Friends and former Loring Air Force Base comrades Bob Smith of Portage Lake (left), Chris Conkling of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Howard Deighton of Bethel, New York, Mitch Gleary of Norfolk, Nebraska (standing), Chuck Lombard of Laurel, Maryland, and Rick Fowler of Pearl, Mississippi, share a laugh after Friday's B-52 fly-in. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

LIMESTONE, Maine — For thousands of veterans and families visiting the former Loring Air Force Base over the weekend, the trip back north meant reuniting with people they have long considered their closest friends.

Even if some of those friends have not seen each other in decades.

The Loring Military Heritage Center hosted three days of events celebrating the 75th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force. On Friday, cars lined the road leading to the base’s former runway. People watched in awe as a B-52 bomber jet from Minot Air Force Base in Minot, North Dakota, soared overhead.

Just one day before, another B-52 from Barksdale Air Force Base in Barksdale, Louisiana, touched down on the base. Though Friday’s jet flight was merely a fly-over, the Barksdale aircraft remained at Loring and became the center of attention as people stopped to take photographs.

A plane flies over Loring Air Force Base.
A B-52 bomber jet from Minot, North Dakota, flies over the former Loring Air Force Base during a Loring reunion event on Friday. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

But for veterans like Rick Fowler of Pearl, Mississippi, the B-52s were merely an excuse to catch up with old comrades.

“I came here mainly to see these guys. We all served together,” Fowler said, as he pointed to friends Chuck Lombard of Laurel, Maryland, to his left and Mitch Geary of Norfolk, Nebraska, to his right.

Surrounding them were several other men who served at Loring in the 1980s.

Fowler served in Limestone from July 1981 to January 1983 as part of a back-up fire protection team for the B-52 storage facilities. After leaving the Air Force in 1983, he spent over three decades in law enforcement.

Though Loring itself — now an industrial and commercial business park — has changed substantially since Fowler left, the ties he feels to his fellow veterans has not.

“I spent 35 years in law enforcement, but you can’t find comradery like you get in the military,” Fowler said. “There’s lots of memories here.”

Those who visited Loring also celebrated the former base’s contributions to U.S. military history.

Loring Air Force Base began operations in 1953 just as the U.S. was engaged in a Cold War with the former Soviet Union. Limestone was considered a prime spot for storing nuclear weapons, since Maine was the closest state to Russia at the time.

The B-52s had the capability to carry nuclear weapons to Russia if the Air Force was called to defend itself or its military allies in Europe.

“We had the largest nuclear weapons storage in the world,” said Cuppy Johndro, co-chair of the Loring Military Heritage Museum.

A plane sits on a runway at Loring Air Force Base.
Onlookers gaze at a B-52 bomber plane from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, which was showcased during the reunion events at the former Loring Air Force Base. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

The museum committee organizes Loring reunions every several years, with the 2022 gathering being the first since before COVID-19. This year the committee knew that the Air Force’s anniversary would be the perfect time to bring veterans together again.

Johndro and her husband, Terry, both worked at Loring as X-ray technicians for six years, leaving just a few months before the base closed in 1994. The couple live in Caribou today and look forward to each time they can reunite with former colleagues.

“It’s been humbling to see those who served with and before me,” Johndro said.

Though New Hampshire native Mark Lance had not reunited with his own comrades as of Friday afternoon, that did not ruin the conversations with other Loring folks.

“Even the guys you don’t serve with have something in common with you,” said Lance, who was a security cop from 1972 to 1973.