Living

Our 150th anniversary: The year in review

The News-Democrat marked its 150th year in 2008.
The News-Democrat marked its 150th year in 2008. For BND

On Jan. 16, 2008, the Belleville News-Democrat celebrated 150 uninterrupted years of supplying information and service to the metro-east, making it the oldest surviving paper in St. Clair County and one of the oldest in the state.

The Rev. Williamson Franklin Boyakin, a Baptist preacher who came to Belleville in the 1840s, first published the Belleville Weekly Democrat on Jan. 16, 1858. His political paper advocated allowing new states joining the union to decide themselves whether to be slave or free.

Boyakin left in the early 1860s. Eventually known as the "fighting parson" for his valor in the Civil War, he knew personally every president from Thomas Jefferson to Ulysses S. Grant.

The paper scrapped on for the next 30 years under a succession of publishers until Frederick John Kern arrived.

Fred Kern quit school to work on the family farm. A hunting accident nearly ripped off his left hand and led him back to school.

At age 27 he took a chance and joined his friend, Fred Kraft, in Belleville just before Christmas 1891. They bought the Belleville News-Democrat and Kern bought out his partner four years later.

For the next 77 years he and his family turned a drab, four-page broadsheet into the city's only surviving daily. When a fire destroyed the paper on Christmas Eve, 1898, Kern moved it into his home -- the paper's current location at 120 S. Illinois St.

Fred Kern died at age 67. His son, Bob Kern, took over at 27 years old -- the same age his dad had been when he bought the paper.

Bob Kern's son, Fred A. Kern, started thinking about selling the paper after a lengthy pressmen's strike in the late '60s. In the summer of 1972, Capital Cities Broadcasting Corp. bought the News-Democrat.

Readers saw the paper double its circulation of 30,000, grow from a few dozen employees to nearly 300, publish every day of the year and produce hard-hitting, in-depth investigative stories that regularly win both regional and national acclaim.

Starting in the 1970s, the paper expanded its boundaries. The editorial page, which had supported Democratic Party principles throughout its history, turned conservative. The paper's front page in the mid-1990s moved from a typical mix of local, national and international stories to almost exclusively local content.

The paper was sold several times and purchased by McClatchy Co. in 2006. Publisher Jay Tebbe said the quality of the newspaper's work and its continuing commitment to the community remain unchanged.

Today, the News-Democrat provides the area's largest trained staff concentrating on reporting metro-east news. In addition to the printed newspaper, breaking news is published online at www.bnd.com, allowing the paper to reach 9,000 more people a day.

Life in 1858

The stagecoach left daily after breakfast from the Belleville House on the Public Square. Bound for St. Louis, then stations west, it took 25 days to reach San Francisco.

A private night watchman stood guard over downtown. Pleased by his efforts, businessmen thanked "the German" with a wool overcoat for Christmas.

A pair of imported breeding pigs sold for $50 each, though a dollar would buy 9 yards of print fabric.

The St. Clair County Jail had 19 prisoners in February, including horse thieves, a boot stealer and a trio who killed a man by throwing him onto railroad tracks outside town.

Welcome to Belleville in 1858. The city is already four decades old, well-established as the seat of St. Clair County and incorporated as a city since 1850.

It's the same year the forerunner of the News-Democrat, the Belleville Democrat, came into existence and began vying for readers along with the Belleville Advocate and the German-language Belleviller Zeitung. It made for a lively amount of news, opinion and advertising for residents.

On the Public Square, the building of a new courthouse -- a four-story brick structure with massive marble columns -- would get under way before the year is out. It will take three years to complete.

Commerce bustled around the square, offering residents shoe leather, buttons, sewing needles, hand-rolled cigars, bone china, soda fountain drinks, a telegraph office and three weekly newspapers.

Main thoroughfares had just been paved with compacted stones, yet heavy spring rains mucked up side streets enough that residents complained about losing boots and soiling skirt hems.

In 1856, 35 gas streetlamps lit up downtown for the first time. Homes would be online within a couple of years and the sale of lamp oil would plummet.

Breweries thrived near Richland Creek. Workers also took home pay from factories and businesses that made vinegar, wool, soda water, wagons, farm equipment and milled flour.

Children attended public school in about a dozen rented spaces around town, and the state had decided to tax real estate to fund education.

