LIMESTONE, Maine — Eighteen years after Loring Air Force Base was shuttered, a large crowd of visitors brought the grounds back to life during an inaugural reunion.
Over the weekend, the base was reinvigorated by attendees taking part in the inaugural Loring Reunion 2012. Beginning on Friday and wrapping up Sunday, veterans, civilians, friends and military brats took part in numerous events geared toward recalling old memories and forging new ones.
The entire base was open to the public. Visitors were able to tour the base in Humvees restored by the Maine Military Authority, and retirees who once guarded the base’s nuclear arsenal led tours of the former weapons storage area, no longer protected by a high-voltage electric fence.
Karen Bishop, who currently lives in Hartford, Conn., just happened to be visiting relatives when she heard about the reunion. Bishop brought her two children, Josh and Caden.
“It was great timing, because the boys are right into playing with their little plastic military action figures,” she said.
Bishop said her boys “absolutely loved” everything about the Loring Military Heritage Center, including seeing the old uniforms, patches and signs that used to point to facilities on the base.
Some people were overcome with emotion when they stepped into the heritage center, which has preserved a lot of material from the base before it closed.
Loring was a Strategic Air Command military base and crucial to the country’s defense due to its proximity to the European continent. Its population hovered close to 10,000 and had its own hospital, stores, recreational facilities and power generators.
Over the years bombers, fighters and supply planes came and went through Loring in support of the country’s actions throughout the Cold War era, the Vietnam War, Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
In 1991 Loring was among six strategic air bases slated for closure by the secretary of defense.
Revelers enjoyed a barbecue and dance on Saturday evening.
Many attendees were intrigued by The Loring Military Heritage Center, the only museum dedicated to the men and women who populated Loring Air Force Base from 1953 to 1994. Every item bears the name of its donor, which also is included in an electronic catalog of items in the museum.
One of the highlights of the weekend was a new addition to the heritage center collection. A Gam-77 Hound Dog air-to-ground missile with the authentic paint job and decals of the nuclear missiles carried under each wing of the B-52 bomber was displayed in front of the center.
Cuppy Johndro, event co-chairwoman, was stationed at the base from 1987-1990. Her husband, Terry Johndro, also served at Loring from 1987 to 1994.
Cuppy Johndro, who lives in Limestone, said she had received registrations from New England, New Brunswick, the United Kingdom, Texas, Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, Ohio, Alabama, Pennsylvania and New York in advance of the event.
Johndro said Sunday afternoon that an estimated 700 people attended the reunion. She said the successful event got a lot of positive feedback from the attendees. She said Sunday that she hopes to plan another event like this so they can occur every two years.
Jason Michaud, 12, traveled with his grandparents from Camden to take part in the reunion.
“I love history, and I wanted to see some of the pictures of the old planes and the badges,” he said. “I got to talk to a couple of men who were stationed here in the 1980s, so that was neat.”
The event wrapped up Sunday with a closing ceremony and presentations.