VQ-4 in Bermuda - Yesterday and Today

VQ-4 in Bermuda - Yesterday and Today

Greetings fellow TACAMO sailors! For many of us, NAS Bermuda holds a special place in the memory of our time in the TACAMO world. I’ve just returned from a Bermuda vacation with my wife, and I’d like to show you the latest from our home away from home those many years ago. As you might know, Kindley Air Force Base was turned over to the Navy in 1970 and became NAS Bermuda. With the Cold War essentially over in 1995, the Navy closed the naval air station, and the land now belongs to the local government. Bermuda has many wonderful vacation spots, and with my wife happily enjoying the hotel spa one afternoon, I decided to rent a motorbike and go over to the base that I once knew so well.

The last time I saw NAS Bermuda was on October 5th, 1983. Our crew departed on a 10.4 hour TACAMO mission, landing at Robins AFB.

Now approaching the airfield, the first thing I noticed was the lack of a security gate and the unlimited access to the former base. You simply drive past the sign that used to be at the security checkpoint, and you’re on the field no questions asked. The first photo is of the base theater which I recognized immediately. Apparently it’s still in use, and it looks much the same as it did back in the day. Looking to the northeast, I saw the alert pad where our Herks stood cocked and locked for the inevitable ready alert launch. Nothing at all there now, just abandoned asphalt adjacent to runway 12/30, which is in everyday use by the airlines that serve the island.

Coming around the corner, it became apparent that essentially all of the buildings on the flight line are gone. Base Ops, the ASWOC where we stored the ACO box after our missions, the VP squadron hangars, the Exchange, all just bare asphalt with concrete pads where the structures once stood. The second photo is a shot of the small building erected where Base Ops once stood, which now houses a small flight service station. The third photo is yours truly mission planning in Bermuda Base Ops in 1982 where the flight service station now resides. Everything gone now. Further eastbound, I came across the BOQ (Bldg. 550) which still stands, but is currently used as low income temporary housing by the Bermuda Housing Authority. It’s in pretty rough shape, and it’s clear that they haven’t put much money into anything other than keeping the lights on (see photos). I went inside and found my old room, and the crew lounge where the infamous “reefer” (an ancient refrigerator) stood. As you may remember, the reefer was covered with grease pencil graffitti where we were free to abuse one another and air our differences with our squadron’s management. Man, if those walls could talk….

My final stop was at the “Top of the Rock”, the NAS “O” Club, and later All Hands Club. The drive up the short hill ended at the familiar turnaround at the main entrance, revealing a breathtaking sight for the first time in 34 years. Our beloved hangout was utterly trashed and dilapidated, falling in upon itself with no apparent intervention from the airport authority. The enclosed photos don’t really show how bad this building really is. Everything is falling apart and open to the relentless rain, accelerating it’s demise. No people there, of course. Only the birds which nest through the open walls.

My last photo is a happy one. You’ll be glad to learn that the Swizzle Inn is still alive and well, doing a brisk business serving it’s signature drink to locals and tourists alike. The Swizzle was an infamous crew hangout back in the day and is none the worse for wear, thankfully.

A final thought. I was saddened to see what the former NAS Bermuda has come to, and Wikipedia has no mention of VQ-4’s long involvement there, as if we never existed. We won the Cold War, then America decided that there was no longer a need for TACAMO’s round the clock coverage and our ready alert facility to support it. So it all went away. The airplanes, the buildings, the people. All gone. So we were victims of our own success, which I suppose is a good thing. Our CO used to tell us how strategically important TACAMO was, but few of us stopped to consider this as we were always preoccupied with planning and flying the next mission. But he was right. I should have listened to him.

To my fellow TACAMO sailors, you are not forgotten nor is your contribution to our democracy. The base is gone and the ready alert pad empty, but you accomplished extraordinary things and we sent the Soviet Union packing. I sat on the hill overlooking the runway before I left, enjoying the warm tropical breeze and sun, and the quiet. I won’t be coming back. So I allowed myself one last recollection:

Ready alert phone goes off at 0330. Into flight suit, boots on. Hauling ass across the ramp and up into the Herk, in the rain. C’mon wake up! GTC clear, start number two. Two is running, gang start one, three and four. Crew’s aboard, door closed, taxi into position on runway 30. Check low pitch stops, now up to takeoff power and launch into the rainstorm and the dark, and we’re gone.

And all the rest…….

Bob Kruse

Other Photos submitted by Bob and Vern Lochausen (Please hare your photos of NAS Bermuda with TCVA for publication in our Newsletter and posting on FB page)

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