Belleville's population was about 2,500. Another 1,900 lived in West Belleville, a separate town inhabited by day laborers and coal miners. The towns merged in 1882.

The German population soared to overtake the prominent French and English families. Well-educated German families named Abend, Amlung, Bach, Bunsen, Dintelmann, Eckert, Hecker and Koerner became the city's leaders and promoters. They took a vigilant anti-slavery stand, gathering their own vast collection of books for the first lending library in the state, starting a German-language newspaper, the Belleviller Zeitung, and urging free education for all children.

Religion

People tend to think of the metro-east as a Catholic area. The church is strong here but there is a wide range of religions in the area.

There are more than eight pages of church listings in the Yellow Pages for the Belleville area. There are 80 subheads of denominations -- 14 alone for Baptists.

There are listings for Presbyterian, Presbyterian in America, Presbyterian USA, Divine Science, United Church of Christ, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Catholic Byzantine, Christ Catholic, six different Churches of God, Pentecostal, non-denominational, Assembly of God, Islamic, Baha'i, Jehovah's Witness, Unitarian and Latter Day Saints, among others.

Religions aren't confined to the traditional ones everyone is familiar with. Spiritualist, Pagans, Celtics and Wiccans also exist in the metro-east. Anyone can start a church, and many have.

Long before Europeans settled the continent, the people who first lived in the metro-east had their own types of worship.

The Mississippians built the mound community that spread all throughout the metro-east and had influence across much of what now is the Midwest.

The community had pretty much disappeared by 1500 A.D. They may have worshiped the sun. Evidence of it is in the remains of buildings that were erected atop the great mound named Monk's Mound -- not because of the natives but because a group of monks later lived there.

Woodhenge is the reconstructed remains of a circle of wooden poles that might have acted as an early astronomical device, indicating the seasons by where the sun rose.

Then came the Catholics and, not long behind them, the Protestants.

Catholic missionary Jacques Marquette and French Canadian explorer Louis Joliet came through the area along the Mississippi River in 1739. Marquette founded the Immaculate Conception mission along the Illinois River near what is now Starved Rock State Park and left what would become a strong Catholic heritage.

From the Holy Family Parish in Cahokia and its log church dating from 1699 to brand-new churches in Fairview Heights and O'Fallon-Shiloh, Catholics and other religions have been a strong presence in the metro-east.

Church charities have supported and helped the poor and sick. Church organizations have sponsored sports and other recreational activities. Churches have started schools and hospitals that are important parts of metro-east communities.

Churches are making big efforts to reach out to people of all ages, with contemporary and traditional worship services. Many have Web sites and, these days, you can even get your sermons online.

Jewish temples were built in East St. Louis in 1903 and in Belleville in 1918. Many of the city's familiar retailers were Jewish, including Katz's, Small's Department Store, Imber's and Peskin's.

The area is home to a learning center on Old Collinsville Road south of Frank Scott Parkway East -- the Masjid & Islamic Education Center of Belleville, which serves a sizable population of Muslims. More than 60 families regularly attend the mosque for everything from social activities to daily prayer.

Disasters

Belleville has had plenty of severe weather.

Residents sweated through 110-degree heat on July 14, 1954. They shivered through 21-below-zero cold on Feb. 10, 1982.

A winter storm buried the city under 18 inches of snow on Jan. 30, 1982.

Among the worst: A tornado killed 10 people in 1938. It destroyed the new Union School in Belleville and left hundreds homeless.

Most of Belleville's big weather stories have resulted from heavy rainfall and flooding along Richland Creek, which helped bring settlers to the region in the first place. Richland Creek was essential to the city's water-powered mills, distilleries and soap factories in the 1800s, but that came at a price.

The first recorded flood in 1848 was so high and swift that all bridges were swept down to the Kaskaskia River. The creek overflowed its banks every few years throughout the late 18th and 19th centuries, but residential and commercial development continued in the floodplain.

A 1946 flood of Richland Creek damaged hundreds of homes, businesses and the city's sewage-treatment plant. It closed major roads and sent water lapping at the door of St. Elizabeth's Hospital's boiler room. City, state and railroad officials tried to solve the problem with a series of bridge replacements, but that didn't stop the flood of 1957. That flood left 10 people dead and caused millions of dollars in damage.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a major flood-control project for Richland Creek in 1960s. It was shelved when Belleville voters turned down a $1.5 million bond issue to cover a portion of the cost.

