Located several miles out on a backwoods road amidst the rolling farms and small hills are the remains of a SAC (Strategic Air Command) air base. The air base was known as the Richard Bong SAC Air Base and was named after America’s highest rated World War II ace (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Bong).
Over the years, like many airbases, with what the paring down of military locations, the base was closed and relegated into a rather large state recreational park – a park which became known as the Bong Recreational Center. Growing up, having a ‘BONG REC. CENTER’ sign in your room was a common thing to do if you were one of the cool folk. You’d sneak in the park at night, come in with a wrench and WD-40 or Liquid Wrench, give the bolts holding the sign up a good spray, wrang the sign off and split before the park police showed up and gave you a hefty fine for trespassing and theft of governmental property. But man, what a cool sign! Nothing fancy: State Forestry Service issue brown background with white lettering; drab, plain. Run the risk of facing a $300 plus fine when you try ‘liberating’ a sign. But hanging it in your room? Priceless. The best part was that it was an actual, official sign of a real place (‘Yes Virginia, there is indeed a Bong Recreational Area’). Where else could you hang out in your room and have it officially designated as the “BONG RECREATIONAL CENTER”?
Bong air base was a relic of another war, the Cold War. The Cold War is over, but for those of us who never served in the military, we knew all too well that we were on the front line.
But scattered across our country there are a multitude of other similar relics – many still standing (more or less) intact, often in areas that are surprising not as isolated as many think.
A noted a recent article, one explorer found such a relic intact – a 10 story high rocket still standing within it’s silo: unprotected, the facility (though in disrepair and collapsing) still present: http://www.businessinsider.com/aerojet-dade-abandoned-rocket-facility-2012-10 (great photos!).
Too often, when we think of military / governmental installations in disrepair, we immediately think of the Soviet / Eastern bloc nations. Entire movies and shows are written based upon these so-called (former) “Evil” Eastern Bloc Entities having strange – and generally bad – things happening. These sites become locations where ‘frankenstein’ / end of humanity diseases are created or where nuclear weapons are sold to terrorists bent on destroying Our Way of Life.
Yet, we have a number of these similar facilities within our own backyards.
What follows is an excerpt from a recent book I published – “The Audio Sensory Guide to Schroedinger’s Cat” (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/218166) regarding one such exploration of an abandoned SAC base.
(Disclaimer: strong language) (In no way do we recommend to suggest to readers to undertake similar activities and we strongly discourage others to undertake such activities).
True to his word, The Skull had indeed found one of the air shafts which fed into the underground portions of the old base. Like most bases, there were once buildings and tanks on top, but the real goods are down below: down out of sight and protected from the immediate blast impact zone above on the ground. This base wasn’t designed for a direct hit, but it would certainly do okay against an indirect hit.
Nearly all of the few original structures were gone; the giant jet fuel tanks dismantled, while the runways were plowed over and, for the most part (save those in the extreme rear of the complex where we were currently maneuvering around) gone. Unless you know where and how to look (i.e., via skydiving) or if you did a little research, you really wouldn’t know that it was once a SAC base.
The airfield was built during the 1950’s. Although “officially / publicly” never completed, (the airfield was paved along with the fuel tanks and a couple of smaller buildings built) Bong airfield still commanded a presence; given that this was once a 4,500 acre facility, it shouldn’t come as any surprise. At the time when Bong was built, the SAC had the notion of building a multitude of bases nationwide, scattered various wing commands and squadrons so as to disperse and limit losses arising from thermo-nuclear warheads / MIRV’s (Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles) peppering the area like shotgun pellets – only each pellet was carrying enough death to obliterate entire cities.
So officially, there was no longer any base here as it as never fully built.
But yet these airshafts could be found.
Approaching the pillbox / airshaft, I pulled out several of the oxygen tanks. “These fuckers are not going to be easy moving around,” I grunted as I carried three with me.
“Try not to drop them; your life depends on them,” replied The Skull flatly as though discussing the weather.
Unloading the last of the tanks, we put on our harnesses and checked out masks. “Testing, testing, one two three,” I said half in jest.
“You sure it’s working?”
“Yeah. It is.”
