major A’s wife, who was a good friend while her husband and Pop were both in Saudi during Desert Storm… except we really weren’t supposed to fraternize…”  My kids thought it was pretty funny, too… Mom all wiggy and chattering away, like that.

IMG_6192I think this was officer billeting (okay, barracks).  Or TLQ?
Not sure.  I do know that it became ‘The Red Fox Inn’… but is now closed.

NCO billeting.  (My husband insists that they’re barracks.  I… don’t care.)
I used to go visit my Bible study friends in the dorms.

IMG_6228 (555x344)Chapel One.  I was pianist for the Gospel service, here, for a while.
It was my first paying job.

Story Time:  I was commuting to NMU for music – piano performance… I figured I could teach piano out of my house wherever I landed, and stay home with my kids, and still bring in an income to supplement my future husband.  Not the loftiest of ambitions, but at the time I was very much about becoming Suzy Homemaker, as a life goal.

Anyhow, there was a girl named Maureen (?) in my classes who said she had a 1-year contract as pianist for the Gospel service on base, but her mom was sick, and she really needed to find someone to take over for her so she could go home to take care of her.  So I took the job… but SHE had the contract, so what that meant was that she got paid for the playing I did.  I… didn’t care.  I figured if she needed the help, that was fine. – I could do that for her.  And it was good experience, right?  Except that the REAL reason she wanted out of the contract was because the choir director was an African American lady who didn’t like white people around her choir.  And have you seen me?  I’m about as white as they come.  She was hideous to me, when no one was looking.

I gritted my teeth and finished the contract, but when Chaplain Weurffrel asked me to renew and take the contract for myself, I declined.  He understood, and knew what the problem was.  And I felt badly, but I couldn’t do it, anymore. The upside was that I got experience.  I even got to sing a solo with the choir, once!  And I got to see my friend Derron every Sunday.  He was in my class back in HS… the first guy I ever slow danced with.  We’re still friends, to this day.

IMG_6219Base Theatre.  I didn’t see my first rated ‘R’ movie here when I was sixteen.

Story Time:  So there was this guy who showed an interest in me in high school… the ONLY one who did (everyone else assumed/expected/wanted me to be with Dan, which… it… was complicated).  Anyhow, this guy sat behind me in Chemistry, name was Mike, and he was Civil Air Patrol… loved ALL things, military.  He would sit behind me (and next to a girl named Ginger… more on her, soon), and tease the both of us.  Then he asked me out.  I was absolutely beside myself, that someone might think I was special… not just some brain to try to copy answers off of.  It was absolutely astounding.

He wanted to take me to the movies… but the movie that was showing on base was rated ‘R’ – it was called ‘Born on the Fourth of July’.  I had issues:  a) it was illegal to sneak in at age 16 to a rated ‘R’ movie, and b) it was a sin to do illegal things… I was pretty sure.  But this guy…  and… so…  um, I went.  It was horrible.  Between my guilt and the movie’s gore, I was absolutely miserable.  I spent the whole movie with my head ducked down into his jacket, praying to God for forgiveness for sinning.   My first date, no lie.  (Stop laughing.)   I also saw Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ here, when it came out, so there are happy memories, too.  Or at least, less traumatic memories of that theatre…

IMG_6218Base library.

Story Time:  You have NO idea how many hours upon hours I spent in this building, when I was a teenager… LOVED that library.  I would walk up from base housing by myself, and spend an entire Saturday afternoon, sitting back in a corner in the aisles, just reading.  Or in the AV room… they had records, and I was working my way through the classical records they had, there.  I loved this building…!!

And I lost the necklace my parents gave me as my graduation present somewhere on the trail on the way to the library.  In case anyone ever found it and wondered.  It was pretty cheap and not my style at all, so I wasn’t terribly tore up about it.  They also got me an Amy Grant cassette tape.  My grad party was a camping trip with my family to Horseshoe Lake that I didn’t want to take, freezing our arses off in freakin’ tents IN MAY.  I put my cap and gown on in an outhouse, and did my make-up in the side-view mirror of the car.  I hated my life, about then…  But I’m digressing.  Again.

