Editor’s note: Below is an excerpt from the Jan. 6 Centennial Kickoff program.
Scott Air Force Base has an incredible story of innovation, communication and excellence. It started as a pilot training base during World War I, transitioning to a lighter-than-air station and then as the nation’s premier communications school during WWII.
Scott has borne witness to the birth of the Air Force, ushered in the modern jet age and ultimately grown into the nation’s premier transportation and cyber hub ... culminating in a century of service which continues today.
Scott Field, which started from 624 acres and originally farmed by seven families to feed a region, transformed over 100 years to protect a nation.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
And just like the families that up until the summer of 1917 worked tirelessly to cultivate the soil upon which this base was built, so too have the generations of proud Americans that followed; continuously sowing the seeds of innovation that have grown into an installation and community without compare.
VERNIER FAMILY HOME
Take for instance Charles Vernier who, without Scott Air Force Base and a bit of innovation, may not have been able to put a roof over his family’s heads, literally.
During and immediately following WWII, seasoned lumber was scarce, which presented a challenge for many young, growing families in need of new homes.
At the same time, the base was transitioning from a wartime to peacetime footing which meant downsizing, and in some instances entire structures were auctioned to local citizens like Vernier.
Specifically, Vernier purchased an entire mess hall in 1947, and with lots of help from family, dismantled and transported it board by board to the site of his family’s soon-to-be new home.
Nothing went to waste in those days; they carefully repurposed everything from entire windows down to individual nails. The only drawback of Vernier’s ingenuity might have been the color of the window frames, which his wife, Margaret, would scrub with lye to remove what she called, "that awful army drab!"
Charles and Margaret raised two children in their "Scott Field" home—Rick Vernier and Mary Jo Foerste who are present to help commemorate the day. Both are very active in working with base personnel and supporting the servicemembers here.
RADIO SCHOOL LEGACY
The soil beneath here is no less fertile today than it was 100 years ago. In fact, it is continuously enriched by each new member of the Scott AFB family that passes through the gates; bringing with them new vision and extraordinary goals and in so many instances beginning their very own legacies.
Take for example, Airman Robert Perry Hodge. Born in 1932, Hodge arrived at Scott in 1954 for radio operator school. Following his training on Jan. 26, 1955 and while enroute from the Azores to Bermuda in a C-54 Skymaster, he and his crew were forced to ditch their aircraft in the frigid waters of the Atlantic. Fortunately, the radio skills Hodge acquired at Scott helped ensure the successful rescue of his entire crew.
Forty-five years later retired Staff Sgt. Hodge would escort his daughter Pamela at her chief induction ceremony right here at Scott AFB. Dorsey continues to work at Scott to this very day.
Many people have special connections with Scott, not only through military service but also through civic duty. After all, Scott was born as a result of the foresight of community leaders not much different than those here today; and each have unique, deep rooted connections with the base.
Leaders like Mayor Mark Eckert, who throughout his career as a public servant has spent countless hours serving alongside Scott Airmen.
In particular, in his earlier years as a Belleville paramedic, he participated in one of the first airplane disaster drills incorporating the use of civilians; a practice commonly used to this very day.
He also made many calls delivering patients to the base hospital and receiving patients from arriving C-9 Nightingale aircraft.
The mayor’s relationship with Scott is not only a professional one, it is personal as well. So much so that he and his wife, Rita, held their wedding reception in the former Scott officers club.
Today, Eckert maintains his ties to the Scott family as the honorary civilian chair of the Belle-Scott committee, working hand-in-hand with base leadership to ensure the continued success of this storied installation.
FROM CHILDHOOD MEMORIES TO COMMANDER
There’s another special story to share of a young girl who first moved to Scott with her family in 1980.
She lived on base, went to Scott Elementary and Mascoutah Middle and filled her days with school work, sports and riding bikes with her sister, Kris, while her dad, Col. Gordon Cook, served as the executive officer to the vice commander of Military Airlift Command.
It was during this time that she realized she loved the Air Force. She loved the Air Force way of life, and she especially loved life at Scott AFB. She resolved that when she grew up, she wanted the same life for her own family.
Thirty years later in 2010 she followed in her father’s footsteps and returned to Scott, serving as the executive officer to the commander of air mobility command.
She would return again in August 2015 to take command of the base she loved so much growing up. And she is committed to continuing a 100-year tradition of innovation, communication and excellence at Air Mobility Command’s showcase wing.
That little girl’s name was Laura, we now call her colonel—Col. Laura Lenderman.