In the mid-1940s, Dow Field in Bangor became a processing center for soldiers heading to fight in World War II. It was there, in an effort to expedite aircrews to the European Theater, that men delivered their records for processing and updating, aircrafts were checked over and final medical and dental checks were done. After visiting personnel to deal with financial matters, and other administrative things, they were assigned to quarters until they were cleared for departure.
Bangor was, at the time, important to the war efforts. And a new book explores the Queen City of the East’s role in that war. “Bangor in World War II: From the Homefront to the Embattled Skies” by David H. Bergquist, was recently released by History Press.
Bergquist, who grew up in Bangor and returned more than a decade ago after nearly 35 years away, said that he was approached by the History Press to write the book since he’d lectured on similar topics in the past.
“As I got into it, I realized there was a lot I didn’t know,” Bergquist said.
Through his research, he said that he discovered a lot more information — including material on how the airbase (and the airport that preceded it) were developed — and that’s included in his new book. Bergquist said that he reviewed 69 months worth of Bangor newspapers from the timeframe covered in the book to get “a flavor of the times.”
“World War II is always of interest to me. I was a kid. I was born during the war,” said Bergquist.
Bergquist said he was surprised to discover that in February 1944, Dow Field was nearly closed.
“It was just dumbfounding. I couldn’t believe it,” said Bergquist. “Here it was the height of the war, the push was to get onto the northern part of Europe. … [The base] was just 4 years old — and they were already scheduled to close it.”
Ultimately though, it wasn’t closed. That was when it became a processing center and the base swelled from just 600 men to 6,000 in the following 18 months, Bergquist said.
“By the summer of 1945, they had 14 different kitchens going out there to serve all the men stationed out there. It was a staging area at the end of the year,” said Bergquist. “It was a very active place. … They pulled a chestnut out of the fire, so to speak, and they revitalized everything.”
But that’s not all that happened in Bangor during World War II, though. Later in the war, a prisoner of war camp was created.
“That was at the very end of the war. There was a severe labor shortage. … A tenth of the city’s population was serving,” said Bergquist. “They brought them in from the Houlton prisoners of war camp.”
The prisoners were housed in old barracks on Union Street used by aviation engineers, and had to fix them up, put up stockades and even build the towers to guard the camp. They were then put to work picking vegetables and doing jobs around the base.
“Some of the old time Bangoreans remember the POW camps,” said Bergquist.
Bergquist said that although he’s worked on academic writing projects in the past, he wanted this book to be as readable as possible to encourage people of all interest levels to dig into it.
“It’s an important story. It’s part of Bangor’s heritage. It’s something young people should read,” said Bergquist.
Bergquist will be reading from his book and also signing books at a Brown Bag Lunch at the Bangor Public Library on Sept. 30. Locally, the book is available at booksellers including Book Marc’s, BAM, Rebecca’s and The Briar Patch.