Fifty years through the eyes of a missile maintainer

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Wesley Carter
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
(Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series describing the early years of Vandenberg.) 

After completing missile engine mechanic school at Chanute Air Force Base, Ill., in 1958, Master Sgt. (Ret.) George Mecum received orders to Cooke AFB, what we now know as Vandenberg AFB.

"My wife and I arrived into Lompoc in July, and were surprised to find the town had very few cars on the street, few residents, and the sidewalks still had horse tie-rings available for those who traveled into town via horse," Sergeant Mecum said.

Current residents might be surprised to find out that in 1958 California Avenue was a gravel road - a realization that the Sergeant Mecum and his wife came to when reporting to the 576th Strategic Missile Squadron orderly room, he said.

Once at the orderly room, Sergeant Mecum and his wife were quick to find out that the Air Force's newest installation was operating with only the bare essentials.

"When we arrived, we were quickly informed that there was no housing on base and none available in Lompoc, Santa Maria or Arroyo Grande," Sergeant Mecum said. "We eventually settled in a small apartment in Grover City - near Pismo."

The lack of travel routes could delay duty days due to traffic on the only road that people could travel on to get to work.

"There was only one two-lane road that we could access the base, and it wasn't a straight shot," Sergeant Mecum said. "There would be days when we(Sergeant Mecum's wife got a job working for the 1st Missile Division for the director of operations) would be an hour late or an hour early, because of traffic, but it didn't matter because my supervisor would be right there with me in the traffic. It was nearly a 120 mile round-trip venture every day."

Today Vandenberg has one of the largest runways in the Department of Defense, but that wasn't always the case. As an Airman, Sergeant Mecum was on the ground floor of the construction of today's flight line, he said.

"The first four months working here were spent in Santa Maria clearing trees to elongate their runway," Sergeant Mecum said. "This was necessary to be able to get planes, which carried equipment to build our runway, close enough so we could transport the equipment."

Handling the double-edged axe wasn't the only odd assignment Sergeant Mecum faced while on the central coast.

"We had kitchen duty, trash detail and many other tasks, because then we didn't have contractors to do the work for us," he said.

The life of a military spouse at this time wasn't much easier. Hectic schedules didn't allow any chance of a convenient lifestyle, a lesson that Barbara Mecum found out quickly.

"It was terrible," She said. "You couldn't plan ahead for anything, because he would always be gone."

However, military life started to get easier when the opportunity arose to live on base presented itself.

"Base housing had a list for spaces in a trailer park, and I immediately applied for a spot," Sergeant Mecum said. "A few months later I was able to purchase an 8-by-40 foot trailer and move onto base."

Life at Vandenberg might not have been pretty, but the hard labor that sergeant Mecum put in helped set the table for the entrée to come: the world's premiere space power.