IMG_6216Pop put a new engine in the Buick at the the base auto shop…
that was back while I was riding the MarqTran to college from the base.

IMG_6217Arts & Crafts building.  I made my ceramic nativity, here!
Looks like a coffee shop failed to make a go of it, there, later on…

IMG_6195 (555x278)On the way up the drive to the base hospital.
My kids were all… “AIRPLANE!!!!!”

IMG_6194Base Hospital.  Was the best military hospital in 1980, I hear.

Story Time:  My first definitely non-paying ‘job’ (before the piano thing) was as a Red Cross Volunteer in the Physical Therapy office, here.  I was still in high school.  I worked with/liked Msgt M and Capt’n C… they were really nice.  I mostly sat behind the desk and made appointments, then changed bedding and towels and cleaned up exam rooms after office visits.  Until someone complained that my skirts were too short.  (Seriously?!)   It coincided with the time that the PAAC in Negaunee announced auditions for ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, so I left to go try out being on stage, instead of conforming.  Hate to see the hospital like this, though.  I have memories of this place, y’know?

Ginger and I became friends in this hospital.  We were in Chemistry and English together in school, but she was a year older, so I hadn’t seen her in… forever.  Then I had to get my shots up to date for some reason, my second year of college (?!) and she was there for allergy shots… and our moms decided for us that we should commute to college together.  Nevermind that my dad was a lowly Ssgt and her dad was a Colonel and that was fraternization if I had EVER seen it.   But we drove in, together, my second year of college.  We also decided to join the singles Bible study on-base, together.  We’re still friends on FB, too.  And if I remember correctly, she ended up dating one of the anesthesiologists a time or two?  Hm.

IMG_6197SAGE building… where we all went to get our base IDs and in/out process.

IMG_6199Base gym.  Many a fun volleyball game, there…
They’d just expanded when the base announced closure.  What a shame.

IMG_6202Base credit union.  My first bank account was there.

IMG_6200Behind the credit union… the Flags/Memorial park.
Want to see a blast from the past?

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I’m the sunshine blonde furthest left in both pictures.  Did I mention I’m as white as they come?  This was… 1984-ish.  In front was Biancan (brunette) and Suzy (blonde).  Behind was me, and a high-schooler named Hope.  Back at the memorial was DeeDee.  I think that’s how you spell her name, anyhow.

Story Time:  I was in Troop 47 – Rambaldi’s Number! – one of two Girl Scout troops on base.  I hated the Girl Scouts.  It was where you went to bleed and be in severe pain/misery.  I was always getting thwacked by someone or other, tortured by the leaders.  And then the adults tried to set fire to the Hiawatha National Forest when they took us camping… and they got us up at 2am in the coldest part of the universe, handed us paper bags, and sent us out into this field on a ‘snipe hunt’.  I had no idea what a snipe was, but I can assure you, I had NO intention of catching one in a paper sack, hello.  But I did get selected to participate in the lowering of the flag.  So there was that.

In the top picture?  The girl in the front row, third from the left was Monica Y.  She was my closest friend in Girl Scouts.  But my family relocated to England for three years, and when we came back to K.I., we were both in high school and she was a jock girl.  And I was weird, sickeningly sweet, religious, brainiac girl.  I don’t think we even spoke again, after I moved back, sadly.  Life was very ‘Breakfast Club’, then… and I was Anthony Michael Hall’s dweeb to her Emilio Estevez athlete.  Kind of sad, but there it is.

IMG_6201 (555x309)There are four planes on display behind the flags, these days.
They look much better from this distance than up close, I promise you.

IMG_6205 (555x306)The kids were SO excited to see a real, live B-52.
(our base was mostly B-52s, KC-135s, and F-106s, to my recollection.)

IMG_6206 (555x326)The F-106… naturally.  And it was windy… ((giggling at the hair))

Story Time:   This is what Pop worked on, at this base.  He was fuel systems maintenance.  And he always smelled SO good… like jet fuel, when he came home from work.  I loved smelling him… just inhaling his uniforms.  When he did his remote to Korea (and again when he was in Saudi, during Desert Storm), my mom kept a uniform of his, just so that she could breathe in the fumes.  It was a way to have a little of him, still at our house.   I’m still like this – my husband comes home with coolant on his shirt from work, and I just breathe him in.  I can do it for a long, long time.  He always just laughs and shakes his head.

