Spectral, uncanny, abandoned. Only those who reside or visited St. Marie, Montana would know the feeling.
For those that occupy the dilapidated Glasgow Air Force Base, home would be a better description. “I had a friend come visit and she said that it was so quiet here that you could hear the worms pass gas… we’ve always enjoyed our life here.”
When the snow flies, an estimated 250 people reside in St. Marie. Around the Ides of March, 500 flock in and there is no “Beware” sign.
Elinor Lindsay, a resident of 33 years lives on the base year-round.
“Your friends, kind of, become your family, because you're usually not going to be stationed where your family is.” The wife of a retired United States airman, originates from Long Island, New York. Spending time stationed throughout the south and southern Great Plains, moving to St. Marie was perfect, for the pair.
“It was marketed to military veterans,” she explained.
A once thriving and prominent military base – sits as a curiosity to those who hear the stories.
It’s tough to know what an important role the base played in the Soviet Cold War. Much of the history, vanished, along with the service members who were stationed there. Historian for the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Troy Hallsell, has a brief understanding of its placement during World War II.
“The Army Corps of Engineers came in to build Malmstrom Air Force Base. It also built smaller bases in Cut Bank, Lewistown, and Glasgow.”
The United States Air Force was founded in 1947, almost exactly two years after the end of the second world war. The Glasgow site was an Army Air Base, a bomber training site along with other bases in Cut Bank and Lewistown. “The bombers would take off from their respective locations… if their destination was Cleveland that day, they would take off, form up and fly to their destination and turn around… and land back at their bases,” Hallsell said. The combination of Cutbank, Lewistown, Great Falls, and Glasgow helped support the B-17 bomber training mission that lasted in Montana for under a year time period. Between the heyday of the Glasgow Base, the United States was going through a transitional period of enemies; between the Korean War and the Vietnam Conflict. Command Historian, Brian Laslie from the United States Air Force Academy explains, “The Western powers versus the Soviet Union. The United States, Britain, France, and Canada versus the Soviet Union. We end up with that that bipolar world, with the United States and the Soviet Union.”
A new threat was ahead for the allies, especially from the north. From the base's inception in 1957 to its decommission in the late 1960’s, St. Marie was imperative to fending off a Soviet Attack. “The alarm goes out. They would launch from Glasgow across the border, heading into Canada, and they would intercept Soviet bombers as they came across the poles.” Laslie said. As the Cold War clash progressed the 476 Fighter Group and 13th Fighter Interceptor Squadron was disbanded from Glasgow Air Force Base. The 13th Fighter Interceptor Squadron flew F101 and F101B Voodoo aircraft, single or double-seater planes. The Air Force then commissioned a bombardment wing, which equipped B-52 bombers and KC-135 refuelers. What the Air Force would call “detach and disperse” which places bombing fleets at numerous bases rather than at one.
“If there was a World War three scenario in Fairchild (Washington state) was destroyed. Not all of its bombers would be destroyed, right? There would still be 15 at Glasgow. 15 at another base or 15 at another base.” Glasgow Air Force base had a short tenure in its commission. Leta Godwin, Historian at the Valley County Museum gave a tour of the dilapidated homes on the west side of the base. “This is one of the old houses for the military people. Some live in fourplexes and duplexes around. Some of them have sold and people live in them, and others are just, abandoned.” The base was built to last, even in its disarray. Laslie explained that many of the airmen stationed at Glasgow were high-ranking officers. The homes and amenities were top-of-the-line. If an attack from the Soviets over the poles were to carry out, it would surely be a one-way mission. The Air Force wanted to ensure that those risking their life for the betterment of their country, had a comfortable setup.
Residents of St. Marie and surrounding areas have speculated the current use of the airfield. Some say it's home to “nukes,” others say, “aliens,” and the more plausible reason, testing and training for aircraft unreleased to the public.
What we do know, is that Boeing purchased the airfield and is operated 24/7 by MARCO, Montana Aviation Research Company. Guarding restricted areas throughout the property and keeping trespassers from advancing past posted markers. “There was a couple times they allowed people to come, and they were practicing parachuting and stuff.” Elinor Lindsay said.
For those that reside on the property, the term, “ghost town” doesn’t take away from the fact that St. Marie is home.
“You know someone who can remember Glasgow Air Force Base as a child, to them, you know, ‘Hey, I lived on Glasgow Air Force Base. This was something for me. It's always been home.’” Laslie said
Lindsay added laughing, “As long as my house lasts as long as I do, that’s all I can ask for.”
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