“Okay; for your sake, it better,” The Skull replied with a quiet seriousness in his voice.
What happened over the years is that some of these old military locations wound up having nitrogen pumped in; nitrogen is a relatively heavy gas and stayed there for some time. Kept out most riff raff, and critters from setting up house. And it usually worked, save for the exceptional two-legged riff raff like us.
Looking straight down into the darkness it seemed to go very deep, but in reality (as we later on determined) it was only a mere seventy feet deep (!) where it came to a small room and then veered off flat for another 50 feet and smack into another large grate that (fortunately) we only have to kick it out to get in.
Lowering the air tanks was tricky. You avoid lowering an air tank on it’s valve stems: that’d be like lowering yourself down with a strap around your neck – one bang on the side of the shaft and you’re risking damage to the bottle resulting in your possible death and/or loss of time spent exploring. So we had to really tighten down the side straps and, taking care to make sure that there was friction on the belts (all the better to keep the tanks from sliding off) we lowered the tanks down – all ten of them – in groups of two carefully so as to avoid hitting the ladder rungs going down.
If you’re going to do an exploratory, might as well do it right.
Wearing a mask is always hard (at least for me) as there’s always small part of you which insists that you’re suffocating. When you go diving in the water, it’s not a bad as you know you’re surrounded by water. But here, it was different: there’s no water and everything looks normal save for the fact that there’s no air. The temptation to rip off the mask can grow in you if you’re not careful – and no, none of this stupid TV show shit where the hero takes off their mask ‘just to see if it’s okay to breath.’
Not a smart move.
For purposes of testing, we took matches: depending on how well they did – did they fail to light or burn out fast – we’d know what was going on.
Each tank held about a half hours’ worth of air, assuming we breathed regularly. Get too excited and the time gets cut down. We’re not running any marathons here. We had to carefully monitor the amount and the distance, along with the exertion we’d be undertaking, in order to do this right.
Four tanks for each of us, with one in reserve; not exactly a great margin for error, but we’d figure we could work with it. With a little bit of luck, we’d be good for at least two hours worth of exploration. We’d have to use the tanks in relays; carry them along, put down the empties, and then re-trace our steps back and bring back the empties. For the trip back, The Skull fashioned a half-assed folding wheeled cart whereby we’d be able to carry the empties back. “It’s Polish engineering at it’s best,” he casually said (and this coming from one who was part Polish) “but it’ll work.”
The flashlights were large and heavy duty / industrial. It was a hassle with the batteries banging away at our waists, but given that we’d be moving around in total darkness, we thought it best to go for the gusto and get the serious lights and equipment; this was not the time to be cheap or to fuck up on our planning or have any equipment failure – this was the time to be serious and think straight. After all, we were taking on a retired SAC airbase.
We’d reach the lower level; with a hard grunt I kicked in the grate, watching it fall into the darkened space with a great crash.
“Knock- knock! Jesus; it’s dark in here!”
“Gee, ya think?”
We stopped moving; total silence. Nothing. Not even a cricket or a bug.
“The nitrogen pretty much stops anything from getting in here,” The Skull said quietly. “Today’s helpful hint for living: keep your mask on,” I replied quietly.
The landing lead into a wide arched hallway of sorts; some 50 feet wide or so. Very faint light was coming in through widely scattered airshafts; it took awhile for your eyes to adjust to the gloom and even though it was dark down some fifty feet below ground, there was a slight ambient light.
But very little; still needed the flashlights.
The deep shadows from the glare of the flashlights added to the mystery of the place. We walked down the hallway, bottles clanging along; any sound we made echoed deep within the concrete caverns.
“I feel like a tomb robber,” I said.
At that point, The Skull hummed a few bars from the first Indiana Jones movie.
“Not funny; what if there are any booby traps?” I asked.
“We’d probably be dead by now – which we would be if hadn’t bought our bottles – speaking of which, check your gauge.” The Skull and I also, without thinking, checked our digital watches, checking the time: when it’d reached 25 minutes, the alarm would go off reminding us to stop whatever we were doing and get ready to switch bottles.
We’ve already been down here for nearly 10 minutes; time flies when you’re having fun.