IMG_6211The BX.  (er, military version of a department store)
I’m not sure what’s in there, now.  It looks pretty dead from the outside.

IMG_6212Base Commissary.  My brother’s first job was as a bagger, there.

IMG_6213Class VI store.  Where people bought booze on base.
It’s looking… a little psychedelic.  Or maybe it’s just me?

IMG_6215NCO club.  Military version of a restaurant.  We used to have Sunday brunch here.
They made balloon animals for us, I recall.  It’s looking hideous.  And very closed.

Next we went to the K.I. Sawyer Heritage Museum, which is in the Rec Center…  where I first played ‘Pitfall’ on Atari, and Pop was on a dart league.  This is the organization trying to preserve the memory of the base.  I thought it’d be a bunch of patches (Pop has more – guaranteed), and stuff that I really wouldn’t be interested in… but it is SO. SURREAL. to walk into a historical museum and have memories of their stuff!  It’s like Dr. Who going to a museum and saying, “Right-O, that’s Ollie Cromwell!  Had a lovely tea with the bloke, not long ago…!”  ((Did I mention I’m a total dweeb?))

IMG_6221 (416x555)The museum is… in need of some organization.
But it has real potential, and some great stuff in it.

IMG_6223 (416x555)Chaplain Wuerffel’s uniform!!!  My jaw dropped.
At which point I got to tell them about being chapel’s pianist.

IMG_6224 (555x397)

Story Time:  There was a wall of all of the base commanders, and I looked down, and said, “Holy crap, that’s Commdr. Grillo!  I dumped my high school boyfriend, Mike, because I found out he was only dating me to make Kitty Grillo jealous.  They were in Civil Air Patrol, together.”  And the museum people blinked and looked at me like I had two heads.  Well… come to think of it, it was Dawn who told me that, so the information might’ve been suspect, but at the time I was pretty indignant.  And anyhow, Mike moved to Panama three months later, so it was a very short-lived boyfriend thing, either way.  ((shrugs))  But wOw.  Memories… I’d forgotten about Kitty.

  IMG_6226 (555x416)They had kind of a ‘library’, which was whatever was left from the base library
and a bunch of scrapbooks.  My kids LOVED looking through the aircraft books,
but I was more interested in the scrapbooks.  I picked up one, and…

IMG_6225 (539x555)

“Homigosh!  That’s Pop’s squadron!”  I gasped.  “Look!  That’s Parker, and Dulyea, and Phil and Timmy… he died in a motorcycle crash a couple of years ago, and Pablo!  We went out together a couple times, but we ended up being really good friends – he’s like family, anymore.  The only one missing is Pop – my mom didn’t have the patience or interest in letting him participate in this kind of thing.  He should’ve been on that truck, too, though!”

NoTe: When I said that I went out with Pablo a couple times, the look on that museum guy’s face made me blush.  And I realized I’d just talked about Cmmdr. Grillo and a boyfriend, and now I was talking about having gone out with Pablo… I said, “It’s not that I was trampy, or anything, honest!!”  He laughed and said he was teasing, but… still.  I seriously was about a FAR as you could get from trampy.  Promise.

Anyhow, want to see a better picture of it?

574682_10150668574126436_1502662546_nL to R:  Phil, Timmy, Parker, and Pablo.

I don’t think they expected some weird blonde woman to have so much input!  But anyhow, they were really nice people.  Gave my kids free Air Force stickers and key chains (which they should’ve charged for – I would’ve paid!).   Although I don’t think any amount of money is going to help at this point.  The base is… lost.

Then we got in the car and headed down VooDoo hill to base housing.  My mom and I used to walk that hill every night after M*A*S*H to meet Pop when he was on swings, and hitch a ride home with him.  Beautiful Northern Lights, over that road…!

