Future of Homestead Air Force Base Unclear After Andrew’s Wrath
HOMESTEAD AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AP) _ When Hurricane Andrew whirled out of the east and summoned the ocean to devour southern Florida, Col. Steve Plummer had already evacuated all but 17 of his 7,000 people.
Andrew blew the base away, and raised questions again about whether the installation has a future.
When base personnel returned for the first time Friday, they were greeted by a handmade sign that said almost all of 10 working buildings and the dining hall were declared condemned. Also unserviceable were all 1,000 houses.
It has happened before. A hurricane erased everything in September 1945 and Homestead Air Force Base was closed a month later.
This time, Plummer’s timely action sent the F16s of the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing to other bases out of harm’s way. The question is will they return? They can’t unless the base is rebuilt.
Two disabled F16s left on the ground were ravaged, as were houses. Roofs were ripped off, corrugated steel was twisted and bent. Servicemen and their wives worked to salvage what they could.
Mac Connors, wife of Col. Daniel Connors, stood in her front yard, wrapping mementos snatched from the house. Next to her were boxes of salvaged toys and games.
In a dry voice, she inventoried her losses. ″My antique china cabinet, Wedgwood china, couches, dishes, all my bedroom furniture is wrecked. The dresser was crushed. I’m hoping I can salvage the clothes. The insurance company said take them to the cleaners, if I can find a cleaners that’s not blown away.″
Ms. Connors takes time to inventory the nice things people have done for her family. ″Nice people in Jacksonville at one of the gas stations. Gave us a cooler full of ice, no charge. ... They were real nice at the U-Haul place, too, gave us some blankets to use for free. And these boxes I don’t use they’ll buy back from me.″
It’s not only the trauma of losing her home that upsets her.
″It was a wonderful base, the best I ever lived on. The local community was the best I’ve ever seen.″
The Connors’ three children, two girls and a boy, are living with her parents in North Carolina, which is where she’ll go until the Air Force decides their future.
Maj. Bob Wallace and his wife, Ann, fared better. They closeted most of their stuff or moved it into interior sections of their home. For now, they have to move.
There are long lines at one of the base buildings still usable. Headquarters Air Combat Command has sent in experts to help with damage claims, advance pay, counseling, family survival packs and relocation aid - everything from baby clothes to car seats.
After that, Plummer said, ″then I think some decisions will be made at a much higher level of our service and in the political arena that will determine the future of the base.″
Oddly, the base was founded in 1942 by a Col. William Plummer, no relation to the present commandant. When the 1945 hurricane hit and the base was closed, it was a training installation for transport pilots, navigators and service personnel for the C54s flying the hump in the Far East. Its usefulness at that time was clearly over.
The base was reactivated in 1955 as the headquarters for the 379th and 19th bomber wings. It became a B52 base in 1960. The Cuban crisis was that year and it became the headquarters for the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing, with planes that could easily reach Fidel Castro’s realm.
Andrew appeared last week at a time when defense cuts leave no military base secure from closure.
Does the country have too many Air Force bases?
″That’s a question that has to be answered at higher levels than mine,″ Plummer said.