The 1920s and ’30s are known for their flapper-era glamour followed by years of Depression hardship, but, for Scott Field and its surrounding small towns, they were also a time when football field-size airships roamed the skies overhead.
Mark Wilderman’s grandmother, Marguerite C. Haas, used to tell him her childhood stories of seeing the airships as she walked to school in Belleville. Now, as the 375th Air Mobility Wing historian, Wilderman is tasked with sharing the story of Scott AFB’s airships with today’s Airmen.
“She always told me about looking up to see these giant airships with her twin sister,” said Wilderman. “So I put that in my memory, and then I got in a position to do something about it as the historian here at Scott.”
Though he had a strong connection to the airships in his family’s past, it was a long journey to becoming Scott AFB’s historian. He began his Air Force career serving as a missile launch officer during the Cold War.
He also served as the historian at Travis AFB, California, and Little Rock AFB, Arkansas, before making it to Scott AFB. His job isn’t only about preserving base histories, though. The historian position is one of the few deployable civilian positions in the military, and he’s deployed twice to the 609th Air and Space Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, since 2012.
“I’m going to be 63 in December, and I’m still deploying,” said Wilderman. “It’s an opportunity for an old guy like me, who’s been through the Cold War, to also serve in the War on Terror.”
While deployed, it’s his job to write and preserve the history of the war as it’s happening.
“In 2016, it was all about defeating ISIS, and we had an escalating air campaign going on,” said Wilderman. “The coalition, the Syrians, the Russians, the Turks, you name it. Everybody in the world was flying around in the same airspace trying not to start WWIII, so I was over there covering that.”
Whether deployed or at a wing, Wilderman’s top priority is preserving history. Through this, he gives voice to those who no longer have one.
Not only is he preserving their history, but he’s sharing it with the base and surrounding communities. His most recent project will feature a 40-inch model of Scott’s airship hangar in the 375th AMW headquarters building. He plans on having the model mounted on one of the hangar’s original concrete roofing tiles.
“The more I get into (the airships), I realize the people that did all this don’t have a voice anymore, so I’m their voice,” he said. “These people have been deceased for about 40 years. “It’s time to recognize them for what they did.”
Wilderman said he works not only to give voice to those who are no longer here, but to make sure the voices of Airmen serving today will be heard in the future.
“You young guys are carrying the burden, but we get to be the scribes who sit there and record everything,” he said. “I can guarantee that in the future, what the young folks are doing over there won’t be forgotten because we’re recording everything.”