IMG_6229 (555x177)Don’t remember what this building was used for,
but I’m pretty sure it’s where my brother and I did CPR/First Aid
for our lifeguard certification.  I do know it wasn’t blue, before.

IMG_6230NCO multiplexes.  Dee-Dee lived in this unit.  It’s empty, now.
A few of them were so badly trashed, they’ve torn them down.

IMG_6232 (555x245)I went to fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, here.  Was a safety patrol.
Worked in the library, and patrolled our bus.  This is where I met my friend, Dan.

Our house (NCO duplex) on base, the first time we were stationed here.  It’s 158 Albatross, and there was a trail from behind our house to the base lake.  I showed my kids where all the neighborhood kids and friends lived… Sylvia, Monique, Christie Brown, John, Carroll, Toni-Ann and Bianca – who I won first place in a three-legged relay with at the base lake summer celebration, one year.  (I still have the ribbon!)

IMG_6235 (555x245)Our house, second time we were stationed here.  203 Thunderchief.  It… wasn’t this color – it was kind of a pale peach, back then.  But I used to wander back in the trails on base, picking blueberries and winding up at McDonald Elementary (now closed – so is Gilbert and Skandia elementaries… everyone is bussed to K.I. Elementary).

IMG_6239 (555x312)Chapel Two.  I spent SO MUCH TIME at this church.  Taught children’s church,
(and 4’s/5’s Sunday School at K.I. Elementary, before services).  Went to
singles’ Bible Study and did game nights on Saturdays, here, with Ginger…

IMG_6236 (555x404)Commander’s Row.  I think (?) this was Ginger’s house.
I should remember better, I was there quite a lot.  Shouldn’t have been, but I was…

IMG_6237 (555x291)Officer’s multiplexes.  Bible Study was here, until the leader declared that anyone NOT leading their own Bible study wasn’t allowed to study scripture.  I was seriously pissed off at that man.  Wanted SO badly to say something really, really, really, really not nice to him…!!!  (The study dissolved the next week.  A friend took it up, after that, and we just went to his house in Gwinn, instead.)

IMG_6238 (555x336)  Youth Center.  My mom worked here, briefly.

IMG_6240Base thrift shop.  Where my mom bought that gawd-awful prom dress from Hades…
and sold my book collection on me.  ((((Not going there.))))

IMG_6241Still called the Shoppette!  We used to ride our bikes up to buy candy, from here.
And we’d gas up our snowmobiles, here, too.  No pumps anymore, it appears…

IMG_6242 (555x327) (2)(((((insert sad sigh.)))))

Logging.  On the Air Force Base.  I… have a hard time.

IMG_6250Pop’s hangar, where he worked.  I think.  There are two that look the same…

Story Time:  It was behind a fence, as you can see.  That means authorized personnel only.  Well, one Saturday my mom bought doughnuts and we rode our bikes up to surprise him with treats (mom balancing the box of doughnuts on her handlebars) up to his work.  We were in shorts and sandals, and… these SPs drive up, pull out  these big, long guns as we’re getting off our bikes outside his shop, and the next thing I know, I’m being shoved up against the side of the hangar.  My mom ran – screaming Pop’s name – and made it inside before they caught her.  Pop came out and escorted us in, and got things straightened out, but… yes, I’ve been held at gunpoint.  For the record.  It was seriously wacked.  Ah, the stories I can tell you…!!

Yes, well.  These are just some of the buildings, to give an idea of how things are:




The base is now considered ‘Sawyer International Airport’, but the man at the museum said that Marquette doesn’t really like the competition, so most business is drawn to Marquette, and not here.  The base is limping along, barely making it.  The housing is full, but it was sold at bargain basement prices after the closure, so it’s kind of low-income and trashy, in most areas.  It’s… not anything like it was, when I was growing up, here.  I was really heartbroken to see it, truth be told.  Because this is where my childhood was… where I lived.  And it’s… just… Gone.

But at least I made it back.  And got to show my husband and children where I grew up.  My world – not like it was, but at least a shadow of it, anyhow.

day oneday twoday threeday four
day fiveday six aday six bday sevenday eight


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