Part 2 - I did say I was in the Bentwaters area for two days.
After spending my first day in England on very little sleep, Linn drove Gia and I back to the Bull Hotel where I took a brief nap. Later on that evening, we had made plans to meet Linn and his wife Vivian and their friends for dinner at the hotel. My thought was that the evening would be short, since I was still very jet lagged and was afraid I might get either way too silly or way too cranky.
Gia and I waited in a quiet bar area for Linn and his guests, while they waited for us in a noisy, friendlier bar area across the way. Neither Gia nor I knew another bar in the hotel existed. We were still tired and didn't have the energy to venture around the hotel looking for Linn. We just figured he'd find us. I told the waitress that we were waiting for Linn and she immediately knew whom I was talking about and that he was in the other bar area. We felt a little bit silly but everyone understood that no one was late. We all ordered our meals at the bar area and then moved over to the dining area.
The meal at the Bull Hotel was excellent. We immediately talked about our day and my reflections of my time at Bentwaters. I couldn't help but comment that being at Bentwaters and Woodbridge felt so surreal as though I jumped into a recurring dream. I think what made my time now so eventful and full was that I was around safe, none judgmental people. I could express my feelings without retribution.
It's funny that Bentwaters and Woodbridge had a history that we all share. A new friend of mine recently shared this with me: We were there at different times in our lives but the feelings everyone had are about the same, just the faces and names are different.
I know when my friend wrote that piece he was talking of both the good times and bad times. There were some funny times that helped me get through my time there. When I laughed and I did, I knew I'd be okay. Toward the end of my time at Bentwaters, I was tired and wanted to be left alone. I didn't have any resiliency to fight against a network that was gobbling up airmen and spitting them out.
I think most of us newbies got to Bentwaters and we wanted to do well. I believe most did not want to fail or be labeled. We were kids, "jeeps", green behind the gills, for many of us we were either no wingers or mosquito wingers (zero or one stripers).
The evening flew and it was getting late, I believe the waitress wanted to close up. So we hugged and said our good nights and made plans to meet Linn the next morning. Linn wasn't too comfortable with the hugs but quietly hugged back.
Our plan for the following day was to go back to various places (mainly near signs) and take pictures. We also wanted to go near the chow hall and the dormitory area. Now I have to say after seeing pictures of tents that the guys lived in back in the 1960's I feel the dormitories were luxury. It all depends on perspective.
We climbed over a gate and walked on the main road between the church and the Camelot (now Angel) Movie Theater. Now the sidewalks were brick. Back then I remember the sidewalk was cement. The chapel was missing it's cross, and the gardens still looked okay even though no ones been inside.
The chow hall that sat right next to the 'new bowling alley' Linn explained to me was a pub for a short while. I had the toughest time envisioning the chow hall as a pub. I think the airmen would have loved having a few pints instead of the institutional food and drinks we had there.
Across the street was the parking lot that rested next to the grassy park where a girl from my dormitory who worked in Supply barbecued vodka soaked steaks. No longer sat a grassy park, but a parking lot with an abandoned Burger King restaurant.
The parking lot next to my dormitory was still there and the old credit union could not be seen because of a thick growth of trees in front of it. That was a strange site. I had Linn take a picture of me at the bus stop in front of the chow hall. We then proceeded to the front gate. They had painted the library a strange color. It made the building look tacky. There was a fancy round about in front of the library. That was the road we used to take to get into the Officer's housing and to the shoppette.
The old commissary building and recreation center still stood. However the shopping area where there used to be a bookstore, television rental and shoppette were long gone. In fact most of the buildings back there were gone to include the officer's club. In it's place was a huge NCO club. It wasn't a pretty building but it was large. Not far from the NCO club and not far from the Burger King was a new gym. It was state-of-the-art and is still in use today.
From there we walked up to the old gate shack not far from the gas station. There I found the spot where the gateshack stood, the one that Colonel Wacker drove through giving me his gloves because he saw how cold I waslong story and you can find it on Linn Barringer's website.
I walked across the street near the BX to see if any of the rose bushes survived the weeds. The rose bushes were long gone. The presentation of welcoming people onto the base from that old main gate was nonexistent. Do you remember a sound center building they put beside the BX? Well that was gone too. In it's place was a modern automotive hobby shop.
The base with all its history is lost amongst those living in the officer's housing area. I saw children on their bicycles that weren't even glints in their grandparent's eyes riding around as though American's never ran the base.
I did mention to Linn, how cool it would be to own one or two of the buildings. The only problem is what to do with the buildings? Tim Egercic mentioned the idea of turning a building into a bed and breakfast
From there we left Bentwaters. I thought to myself that I won't wait so long to return to Bentwaters. We drove to Wickham Market where I saw my old flat. Then we headed off to Ipswich trains' station where we said our proper thank you(s) and good byes to Linn. I spared Linn my hugging ritual. Our visit was lovely and memorable.
I hope my story motivates others to get on an airplane and visit the old place. It will bring back many feelings. For me it was a very positive experience.