R e U n i o n
Bentwaters - The Return Visit
by Tim Egercic
I arrived in London on Tuesday, 9 April 2002 and after spending a couple of days there, I checked out of my B&B in the King's cross section of London, got on the Hammersmith and City Line of the London Underground and headed towards Liverpool Street station. Once there, Ken Greene, who I hadn't seen in almost twenty-two years, found me standing outside of the ticket office. We had arranged to meet there prior to our trip and it seemed like the obvious place to meet up. I bought my round trip train ticket for 24 pounds and we departed on the 10 a.m. train to Ipswich. Ken, who had traveled all night from Newark Airport slept most of the way while I videotaped some of the trip and enjoyed the ride. Having taken trains out of London many times from 1979 - 1981, none of the scenery appeared familiar to me until we passed through a tunnel immediately before arriving at the Ipswich train station at 11:00. The taxi ride to our B&B on Woodbridge Road with tip cost nearly 7 pounds, more than the price it cost to go Bentwaters back in the early 80's. Along the way, our taxi driver pointed out our car hire place did not exist there anymore so we would have to consider other options on how to get around.
We checked in at the Lattice Lodge and were shown to our rooms by the owners Bill and Pauline. A few minutes later, Pauline brought a message to my room. I figured it was from Tony Invergo, but to my surprise it was from Don Laisure, a former D Flight SP and once roommate of mine who was now living and working in Ipswich. Don was someone else I hadn't communicated with in 21 years and I had no idea he was living in England. After failing to reach him at work and leaving a message, Ken and I began our 15 minute walk to Town Centre. Along the way, the B&B owner Bill stopped us on
Spring Road and delivered a message that my friend had called and wanted me to call him. What service! After walking through Town Centre, then past the Football Stadium, we arrived at the train station and I tried to call the number Bill gave me, who I thought was Don. The number I dialed didn't work, so I called the original number Pauline gave me and was able to reach Don at his work number. I discovered later, Bill gave me Tony's cell phone number, but was one digit off. Don informed me he didn't find out about our arrival from the 81SPS website, but coincidentally he had called author Georgina Bruni in London the previous day and knowing my plans, she gave him my itinerary. He told us to walk towards town on Princes Street and he would meet us half way.
After Ken and I walked a few blocks and passing several people along the way, we were just discussing if I would recognize him when a man with a baseball cap appeared in view and I said "I think this is him". It was. After a handshake, a hug, introducing Don to Ken, and a few quick Bentwaters stories, we all headed into Town Centre and into Ipswich's indoor mall called the Butter Market Shopping Centre. Don works there as an undercover department store detective equipped with a sophisticated hidden two way radio. I'd mention the name of the store, but I don't want to blow his cover. We were shown around and then taken to another floor in the mall where we met Don's 18 year old daughter, Tasha who works in another store. Don requested a "holiday" from his boss for Friday to join us for the reunion and it was granted. Ken and I were invited to dinner at Don's that night and accepted.
After resting a bit, Don picked up Ken and I at our B&B at 6:00. We met Don's wife Linda and his 15 year old son D.L. and sat down to a great spaghetti dinner and some cold lager. Afterwards, we sat around and reminisced while drinking more beer and later I hooked up my camcorder to his television and I showed them the 1991 Unsolved Mysteries episode of the 1980 RAF Woodbridge UFO incident. I could tell D.L. was enthralled by our Air Force and UFO stories and he asked his parents if he could skip school the next day and go with us to the base. He was told "NO". The next morning when Don came by to pick us up, D.L. was sitting anxiously in the car.
I called Tony Invergo on Don's cell phone and Don gave him directions on where to meet us. Since it was near a co-op, we all went in to buy some supplies to get us through what we expected to be a long day, but we only bought water. Tony arrived with his family a few minutes later and I handed Don my camcorder as he caught Tony and I meeting for the first time since March, 1981. Although we worked different flights, Tony and I knew each other because we arrived and departed RAF Bentwaters on the same day. Upon returning to the states in 1981, Tony, Bob Scarlett and myself all missed flights out of Philadelphia so we shared a room at a Holiday Inn in Essington, PA, just south of the airport. The next morning, Bob caught his flight home to Minnesota, Tony departed straight for Plattsburgh AFB, and I got on a TWA flight to Pittsburgh. That was the last time we all saw each other....until now. Tony introduced me to his wife of 13 years, Laura and his children Sally, age 12, Andrew, 4 and Elizabeth, 15 months. They have been living near Birmingham, England for over 4 years working as Bible teachers and this was the first time he traveled back to the old base.