For the past 10 years, Belleville has been using Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to buy and demolish homes in the floodplain. Workers keep the creek free of obstructive debris and maintain a walking and biking trail along its bank.

The metro-east has never been a hotbed of seismic activity, but residents are shaken every 20 or 30 years by earthquakes centered in other areas. The biggest was in the 1812, when log cabins were swallowed by the earth and the Mississippi River changed course because of an earthquake along the New Madrid Fault.

The biggest modern earthquake was on Nov. 9, 1968 -- 5.5 on the Richter scale. It toppled chimneys and ceiling lights fell. Another earthquake measuring 5.2 hit this April.

Fires caused by lightning strikes aren't common now, but they were in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Lightning was blamed for several deaths and injuries. Naturally ignited fires led to damage or destruction of a grain elevator in 1896, a water-bottling plant in 1902, an ice house in 1903, a printing company in 1910, churches in 1910 and 1917, a brewery in 1913, a telephone switchboard in 1916, a mine tipple in 1922, a school in 1923, a stove factory in 1924, and many barns and homes over the years.

Politics

Politics in the metro-east have launched a bevy of governors, senators and nearly a president.

Paul Simon, the man with the bow tie, came to the area at age 19, bought a small newspaper in Troy and gained statewide fame crusading against gambling, prostitution and corruption in Madison County. He entered politics in 1955 and climbed through the ranks to U.S. senator.

Simon ran for president in 1988, leading to one of his more famous moments when he co-hosted the television show Saturday Night Live with singer Paul Simon.

He was a prolific writer and founded the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale before he died in 2003.

Edwardsville claims to be home to five governors of Illinois, although Charles Dineen was only born there and stayed a couple of weeks until he could travel with his mother to Lebanon. Belleville was home to the state's fourth governor, John Reynolds.

Before the Civil War, German immigrant Gustave Koerner stumped for Abraham Lincoln for president and was rewarded with an ambassadorship. Koerner was significant in the first success of the fledgling Republican Party, helping write the GOP platform in 1860 that got Lincoln elected.

The region has been through much political strife, from pre-Civil War anti-abolitionist violence in Alton to vote fraud as recently as a few years ago. Politics always has been a rough-and-tumble affair here, with few elections where there wasn't some kind of clamor about the legality of the results.

The region is one of the bluest in a blue state, with strong Democratic blocs in Madison and St. Clair counties. Belleville was once solidly Republican, but the Great Depression changed that and the city finally went for Franklin Delano Roosevelt the third time he ran.

U.S. Rep. Melvin Price, a Democrat from East St. Louis, served nearly 44 years and was known for taking care of the people in his district as well as building up and defending Scott Air Force Base.

His main legacy was his work on the House Armed Services Committee, particularly his 10 years as chairman. He paved the way for the nuclear Navy, nuclear missile defenses and peacetime use of nuclear energy.

Alan Dixon, a Democrat from Belleville, became a politician at age 21 in 1949. By 1980 he was seeking a U.S. Senate seat against another Belleville native, Republican Dave O'Neal, giving Belleville the distinction of being guaranteed a member in the U.S. Senate.

Dixon was upset in the 1992 Democratic primary by newcomer Carol Moseley Braun of Chicago. Many believed he lost thanks to his support of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas despite sexual harassment claims by Anita Hill.

In 1994 he chaired the U.S. Department of Defense's Base Realignment and Closure Commission, shuttering 30 military facilities that were deemed obsolete.

Famous sons, daughters

Actors, an astronaut, athletes and top dogs are among the celebrities who have made Belleville or the metro-east their home.

Jed Clampett is from Belleville.

Actor Buddy Ebsen's father taught swimming in the family's pond, which is now the site of the Belleville Swimming Pool. He was born Christian Ebsen Jr. on April 2, 1908, in Belleville and moved to Florida for his mother's health when he was 12.

He returned to sail at Carlyle Lake in the 1970s and to his boyhood home at 805 Lebanon Ave. in Belleville in the early 1990s.

Ebsen was cast as the Tin Man in the "The Wizard of Oz," but he nearly died when his lungs filled with the aluminum dust they tried to stick to his white makeup. Jack Haley then got the part.

