David King looks back on his days as a member of the United States Air Force. He’s one of many veterans once stationed at Loring Air Force base. And when he first came in 1962, this place looked a lot different.
“Lots of people…hustle and bustle….all around the clock, 24 hours a day, he said.
And anyone you speak to who was a part of Loring during that time would say the same thing. The Strategic Air Command base opened in the early 1950s. One of America’s closest bases to the Soviet Union, it was key to the US department of defense during the Cold War.
“We were the first jumping off point to Europe and we were the first coming back,” said Bill Ossenfort – who came all the way from New York to be stationed at Loring. After the freezing cold, the first thing he remembers is a true sense of community.
“People were closer here than other bases that I was at,” he said.
“We were able to close the gates..not let anybody in, anybody out, and exist the way you would like you would in say Presque Isle,” said King.
That sense of community lasted for 40 years…until the fall of 1994, when Loring AFB no longer fit the mission of the department of defense. And so many watched as an asset to Aroostook County transformed significantly.
Air Force Veteran Raymond Hildebrand said, “a lot of your transient young officers were no longer present and with their families..many local businesses were either forced to change what they sold, how they sold it…or just roll up the carpet, either cease business or move elsewhere.”
For the thousands that called this place home for years, seeing the change was heartbreaking.
“When I did come back, I was devastated, because it was like a ghost town. It was home for me for many years and when you come back and it’s completely empty, there’s no aircraft…no jet engines running that you can hear,” said Ossenfort.
It’s been 20 years since the closure of the base and the birth of the Loring Development Authority- which has gradually brought in a number of businesses, and always working to bring more. Though the road to recovery is long, these veterans are holding out hope.
“There’s always a chance if we get our ducks in order get the right attitude about personal initiative, competitive spirit, to be able to seek out the best for the greater good,” said Hildebrand.
“I think the communities are now on their way back absent Loring Air Force Base this is the Loring Commerce Center we do a lot of work to try to make it economically viable..within Northern Maine, the communities surrounding, and in the state,” said King.
And so while many smile as they look back on the old Loring days, they’re most concerned with their former home moving forward.