Trip to Castle Air Force Base

I drove into Castle Air Force Base in April 16th 1973.  Castle was my first assignment after tech school.  Over the next 2 and 1/2 years, I spent many, many hours working on radar nav systems on KC-135s and B-52s.  I still have fond memories of those years.  I'll always like the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fucker) B-52 and respect the versatility of the Boeing 707.
  -  Gary L Vogt

On Fathers Day 1996, a friend of mine and I flew to Castle AFB. It's closed now, you know. We parked the "Baby Cheetah" on the ramp where I used to work on B-52s and KC-135s. It was eerie. 'Elevation 188 feet' was still visible on the tower. There were weeds growing up in the cracks on the ramp, the grass around the tower was all overgrown, the paint on the buildings was faded and peeling, and it was real quiet.

We were the only ones there. Just like the Twilight Zone. It was like I had awaken from a deep sleep and everyone was gone. As we walked around the tower, the Fire Station had beautifully manicured lawns, flowers everywhere, the sprinklers were going, and there were curtains on the windows. And, no one around. Really weird.

Coming around to the base-side of the tower, we walked past the Avionics Squadron of the 93rd Bomb Wing where I had worked. The building seemed so small. I showed my friend where the avionics parts and supply room used to be. I knew exactly what the inside of that building looked like. I knew what color it was, I knew what the linoleum on the floor looked like, I knew where the water cooler leaked, I knew where the Wing Commander sat. It was like I was here yesterday. Only, yesterday was 23 years ago.

I looked in the direction of my old home. It was so close. Did I really drive 300 yards to work? Today's 40 mile commute seems ludicrous (at the time I wrote this, I lived in Lancaster and drove to Edwards Air Force Base, 40 miles one-way.) We walked over to the dorms were I lived from April 16, 1973 to September 21, 1975. The windows were bare. The staircase going to the second and third floors was covered with spider webs, and again, weeds were growing where the grass should be. And, it was very quiet. Very quiet. I looked around to where I used to lay out and sun tan (sun burn?) on the grass and showed my friend the parking lot where I had worked on my 1969 Corvette. The look of abandonment was everywhere. Nothing seemed real.

Up the first flight of stairs to the second floor I could peer into room 202. The door was open. The sink, medicine chest, and bookcase were gone. The dorm rooms had been converted to offices. Was it really that long ago? I remember painting the cinder blocks of my room in various shades of blue. I remember sneaking ... well, best not say just who I sneaked into my room. I remember trying to sleep through my first Operational Readiness Inspection only to find the Commander yelling at me while I stood there in my underwear. I recalled getting my wisdom teeth pulled and seeing my swollen jaw in the mirror. I remember my roommate, Steve Senrick, and the times we had picking up chicks in our Corvettes.

Walking back toward the tower we took a more circuitous route. I showed my friend where the Southern California Sports Car Club used to set up a slalom for would-be racers. I told my companion that I still have a friend after 23 years who I met in that parking lot; she had a 1957 Corvette. I talked about driving across the parking lot in fog that was so thick I had to stick my head out the window to see the ground. I recalled the various locations and routes across the parking lot to the chow hall, the library, the hospital, and the post office.

Everything was engraved on my memory like the smell of the Dewars White Label Scotch I first tasted in the NCO Club so many years ago. I even remembered the exact spot where I got a ticket for stopping my Corvette in a crosswalk. Walking down the road toward the tower and flightline we saw another couple. Were they, too, displaced in time from a long ago past that left a mark so impossible to erase? They walked toward their airplane as we approached. Did they see us? Did they even know we were there? Or, were they in a different time? Is this what 'going back to close-the-loop' is like for everyone?

As we departed we flew over the base. It had gotten a lot smaller in 23 years.