After chatting for a few minutes, Tony and his family followed us in Don's car down the A1214 to the A12. Don pointed out we were traveling on a new road and the old A12, unseen, ran parallel to the new one. Nothing seemed familiar to me until we went through the town of Eyke. Deadman's curve that led up to the Eyke church had been removed and now was a basically a straight road that led up to the base. We turned left into the old base housing area, then made a right that took us down into the former domestic side of the base. We parked in the former Camelot Theater, now Angel Theatre parking lot and began to look around and take pictures. A high chain link fence separated the parking lot from where the bowling alley used to be and a smaller wooden fence lay between us and the barracks. We were tempted to go around the wooden fence, but demolition crews were hard at work on the other side, so we decided to try another time. The most amazing site for me was seeing a closed down Burger King with a drive-thru across from the Theatre. After fifteen or twenty minutes of taking pictures, we exited the domestic side of the base and drove to the technical side. We stopped at the gateshack and reported to the guard that we were visiting the base and he directed us to the control tower.
There, Linn Barringer was already inside waiting for us. I was introduced to Linn via email by Lori Rehfeldt late last year and he was very helpful in answering all of my questions and was just as much a part of the reunion as the rest of us. Linn signed a waiver for all ten of us and we were introduced to Kathy Mayes who works for the owners of Bentwaters Parks Ltd. I had been corresponding with Kathy via email a few weeks prior to our arrival to ensure we would have visitation privileges, but with Linn as our escort, she assured me there was no problem. The current owner of Bentwaters, Bill Kemball arrived and we had an impromptu ceremony where Tony, Don, Ken and myself presented memorabilia to a museum they are starting. After some picture taking, we all went up to the top of the control tower. The only other time I went up there was in 1980 when I was on a PP post during an alert at night. We took some pictures and chatted awhile with Mr. Kemball and then departed the control tower area to begin the real tour.
Mr. Kemball had to leave us to give a group of college students a tour of the base. Linn had his convertible Mazda, so I rode with him as Don and Tony (and company) followed in their vehicles. Had we gone straight across the runway, we would've gone into Echo Napa, but Linn turned right onto the runway and flew down the runway going 90 mph leaving Don and Tony in the dust. We went as far as we could before running off of the end. The west end of the runway was being bulldozed and Linn pointed out how deep the layers of cement went down....about 3 feet. From there, we passed through the Fox Napa where I pointed to a building that my friend Bob Kozminski and his ART member, Ray Bousquet were falsely accused of breaking into by our old D Flight Shift Commander. As Linn led the convoy of vehicles, he asked where I wanted to go next and I answered the WSA, but as we exited the Fox Napa, I spotted CSC and requested he stop there first. The place was as Lori Rehfeldt described it. Dark, dingy, with sheep excrement all over the floors.
As everyone walked inside, I secretly gave Tony's daughter Sally a two way radio. I told her to turn it on and go inside and stand near her father. They were all in the Battlestaff part of CSC when I transmitted from the parking lot outside "WHISKEY ONE TO SECURITY CONTROL". Tony admittedly freaked out and wondered aloud "Where is that coming from?" I came in shortly thereafter and revealed I was behind the joke. We toured all through CSC. The armory, the breakroom, offices, and the guardmount area. We took quite a few pictures and video then departed for the WSA. I think this was the moment we were really looking forward to. If you worked Security, you were normally posted half of the time in the WSA and with Ken and Tony as Tower operators and myself and Tony being certified Alarm Monitors, revisiting the WSA was a momentous occasion.
I propped myself up in the passenger seat with my camcorder as Linn drove slowly down the road from CSC and into the WSA. We parked the cars across from the old Fire Team standby room and proceeded to start from the ECP (Entry Control Point) and work our way around. I pointed out to Linn an empty area where my old building, the Alarm Room used to be. I had D.L. take a picture of me in front of the fence where it once stood as everyone else roamed through the old ECP, Whiskey 3. From there, we began a counter clockwise sweep of the area. Using the two way radios, Tony and I made transmissions using the call signs of old patrols, based on our location at the given time. Don took us to a maintenance building not too far from the ECP where he said snacks were sold. Tony and I didn't remember that, but Ken remembered sending the ART teams to pick up things for him when he worked in the tower.
