The 2019 Mount Hebo Air Force Station (AFS) Reunion is set for Sept. 20-23. This is for the servicemen and their families who served between 1956 and 1979.
The site was 196 acres of land acquired by the Air Force for use as the Mount Hebo aircraft warning and control radar station. The Air Force equipment and facilities at Mount Hebo have been removed at the site returned to its natural state, except for an access road. A bronze plaque reads: “In Memory of Those Who Served at Mount Hebo AFS, Oregon. 689th Radar Sq., Oct. 1956 – June 1979. Det. 2 14th MWS July 1967 – Sep. 1979.”
The station was 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean and 8.4 kilometers east of the coastal community of Hebo. Three giant Air Force radomes, about 140 feet in diameter and 100 feet high, were destroyed by the elements. The largest dome was meant to keep rain off during bad weather, but high winds would knock it off. It was replaced and put back three times.
The officers would use the radar system to look for airplanes carrying bombs. They could measure how far away and how fast the aircraft was going. They could tell if it was a jet, possibly carrying an atomic bomb, or a smaller plane. They would try to communicate with the pilot of the plane, and if there was no response, they would send out their Convair F106 Delta Dart from Adair Air Force Station in Benton County. This fighter jet was the primary all-weather interceptor aircraft of the Air Force from the 1960s through the 1980s. If there was a threat, the jet would shoot it down.
The Russians stopped flying with atomic bombs and used submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Mt Hebo AFS modified their search radar into a missile sensor and tracking radar.
On Friday evening, Sep. 20, the Commander’s Call at Rendezvous will be a 6 p.m. On Saturday, Sept. 21, there will be a Tea for Wives and Dependents at St. Alban’s Church at 1 p.m. and a banquet at Tillamook Elks at 6 p.m. On Sunday, Sept.22, there will be a picnic at Elks Park with brats from noon until 5 p.m. On Monday morning, Sept. 23, there will be a breakfast at the Fern Cafe from 8-10 a.m.
The Commander’s Call is similar to the Officer’s Club that the officers would go to on Fridays at 3 p.m. if they were done working at Mt. Hebo.
“The guys would talk on an informal basis about what they needed from each other,” said Ron Watson, a Lieutenant from Mt. Hebo, who organizes the reunion.
Watson said that the Commander’s Call will be a time for the men to sit, talk, and remember things from that time. The banquet will have either chicken, pork, or salmon. The choice will be determined from the applications filled out from the officers attending. The breakfast on Monday will be another chance to talk more, although some will leave before this event to travel back home.
Watson served as a Lieutenant at Mt. Hebo and the commander wanted him to help with the funding. He did inventory once a month and accounting. Watson says he screwed up the first month. He was a brand-new math major out of college at the time. After a few months, Watson got better with the accounting side of his job.
Watson met his wife at a local church in Beaver when he was a Lieutenant at Mt. Hebo. She was the preacher’s daughter and was introduced as Linda King. When she sang in the church that day, Watson thought “If she’s available, I’m going to marry her.”
Watson and King married in June. They had their wedding at the church in Beaver and walked across the street to the reception at the Fire Hall. They had officers with swords who stopped traffic on Highway 101 so that they could cross from the Shell Station to the fire Hall.
King was a teacher at the local school in Hebo. The couple had credibility with the local people because of both of their involvement in the community.
Some of the other officers still live in the area. Brad Riff is one of them. The Air Force brought him to the area. After that, he worked in the fire department for 30 years.
There were 27 family homes in a housing area about 2.5 miles from the Mt. Hebo AFS. The officers needed more housing, however, so the Air Force would rent other houses. They would pay the owners if the tenants had to move out unexpectedly, and the houses were run by Air Force standards.
Special purpose vehicles were assigned to support Mt. Hebo AFS. Two 4-wheel drive 40 passenger buses were used primarily for taking children to and from schools in Hebo and Cloverdale. They also had an Air Force bus that could pick up the officers to and from Mt. Hebo. This allowed the officers to leave their car at home, so the wife or family could use it. Once the base was shut down, there were not as many kids to pick up and the buses stopped running.
The women in the community also formed a women’s fire department, which was unusual at the time, Watson said. They would fight fires in the area so that they wouldn’t have to disturb the men at Mt. Hebo.
About 150-250 paychecks were coming in to the Mt. Hebo AFS, Watson said. The economy increased with over 150 families in the area. The most necessary men lived only two miles away, in case of war or emergency.
The Mt. Hebo AFS stayed going for 20 years. They found that satellites could do a better job and replaced the people.
Saturday, Sep. 21 is Free Museum Day and is the second day of the reunion. Watson is inviting officers to come to the display at the Tillamook Air Museum. The display is a 20 ft long tunnel, similar to the above ground tunnels that had been at Mt. Hebo. At 125 mph, the wind gauge would blow off, said Watson. Kids from the nearby schools were able to go through the tunnels during field trips.
The officers will be able to tell museum goers what they did at Mt. Hebo. One of the officers donated a parka that was worn during his time at Mt. Hebo. Radar Airforce veterans will be able to wear it and take pictures with kids.
Watson said that the walkway was recently finished, and that electricity will be added soon. The tunnel display was planned six years ago and is now set up.
Watson said that there are also second generations – kids of the people who served at Mt. Hebo. Pianist Brenna Sage is one of them.. Her dad worked for Mt. Hebo and she wants to learn more about his experience there. Sage grew up in Hebo and went to New York for 10 years, where she played piano professionally.
“There are a number of things that people call this home,” Watson said.
If you would like to attend the event, contact Ron Watson for an application for food preferences. You can contact him at 541-992-3575 or by email at email@example.com. Follow the Reunion Facebook page at Mt. Hebo Memories.