His big break came in 1962 when he became Jed Clampett on the TV sitcom "Beverly Hillbillies." Ebsen also starred as the detective Barnaby Jones from 1973 to 1980. He died in 2003 at age 95.

From 1955 to 1962, women swooned at brawny hunk Clint Walker as Cheyenne Bodie in the weekly western series "Cheyenne."

Walker was born Norman Walker in 1927 in Hartford. The family moved to Belleville for a short time as Clint's dad looked for work. His twin sister, Lucy Walker Westbrook, made Belleville her home and Walker was last here four years ago to visit her shortly before she died.

Pitcher Les Mueller, 89, of Belleville spent only two years in the major leagues. He played for the Detroit Tigers in 1941 and 1945, a career that was interrupted by World War II. In his two seasons, Mueller pitched a shutout in his first start, helped the Tigers win a World Series, threw 19 2/3 innings in a game against Philadelphia and allowed one-armed outfielder Pete Gray's first hit.

Other famous locals include: Christine Brewer, of Lebanon, opera singer; Mark Consuelos, of Lebanon, actor and husband of talk show host Kelly Ripa; Miles Davis, of East St. Louis, jazz trumpet great; Katherine Dunham, of East St. Louis, dancer and choreographer; Eugene Haynes, of East St. Louis, classical pianist; William Holden, of O'Fallon, Oscar-winning actor; Mark Hollmann, of Fairview Heights, Tony award-winning composer; Reginald Hudlin, of East St. Louis, screenwriter and director; Ken Kwapis, of Belleville, filmmaker and television director; Sandra Magnus, of Belleville, astronaut; David Rasche, of Belleville, actor and comedian; Eugene B. Redmond, of East St. Louis, poet and civil rights activist; Michael Stipe, of Collinsville, front man for the Grammy-winning rock band R.E.M.; Jeff Tweedy, Mike Heidorn and Jay Farrar of Belleville, members of alternative country-rock band Uncle Tupelo; Tina Turner, of East St. Louis, Grammy-winning R&B singer; Uno, of Belleville, beagle that won Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show; Gretchen Wilson, of Pocahontas, Grammy-winning country singer; Robert P. Wadlow, of Alton, Guinness Book of Records' tallest man in 1937.

Health care

From the days when a handful of doctors made their rounds on horseback to "bleed" patients, Belleville residents have watched health care blossom into the city's largest industry as physicians have worked to make state-of-the-art care available close to home.

Instead of building on the mosquito-infested marshes and bogs of what is now Cahokia and East St. Louis, Belleville in 1814 grew up high and dry on Compton Hill. But even in the city's infancy, townspeople learned how hard it would be to keep deadly disease from their midst.

In 1833 a man stricken with cholera was attacked while camping near town. He took refuge in the courthouse, was treated but soon died. The plague he started raged several months, eventually killing even former Gov. Ninian Edwards.

Another cholera epidemic swept through Belleville in 1849, killing 250 people or 10 percent of Belleville's population.

Diphtheria, measles, scarlet fever, typhoid and yellow fever all took heavy tolls, often fueled by the public's own negligence to be vaccinated.

Belleville found itself fighting its first smallpox epidemic in the fall of 1903. By November, all city schools had been fumigated, and residents were being fined hundreds of dollars for breaking strict quarantine rules. Six people died. It returned in 1904 and 46 people died.

As late as 1933, Belleville Township High School was closed for three weeks when a student contracted smallpox.

Typhoid fever and yellow fever came through. In 1914, the city ordered that any family with a case of scarlet fever should burn library books rather than return them.

In late 1918, soldiers were returning home after the end of World War I and Spanish influenza was spreading with them. A supply of flu vaccine developed at the Mayo Clinic slowly ended the epidemic, but not until 188 Belleville residents died.

As late as 1922, more than 1,300 cases of malaria were being reported annually in St. Clair County. A measles epidemic in February 1931 closed schools and contributed to at least four deaths.

In 1875, five German nuns came to Belleville to offer emergency services in a few rooms at the St. Peter's Parish school. These Sisters of St. Francis had so little room and resources, they had to offer other health care in patients' homes. Such was the start of St. Elizabeth's Hospital.

St. Vincent's Hospital, built in 1903, combined forces with St. Elizabeth's in 1926 to eventually take over three square blocks of West Lincoln Street. In 1958, Memorial opened its doors on the west end of town and now, 50 years later, boasts 2,200 staffers and more than 300 doctors in 97 departments.

