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Tower of History

  
ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England (AFNS) -- For more than 60 years it has watched aircraft come and go, including B-47 Stratojets, F-4 Phantoms and F-111 Aardvarks; but now it's time for the old air traffic control tower to go, and historians took one last opportunity to document it Feb. 27.

Bill Harris, the 48th Fighter Wing historian escorted Paul Francis, a renowned historian and archaeologist with the Airfield Information Exchange, along with his assistant and Joe Koziar, a fourth-grade school teacher from Feltwell Elementary School, to document the historic building.

"This base is a living, breathing artifact," said Mr. Harris. "It's changing every day; we have to document and learn everything we can now before it's too late."

As the group walked in, the stale air filled their lungs while their flashlights fluttered around highlighting circular scenes of a forgotten world.

They could only imagine the sounds filling the air April 14, 1986 when the 48th Fighter Wing, or Liberty Wing, scrambled 24 F-111s during Operation Eldorado Canyon. President Ronald Reagan ordered the strikes on Libya due to terrorist attacks attributed to the Libyan government.

That operation is only one highlight of a long history the tower has witnessed.

"After the war, the American's left and [the British] were building bigger airfields to hold very heavy bombers," Mr. Francis said referencing RAF Lakenheath as an example. "This station was so large, it was a logistical challenge to operate, so when the American's came back looking for an airfield [in 1948], they were offered this one."

After its construction in 1946, the tower witnessed times of inactivity, and then times of Strategic Air Command bombers flying in and out as part of the Cold War. It wasn't until 1960 when the tower finally started to see 48th Tactical Fighter Wing F-100 Super Sabres.

The histories of the Liberty Wing and the old tower have been intertwined ever since.

Evidence of this relationship is found on the second floor, a mural proclaiming "Base Operations RAF Lakenheath" with a F-111 below it must have been painted at some time between 1977 and 1992, the era when the aircraft were assigned to the Liberty Wing. The walls and ceiling surrounding the mural are in tatters, but the mural remains.

"It's amazing how quickly buildings fall into ruin after people stop living and working in them," said Mr. Koziar as he scanned the peeling paint on the walls and stepped over mountains of debris left by father time. "It's almost like the human spirit and energy keep buildings together and without it they just fall to pieces."

Room after room, floor after floor, the team worked its way through history. Chatter amongst the professionals routinely broke the silence - they were sharing tidbits of information only talked about when faced with specific discoveries, such as the curved metal end pieces of the handrails leading up the stairs -the design is from the 1920's art deco era, Mr. Harris mentioned.

Through all the chatter, there were times in the darkness that silence fell, and during one of those times, a voice was heard saying "It will be a sad day, when we see her go."

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