“This is odd,“ I said; “you figure a hallway this big and they’d be at least some offices or rooms coming off.”
“Maybe it was an accessway for trucks and cars.”
“Accessway to where? And wouldn’t that suggest that there’s some doorway?”
We stopped and looked in either direction. Flashing our lights in either direction, we saw nothing but hallway; endless darkened hallway going off in either direction.
I started to hum a Emerson, Lake and Palmer song: ‘In The Hall of the Mountain King’,….
We continued on. The Skull said “I think we’re gonna need a hell of a lot more bottles if we’re going to really explore this place.”
“Why am I thinking about the movie ‘Alien’?”, I said aloud, “or critters that bite?”
“Naw; I wouldn’t worry about anything with rabies down here; if anything came down here, they’d be dead.”
“I guess, but you know what’s funny?”
“How come we don’t see nothing laying here dead? You’d think we’d get something – a squirrel, a pigeon or something?”
“Maybe that says something.”
“That we’re dumber than they are.”
“I wonder where they kept the aliens and their spaceship?” I asked, changing the subject.
“Probably next to the time machine and all that other advanced shit they haven’t told us yet. Where do you think they got the idea for color television?” replied The Skull.
“Bullshit. I read somewhere that it wasn’t the aliens who got us color television, but the Mayans who invented it.”
“Well, that explains why they’re gone; they obviously watched too much t.v.”
The hallway ended at an open entranceway. There were signs of a large, heavy door which once closed this passageway; portions of the hinges were still in place. “Jesus! Look at the size of these fuckers!” exclaimed The Skull.
“I’d sear that one of these is about twice the size of my family’s old dining room table!” I said.
“Check this out: it’s a steel frame. Look how thick the frame is,” The Skull replied; “it must be at least three feet thick!”
“Maybe we’re coming into something; like smaller rooms?”
“Too bad we don’t have a schematic of this place; love to get an idea of where things are and how big this place really is.”
“Why not call the Pentagon and see if they’ll mail you something? I’m sure they’d be happy to send you a layout of one of their former airbases,” The Skull suggested with a cheery voice.
“Sure; and get a visit from a couple of guys in plain black suits dragging me out to a plain, unmarked white van just to make me disappear like I never existed? I’ll pass.”
We cross into the threshold and stood for a moment on the other side of the doorway.
Ever stood before something that was big – so big – that you just couldn’t put your finger on it because you couldn’t see it in it’s totality?
This was one of those things.
“Look at this,” I said quietly.
“Look at what? What are you seeing? I don’t see anything.”
“That’s just it: even the light doesn’t cut it.”
A room – a space so immense that I could hardly sense where the walls were. My constant fear was that we’d step into some open pit or knock something down on top of us – some old equipment or military garbage left behind, like containers of weird, unknown bubbling shit waiting to waste us at a moments notice. So far, I was totally wrong on all counts. Instead, we found emptiness; long hallways, great empty spaces – and now a vast cavern. The ceiling was tall; I could only guess it was about several stories tall (which made sense given the depth we climbed down to get here). It was an immense concrete space: a testament that will stand for quite some time. Centuries from now, future visitors will find such underground shelters scattered throughout the country, think that whatever treasures existing down here were long since gone; taken by tomb robbers wearing funny gas maks. These man made caverns were homes to massive machinery intent upon one thing: to destroy and kill as many as possible, with no distinction between the guilty and the innocent.
We spread out, decided to stand within range of our respective lights and moved forward in the huge, cavernous space. Even then, our lights barely touched the far walls – or what we assumed were the far walls.
“What the fuck?” I said to myself, astonished.
We finally surmised that this was a huge, underground – and now largely forgotten – storage facility for B-52’s.
Ever see a B-52 up close?
Ever walked inside a typical underground car garage?
Now imagine an underground parking garage capable of literally holding dozens of these aircraft.
Yeah, it was that big.
And we are walking around an empty and deserted SAC airbase with oxygen tanks to keep out the nitrogen gas meant to keep nosy shits like us out.
Out of a huge empty space within a forgotten base; a space so large and vast that to the day, it still staggers my mind the amount of work, concrete, steel and effort that was put into building this beast.
