Photos courtesy of the PterodactylsSeveral retired U.S. Coast Guard members who were stationed at the Salem Air Station before it closed in 1970 will gather at the hanger on Winter Island this morning for an unofficial reunion and photo shoot.
Coast Guard Petty Officer, Connie L. Terrell — who is based in Boston and began organizing the event about a week ago — said as many as 30 and as few as 10 retired Coast Guard members will attend the event, including some who are flying in from as far as Alabama and Seattle.
“It actually has kind of taken on a life of its own,” Terrell said during a telephone interview on Friday afternoon. “I intended it to be a photo shoot for a history project we’re working on; when old retired Coasties hear ‘Reunion’ they get excited.
“It’s kind of like a reunion for them even though it’s not an official reunion,” Terrell said. “It’s a lot of guys who served at the air station from 1935 to 1970 when they closed it. So we’ll have a lot of history there.”
Terrell, who advertised the event on an e-mail listserv for former Coast Guard aviators called the Pterodactyls, said after she got some responses she reminded the retired servicemen that it was not a formal reunion.
“I’m not planning anything, there will not be a lunch or dinner,” she said. “They are still planning on coming.”
Terrell said the photos will be used for an internal history project.
In 1935 the Coast Guard established a seaplane facility at Salem because there was no longer space to expand the Ten Pound Island Gloucester air station, according to the Coast Guard’s website. The facility consisted of a single hangar, a paved 250 foot parking apron and two seaplane ramps leading down into the waters of Salem Harbor.
Salem was equipped with, what were at the time, state of the art communications and modern repair facilities. Barracks, administrative and dining facilities and motor pool buildings were also part of the complex. The station was commissioned with a complement of 35 men and two airplanes.
Search and rescue, hunting for derelicts and medical evacuations were the primary areas of responsibility.
Coast Guard Commander Stewart R. Graham, the second helicopter pilot ever in the Coast Guard, is planning on attending the photo shoot today.
An actual, helicopter, however, will not be landing at the old hanger located at 50 Winter Island Road, despite Terrell’s best efforts.
“There hasn’t been a documented landing there since they closed the air station in 1970,” Terrell said. “Our aircrafts are very different than what was flown in in the 1960s and 1970s so [Coast Guard officials] weren’t sure [about landing there]. With boats being there, they didn’t feel comfortable landing there just for a photo op.
“We decided to err on side of caution, not to damage anyone’s sailboats on blocks there.”
In 1941 air crews from Salem began to fly neutrality patrols along the coast and in 1944 the facility was officially designated as the first Air Sea Rescue station on the eastern seaboard.
After Salem Air Station closed in 1970, the facilities operations moved to Otis Air Force base where the Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod was established. The hanger and barracks were turned over to the City of Salem in 1972 and has fallen into deteriorated over the years. The city, however, is currently trying to redevelop the old hanger as part of the Winter Island Master Plan.
Justin A. Rice can be reached at email@example.com.