Wadena Air Base crew shares memories at reunion
Members of the 739th Radar Squadron gathered in Wadena over the weekend to take a stroll down memory lane. The Wadena VFW was the base of operations for the reunion, with a bus tour of the old air base and a banquet Saturday night, along with oth...
Members of the 739th Radar Squadron gathered in Wadena over the weekend to take a stroll down memory lane.
The Wadena VFW was the base of operations for the reunion, with a bus tour of the old air base and a banquet Saturday night, along with other activities.
Organizer Jimmy White said the air base was operational from 1950 to 1970. During a tour of the air base, which is now the site of Bell Hill Recovery Center north of Wadena, members recalled many of the buildings and what they were used for on a daily basis.
The majority of the permanent buildings were completed in 1951 and many of them are still standing. Most of the buildings have been renovated and are used for the recovery center.
Fred Mentzer, who lives in Woodbury and winters in Texas, said he joined the squadron in September 1951.
"That first winter was so cold," he recalled as he walked a path at the old air base. "I remember getting up and shoveling for hours each day before we even started our classes."
He was at the air base for three years and ended up studying field engineering.
Markus Reinke was at the air base from 1962-63. He and others remembered walking up the large hill at the site many times a day to perform a variety of duties on the base. He was part of the radar maintenance crew.
Reinke and his wife live in Missouri and drove to Wadena for the reunion.
According to a brief history of the air base, the first nine family housing units in the base housing area were completed in 1954. The other 18 units were completed in 1958.
Wadena joined the SAGE system in 1959 and a second height finder radar, the AN/FPS-6A, was added to the base.
The squadron was re-designated the 739th Radar Squadron (SAGE) effective Jan. 20, 1960 under the Grand Forks Air Defense Sector and the 29th Air Division. This was necessary because the unit moved from a manual to semi-automatic mode and was then under the control of the Duluth Air Defense Sector and the 30th Air Division located at Truax Field, Wis.
The unit was tasked with providing radar data to the SAGE Center in Duluth to enable SAGE to detect, track and intercept enemy aircraft.
In 1961, the search radar was upgraded and re-designated as AN/FPS-64. The height finder radar was modified in 1963.
During its peak, 300 men were members of the squadron.
The site was closed in 1970 because of Defense Department cutbacks.
The NCO Club and mail room is now the administrative office for Bell Hill Recovery Center. The dining hall is still used as a dining hall. Some of the barracks are now used for counseling and housing of residents at the recovery center.
Many of the men who were members of the squadron continued to have strong ties to the Wadena area.
Updated contact information for members of the squadron was provided at the reunion, along with a brief history of the air base.
Several air base reunions have been organized over the years but White thought this might be the last reunion.