As we cut across the infield towards the new Alarm/Fire Team building where Whiskey 6 (the smaller watch tower) once stood, we heard horses along the NMSA fence line. I guess they were the new guards of the place now....they definitely alarmed us. The Alarm/Fire Team building which was built after I left in 1981 was somewhat impressive, although all of us military minded folk in the tour group wondered why it was put in a wide open area, along the fence line and subject to an easy attack. The maintenance building with the snack bar had more protection. I guess we know now which was more important. Anyway, like Lori Rehfeldt said about her Woodbridge gateshack, it wasn't my Alarm Room so I quickly lost interest, and we departed and walked down the HOT ROW, where we once stored the nuclear weapons. A few of the structures on the 600 (or HOT) ROW were opened and we went inside. One particular structure had two automobiles in it, so we had Ken stay inside while we closed the doors. Then, Tony and I videotaped Don talking to our cameras "Well, if you wanted to know what we were really protecting in these structures, I'll show you". Opening the doors, Ken is seen doing a Price is Right hand gesture towards the cars. Well okay......you had to be there!
Next stop, Whiskey 2.
While Ken, Don, D.L., Tony and Sally proceeded up the tower, I walked back to Linn's car to grab something. I noticed a car pulled up and parked next to Linn's. A tall gentleman got out and said "Tim?". Thinking it was someone of Mr. Kemball's employ, I said "Yes?". "Jon Saunders". Jon, a Martlesham Heath resident, Bentwaters enthusiast, and Woodbridge UFO incident researcher, found out about our reunion on Ken Kern's website and emailed me late last year. He requested to join us on our base visit and we finally got to meet.
Jon and I walked up the Whiskey 2 tower where I took pictures and captured some video footage. Jon pointed out which direction RAF Woodbridge was as I told him the story of Rick Bobo watching the UFOs from this post one early morning in December 1980. The tower was definitely higher than the tree tops and there was an excellent view of the skyline. We exited the tower and WSA and decided to go eat at Jay's Diner, which is located not far from where the old post office was. First we circled the WSA on a new (to me) taxiway that had many aircraft parking pads and led us back to the west end of the runway. Linn fired the engine and we once again hit 90 mph down the runway. Jon's car and Don's Mazda both coughed and panted trying to keep up but in the end was no match for Linn's Miata. Tony was several minutes behind in his minivan (and family in tow) so we waited for him and Linn led the four car caravan to Jay's.
Once inside, we all ordered and finally had a chance to relax. Prices were very reasonable, the food was good and the dining area easily accommodated our group of eleven. For less than four quid, I had a hamburger, chips and a drink. After lunch, we drove through the Echo and Alpha Napas. I pointed out to Linn a PP Post high up on a hill we referred to as Bunker Hill. I told him of the time I was posted there during an alert and my flight chief, Ray Gulyas sneaked up on me in the middle of the night. We drove past where Alpha 3 ECP used to be, over to Hanger 71 (I think that's the number) and the haunted church which Linn pointed out was not abandoned and was still in use. Heading back towards CSC,. we parked the cars by the bag nasty building in search of the rumored under ground facility. If there was one, based on my conversation with Adrian Bustinza, I believed it was in this area. We searched five separate buildings armed with flashlights and never found anything that led underground, but we did find an unusual structure, surrounded by concrete walls. The building didn't have conventional doors, and we had to enter it by crawling through a large hole in the side about 3 feet off the ground. Inside was very strange. There were small narrow corridors with rooms that looked to be decontamination chambers. This is similar to what Larry Warren described in his book Left at East Gate. Unfortunately, most everything was dark and I didn't bother to bring my video camera.
After leaving those buildings, we went into another facility in the old Alpha Napa that was a clone of the one we were just in, although we didn't have to crawl in because it adjoined a normal building. Jon Saunders pointed out that this building was photographed and mentioned in Left at East Gate. We departed Bentwaters via the new Butley gate and headed for RAF Woodbridge and Rendlesham Forest, site of Britain's Roswell.
END OF PART I
Coming in Part II....... Larry Warren's Ground Zero, visiting the barracks, saying good-bye (again) to the old bases and to old and new friends, Sutton Hoo, Rendlesham UFO researcher Robert McLean and my visit with Georgina Bruni.