“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country,” Patriot Nathan Hale
What we historicize tells a great deal about ourselves. The marks we leave in the form of dedications, memorials, written histories, statues, etcetera and leave behind for those to view that come after we are long gone tells a great deal about who and what we are now.
Those historizations can be carved in marble or written in ink, but they nonetheless are histories. All of us that have lived in the Blytheville area for a long time know that the former Eaker Air Force Base has been as much a part of who we are as the gumbo and sand we walk on and the old muddy river that borders our county.
That begs the question, what record are we leaving? Three particular histories come immediately to mind, when I consider what those generations after us will see regarding the air base…the bomber depictions on the Main Street archways, the huge monument in Founders Park and most impressively – the “Linebacker II B-52 monument on Memorial Drive on the Aeroplex”.
We have all driven past the B-52 monument many times, but I would venture to guess that not many have pulled over and read the monument up close. I have on more than one occasion, but sometimes if I’m not careful, I can miss the fact that it is a history about real people – not the base alone and not the planes themselves.
The inscription on the monument reads:
“To honor the memory of these brave men from the 97th bombardment wing at Blytheville Air Force Base who did not return after their B-52 aircraft was shot down over Hanoi, North Vietnam in December 1972. [The names included] Col. Keith R. Heggen, Lt. Col. Donald L. Rissi, Major Bobby A. Kirby, Capt. Randall J. Craddock, Capt. George B. Lockhart, Capt. Ronald D. Perry, Capt. Robert J. Thomas, Capt. Charles E. Darr and SMSGT. Walter L. Ferguson. Erected by their families, comrades and friends”.
Now it is wonderful that these representations exist that will point future generations back to a day when the air base was here and the great sacrifices they made to preserve our freedom and the freedom of others around the world. But, if those three are all that remains, will it tell enough for them to realize just how big a part of our lives the base was? I don’t think so.
25 years ago, Eaker Air Force Base was closed and the planes and personnel were relocated to other bases around the country. County residents experienced a great time of fear and trepidation at that time, because a great deal of people were employed out there and the economic impact of the personnel stationed there was huge upon the local economy.
In fact, its use as a military installation comes in two different episodes. Upon the closure of the Army Air Field, it had a terrible impact economically upon the county and immediately local leaders began lobbying for its recomissioning. But that just points out the economic impact.
I would venture to say that thousands of people, still living here, were born on the air base. Many took college courses there. Many worked and learned skills there. Many served their country and built families out on the facility. A great deal of them moved away when restationed and decided to come back upon their retirement. There are fascinating stores that can be told. Libraries of books, filled cover to cover, would not hold all of the stories about the impact that the base has had on the area and the area had upon the lives of those that worked and lived on the base.
Men and women served, died, lived as prisoners of war, started over, came of age, recreated themselves, were born, learned, matured, built relationships, married, dated, changed, innovated and….well, just plain ol’ lived out there!
And that is not all. There is a site on the base that is well known in the world of archaeology and history (and the location is not publicly released in order to protect the content integrity of the site) called the “Eaker Site”. There is nothing for the average person to see out there now, but it was the site of a large Mississippian village. What lives they had and what impact they made upon the area and the area (the land) made upon them!
There is no way of communicating a history of the area and the people (you and I) without discussing the history of the former Blytheville (Eaker) Air Force Base. There is also no way of understanding America and the role it has played in the world as a beacon of freedom without understanding the Cold War. But, you can know nothing about the Cold War without knowing about the B-52s and the Strategic Air Command (of which the Blytheville Air Force Base was a large part).
For that reason, and more, we will be publishing a magazine this spring that will tell the story of the Eaker (Blytheville) Air Force Base. We hope to include stories, histories, pictures and content that represents the time period of the Army Air Field, the air force base – past, present and future.
I’m sure most of you will probably even want to keep the magazine as a keepsake, but only if you help me with its content. How much better will that publication be if it includes your (or your family’s) pictures and stories? Please drop me an email today and contribute your part of the history. Thank you in advance.