Today there are two massive complexes in Belleville -- St. Elizabeth's and Memorial hospitals -- enabling doctors in countless specialties to provide services undreamed of just a generation or two ago.

Education

Early schools in the metro-east were in deserted log cabins or simple "pole houses." The students were children who could be spared from farm labor for the luxury of an education.

The writing desk was one board extending the length of the cabin. Students sat on a bench made of a split log with wooden pegs, too high for the smaller children to rest their feet on the floor.

They were taught by rote by a teacher paid a few dollars a quarter for teaching 15 to 20 students. Few schools survived the inevitable departure or death of the teacher.

The German immigrants who came to the metro-east starting in the 1830s were well-educated, trained professionals. They viewed American education as a cultural wilderness.

They started private schools, most of them German-speaking. They focused on child-centered teaching techniques rather than rote memorization.

They also introduced kindergarten through the Belleville Kindergarten Society, one of the earliest established in the United States. The first kindergarten class was held in 1875.

The Belleville School District was formed in 1847 out of 11 schools mostly operating in church basements. Of these, only three taught in English at all; the rest spoke only German.

In early days, it was thought that boys needed "a knowledge of figures" and that girls needed little book preparation for their life's work.

Immaculate Conception Academy was a rarity in 1860 -- the first Catholic girls' school in Belleville and one that did not confine itself to needlework and music. Under Sister Jerome Hail, the girls learned bookkeeping, botany, chemistry, astronomy and more.

Public schools continued to grow in popularity, although taxes to sustain them have never been popular.

"If you want good schools, you will have to pay for them, and by universal law of compensation, you will have to pay for them anyhow," wrote Belleville Superintendent J.K. Light in 1902. "If you do not pay enough to form good citizens, you will have to pay more than enough to reform bad ones."

One- or two-room schoolhouses dominated into the 1920s. Often younger pupils would know only German, despite being second- or third-generation American citizens, and older pupils would help them learn English along with their regular schoolwork.

The German schools and their influence was dealt a serious blow when World War I came. Anti-German sentiment ran high and Edwardsville schools stopped teaching German in 1918, only restoring it a decade later because some colleges required it.

Schools were moving to the larger, multistory buildings, and schools were being grouped into districts through the middle of the 20th century.

Local education changed with the workplace.

When farms drove the economy, students got the summers off to work in the fields. During the 1900s, education was designed to make workers for the factories. The information age now requires computers in the schools and higher education is becoming necessary instead of optional.

Work

We have gone from an area which produced a lot of coal, beer, steel and stoves to a place where the future is service industries, government jobs and technology.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security estimates that more than 327,500 people in the metro-east are employed and nearly 29,000 unemployed.

More than 74,000 metro-east residents commute to Missouri to work.

Scott Air Force Base is far and away the largest employer on this side of the Mississippi River with 13,425 civilian and military employees.

Olin Corp. in East Alton is second with 3,700, Wal-Mart and Sam's Clubs are third with 3,000 employees. U.S. Steel Granite City Works is fourth with 2,250, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville is fifth with 2,300, Memorial Hospital in Belleville is sixth with 2,000.

Southwestern Illinois College and St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Belleville are tied for seventh with 1,700, Southern Illinois Healthcare Systems is ninth with 1,400 and East St. Louis Community School District 189 is 10th with 1,150.

Belleville Shoe Co. is one of the larger private employers with 400 workers. But even the shoe company, founded in 1904, depends on the government because it manufactures military footwear.

Belleville was a town of foundries, more than 50 of them at one time. Some developed into stove manufacturing companies that earned the town the nickname of Stove Capital of the World.

Other area smokestack industries included steam engines at Harrison Machine Works in Belleville, graniteware, steel and coke in Granite City and Alton, aluminum in Alorton and chemicals in Sauget.

In East St. Louis jobs were always available for laborers -- low-paying jobs. With the establishment of National Stockyards came the meat packing industry.

Back in 1860, seven breweries were listed in the city directory. The Western Brewery, which became the Stag Brewery, was the last survivor, closing in 1988.

Belleville was a town that thrived on smokestack industries, and those industries needed coal. Almost from the time there was a Belleville, there were mines.