I’ll never look at a Bong Rec. Center sign the same way again.
After awhile, it was time to go; not taking any unnecessary risks (we weren’t comfortable with the notion of choking to death on nitrogen deep in the bowls of some largely forgotten SAC airbase, leaving our bodies to rot in endless hallways of concrete filled with inert gasses), we turned back, saying little as we worked our way back to the air shaft from whence we entered. Climbing out, we felt like parishioners emerging from a church service, awed by what we had experienced. Standing there we looked at each other, nodded and moved on. Our curiosity answered, we loaded up the Gremlin, and then carefully covered up the entranceway, saying little on the drive back.
The next day, returning his bottles, Kid Zero asked “how was it? What’s it like?”
The Skull and I looked at each other. “It’s big,” I said.
“What do you mean by big?”
“Just that,” replied the The Skull in a flat voice; “it’s fucking big. So big I wouldn’t even know how to describe it.”
“And dark; fucking dark,” I added. “Jesus,” I continued quietly, the memory of it coming back: “imagine how much concrete they poured down there!”
“Christ; somebody made a lot of money off that place,” said The Skull.
“Were there any aliens down there?” asked Kid Zero half mockingly.
“Naw; they’d moved them out a long time ago,” I replied; “somebody’s got to make up those fantastic weapons at some other base.”
“That place always had a weird vibe to it, you know?” said Kid Zero.
The Skull and I looked at each other; “yeah, I guess that’s one word to describe it,” I replied.
“Weird enough to pour all that fucking concrete,” said The Skull in a quiet voice.
Time moves on.
Years later on, at a nearby smaller military airbase, one of my cousins witnessed and survived a disaster, wherein a large fuel plane – a KC 135 Stratotanker no less – caught on fire. The military airbase where she served being adjacent to a commercial airport immediately faced the potential threat of a catastrophic chain explosion, with tanks filled with aviation fuel all around exploding in flames and bringing hell and fury to nearby civilians. The commander, a Colonel who’d seen his share of action over the years, did not hesitate: leaping from his desk and throwing on his pilot’s helmet he ran out onto the burning plane and ordered the crew out, personally moving the plane to an isolated runway. Successfully done, he managed to get out of the plane and was running for his life down the runway when it finally went and exploded.
He didn’t make it.
Looking Glass kept on flying for some years; around the 1990’s, it was quietly retired; the Cold War grinding down as the Berlin Walls came down and the Soviets became McDonald’s hamburger franchise managers.
The klaxon now only sounds when there are tornados nearby; otherwise, it remains silent, wired to a computer which insures against ‘mistaken warnings’.
Forgotten casualties of a forgotten war.
As for Bong, it’s all sealed up.
Years later, one of our colleagues told us of how, during the early fall when park attendance drops, a bunch of Army trucks with tractors came in and over the course of a week, cordoned off the area and did some heavy work and left. The old passage ways are concreted over and filled in with dirt. Some might try getting in some areas, but it’s not going to be easy – and given that all that equipment was there moving about on the surface above the tunnels, it probably would be inadvisable to go looking for tunnels that could collapse on you.
To this day, I still can’t feel that there are hidden portions still quietly active. Kid Zero was right; it always had a weird vibe, as I’m certain all these old and abandoned bases do. I know it’s paranoid “X File” thinking, but still I can’t help but think that down there somewhere – and if not at Bong – then somewhere, a quiet and darkened military base patiently waits for the day when it will spring into action and release a flock of B-52’s into the night like huge, angry bats, jets screaming with their JETO’s (Jet Assisted Take Off rockets) burning with their incandescent furies, carrying their loads of mega-death to incinerate mercilessly, obliterating utterly those who dare to oppose us.
The nuclear warning sirens are silent (long may they stay silent), but every so often I can still hear them in my dreams on certain nights as I sleep, my old childhood remembrance of my waiting in wide-eyed silence in my grade school fallout shelter, waiting to hear the giant footsteps of the nuke’s as they hit the surface of the ground above, obliterating everyone and everything I ever knew…
May my children never hear that klaxon sound off.