A common site in the skies above Aroostook County for many years, prior to the closure of Loring Air Force Base in 1994, will make its return to northern Maine later this month. 

Photo Courtesy: Loring Military Heritage Center

The KC-135 military refueling tanker, an iconic aircraft that flew in and out of Loring for decades before the base closed 21 years ago this month, will be among the feature static displays at this year’s Take Flight event set for the Northern Maine Regional Airport in Presque Isle on Saturday, September 26 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.  Event attendees will have the opportunity to board and tour the aircraft and speak with the crew.

Through the encouragement of U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, the Maine Air National Guard’s 101st Air Refueling Wing, affectionately known as the ‘MAINEiacs’, and stationed at the Maine Air National Guard Base in Bangor, will fly-in one of their KC-135’s to Presque Isle for Take Flight.

“We are so pleased that the KC-135 will be returning to The County,” said Jason Parent, one of the event coordinators.  “We really wanted to do this as a tribute to former military personnel and civilians from throughout the area that served at the base over the years.  Many County residents fondly recall the days of open houses at Loring Air Force Base, when they’d have the opportunity to get up close to such aircraft.  We are hoping to relive a little of that magic on September 26.”

To help harken back to those days and honor individuals who served at Loring, a special ceremony is planned at the airport with the KC-135 as the backdrop.  The event will feature patriotic music by the Larry Hall Band, a keynote address by Loring Veteran and Loring Military Heritage Center member Ray Hildebrand, and a presentation by Lt. Col. Steve Michaud of the Maine Air National Guard.  Michaud served at Loring and worked on KC-135 tankers while at the base.

The ceremony honoring former Loring military personnel and civilian workers will begin at 11:30 a.m.  TAMC President and CEO Sylvia Getman, whose father was a career military man, will open the ceremony along with Northern Maine Regional Airport Director Scott Wardwell.

Loring Veterans will not be the only to be recognized with a ceremony.  Vietnam-Era Veterans throughout northern Maine will get a long-awaited welcome home during the event.

The County Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Ceremony is similar to other events planned throughout the country during the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War, including one held in Bangor on June 14.

“This is a great opportunity for us to come together as a community and say ‘thank you’ to those who served our country.  Because of the controversy surrounding U.S. involvement in the war, our returning troops never got the proper welcome home they deserved when they returned from Vietnam,” said Sylvia Getman, TAMC president and CEO.  “The Take Flight event brings people from all over the region to the airport – a place where people are ‘welcomed home’ every day.  This will provide the perfect opportunity and setting for us to pay tribute to those who gave so much.”

Joining with TAMC, Northern Maine Regional Airport, Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce, City of Presque Isle and County of Aroostook in hosting the Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Ceremony is the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services.  Officials will be on-hand at the event to present certificates and special Vietnam War 50th Anniversary commemorative coins to Vietnam-era Veterans who register in advance.

Vietnam Veterans planning on attending the ceremony are encouraged to register for the event before the end of the day on September 16 so that a certificate can be made and coin presented.  Registration forms are found on-line and can be downloaded at www.tamc.org/takeflight or Veterans can call (207) 768-4033 to register over the phone.

The activity for Vietnam-era Veterans will begin at 12:00 noon with a reception inside the passenger terminal at the Northern Maine Regional Airport for registered Veterans.  Refreshments will be served.

Just before 1:00 p.m. Vietnam Veterans will be lined-up to proceed outside onto the tarmac for the official Welcome Home Ceremony that will also be held in the shadow of the KC-135.  The ceremony, which will begin at 1:00 p.m., is open to family members and friends and all members of the public who want to extend their welcome and thanks.

The ceremony will include the official welcome home walk, telling of the story of a County Vietnam Veteran and a Gold Star Family member, tributes to Veterans from each branch of the Military, a moment of reflection and remembrance for those who were killed in action or who have since passed away, a keynote address from General Brent Boyles and other special activity to mark the anniversary.

For more information or to register a Vietnam-era Veteran to be part of the ceremony, call (207) 768-4033.