Loring Military Heritage Center opens to the public
by Christopher Bouchard
The Heritage Center is located in Limestone's Loring Air Force Base. Though it's no longer an active base, the location is anything but inactive, as it contains the Dept. of Defense Accounting Center, a fire department, Sitel (a telemarketing agency), and a Job Corps.
"Our mission is to keep the memory of the base alive," says Cuppy Johndro, Secretary of the Heritage Center. "Veterans come here to feel the camaraderie that they felt in the service. We've had vets come here from all over the country, too. When the Cold War was going on, this was the closest base to Europe. We've hosted a lot of senators, and President Ford, Nixon, Truman, and Eisenhower have all been here, too."
Terry Johndro, Cuppy's husband and Heritage Center Treasurer, says that many of the veterans will feel a bond between others when visiting the center together, and that even if they didn't personally know each other during their time in the service, the shared experience of serving in the military is more than enough to allow them to feel a camaraderie between one another.
This connection is seen every year when the Military Heritage Center holds a reunion for any veterans or civilians that would like to attend.
Aside from providing many veterans with warm feelings and nostalgia, a visit to the Military Heritage Center can also prove to be an emotionally intense experience for those that were in or closely related to someone who was in the military.
"We've seen someone come in and cry when he found a picture of his father here," said Cuppy as a tape of last year's reunion played on a small television behind her.
"I saw someone come here and look at a model of a plane with the exact same numbers of the plane that he flew when he served," added Terry. "He broke down and cried, and told me he needed to go outside for a bit."
The Military Heritage Center has been around since 2005, and opens its doors to the public every summer. Planning for the group was initiated by both veterans and civilians who with the common goal of sustaining the base's memory.
"The building's in good shape," says Cuppy. "It used to be a bank before it was made into the Heritage Center. Most of our obstacles have been costs, but the surrounding community has been very helpful to us. Our only obstacle is to get fuel during the winter, and we depend on donations from group members."
Everything on display in the museum was the result of a donation.
"People will send us things in the mail," says Cuppy. "People just don't want to see these things thrown away. Everything you see here is numbered, and I keep it all on a computer. If someone wants something back, we'll be more than happy to give it back. Our intent is to display, not to keep anything."
A surprisingly wide variety of various vintage military relics can be found within the relatively small building.
Signs from East Loring's fallout shelter can be seen throughout the museum. The building allegedly contained plutonium weapons, though it has never been officially confirmed whether or not the weapons were actually housed there.
Also on display was one of the "Christmas Cards" that Loring Air Force Base personnel would put up at the front gate.
A lighted map was hung up in one of the back rooms. This map would alert anyone in the base if someone was trying to breach the fence. The number of people who actually attempted this is really very small. One instance involved two drunken men trying to jump the fence. Most occurances of breaching the fence involved moose wandering into the base. In fact, so many moose caused disturbances that the base's motto used to be "Moose is Loose."
All of the donated items are seperated into specific sections (e.g. an Air Force section, a Bomb Squad section, Firefighter section, etc.). The Bomb Squad section contains a yoke that was used in a bomber stationed at the base.
One of the more personal donations was made by the wife of a man who once served, a giant red book full of laminated momentos from her husband's time in the service. Newspaper clippings, badges, awards, papers, and anything else related to his military career can be found in the massive book.
Though many civilians from surrounding towns are involved in the well-being of the active museum, Cuppy still has plans for the future of the Military Heritage Center.
"We want to finish the garage and add that as part of the Heritage Center," says Cuppy, "as well as maintain the center so other veterans can come out and relive their past and reminisce with others."
"I feel very compelled to be here every time I drive up," said David York, a veteran from New Hampshire.
"We're just here for the veterans," said Terry after he offered to replay the tape of the reunion for York, who had just walked in. "We just want to give them a place to sit with friends, tell stories, and reminisce."