Coal drew miners to the area because it offered relatively steady, though dangerous and unhealthy, work and because the average 6- to 8-foot tall seams meant miners could work without having to hunch down like in Eastern states.

A report in 1904 stated that St. Clair County had 69 mines producing 3.4 million tons of coal and employing 3,700 men. Madison County had 35 mines producing 3 million tons and employing 3,400 men.

State projections are that in 2014 the metro-east will see the most job growth in food preparation and serving related occupations; education, training and library occupations; and health care practitioners and technical occupations.

Ethnic

The French settled in the area more than 300 years ago, yet it was the Germans who came in the 19th century who made the first big impact on the ethnicity of the Belleville area.

French trappers and fur traders were the first Europeans to populate the area along the Mississippi. Frenchman George Blair founded his "beautiful city" of Belleville and the county seat moved to it in 1814.

Then came the flow of German settlers.

The first wave in the 1830s were well-educated and moneyed. Many immigrant families were dealing with hard economic times in their homeland. Young liberals and intellectuals fled after a failed uprising in 1830, disgruntled by the reactionary policies the German states adopted after the Napoleonic Wars.

The second wave came after the 1848 revolution in Germany. They were drawn here by free land with black soil, green valleys, an abundance of game and proximity to St. Louis.

By the late 1860s, Belleville was believed to have a population that was 90 percent German-born or of German descent.

Today, German makes up the second-largest ethnic ancestry group in St. Clair County, bested only by African-Americans. Today, African-Americans make up about 29 percent of St. Clair County's more than 250,000 residents.

The area included slaves taken from Africa as early as 1720, when Frenchman Phillipe Renault put slaves to work in his salt mines near Fort de Chartres in Randolph County.

Brooklyn was founded by freed and fugitive slaves in the early 1820s. In 1825, it became home to the first African Methodist Episcopal church in Illinois. It became the first black-majority municipality in America in 1873.

A large number of freed slaves came to the metro-east because of local abolitionist activity and its proximity to slave-holders in Missouri. With the Civil War, there was a need for farm and factory labor as local whites went to fight.

The migration of African-Americans from the South surged after 1900 as meat packing, grain handling, rail and factory jobs grew. With the new residents came racial strife, including the East St. Louis race riot of 1917 that left hundreds of people dead, most of them African-Americans killed by rampaging whites.

Many African-Americans who called the metro-east home since then have made their marks nationally, including jazz great Miles Davis, dancers Josephine Baker and Katherine Dunham, poet and civil rights activist Eugene Redmond, classical pianist Eugene Haynes, R&B singer Tina Turner and athletes Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Darius Miles and Dawn Harper.

War

Starting with the American Revolution, wars and the people who fought them have shaped the metro-east and its character.

Many of the Belleville area's first settlers were Revolutionary War veterans who received 100 acres of land on the frontier as payment for service in the Continental Army. At least 27 Revolutionary War veterans are buried in St. Clair County.

John "Old Ranger" Reynolds served as a scout in the western army during the War of 1812 and practiced law in St. Clair County. When he became Illinois' fourth governor and the Black Hawk War broke out, he lead the militia into battle. He is buried at Walnut Hill Cemetery in Belleville.

A failed German revolutionary would lead the fight for democracy in his new home. Col. Friedrich Hecker organized and commanded the 24th and 82nd Infantry regiments, was wounded rallying his troops at Chancellorsville and recovered to fight the battles of Missionary Ridge, Chattanooga and Knoxville.

The metro-east's role in world conflict changed greatly in June 1917, when the U.S. Army bought 640 acres in Shiloh Valley so it could train pilots and ground crews for World War I. It produced more than 500 pilots for that war, became the first inland home to the nation's lighter-than-air fleet of dirigibles and during World War II trained 77,370 skilled radio operators and mechanics.

Scott Field became Scott Air Force Base on Jan. 13, 1948, and grew to play major roles in U.S. conflicts -- coordinating the Berlin Airlift and Cold War efforts, bringing home American prisoners of war from Vietnam in 1973, evacuating freed American hostages from Iran in 1981, evacuating Marines from the Beirut barracks bombing in 1983 and supporting the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is the largest employer in the metro-east, with more than 14,200 active duty, Guard, Air National Guard and Reserves military members and civilian personnel.

It has given the metro-east a large population of veterans who, like their forebears in the Continental Army, decided to settle here.

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