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Before Paine Field was an airport, military families called it home

Before Paine Field was an airport, military families called it home

  • Rick Shea (right) with his younger brother, Mike, in 1958 outside their family´s military housing at 673-B Bomarc Road at Everett´s Paine Air Force Ba...

    Photos courtesy of Paine Field Airport and Rick Sh

    Rick Shea (right) with his younger brother, Mike, in 1958 outside their family´s military housing at 673-B Bomarc Road at Everett´s Paine Air Force Base. Now in their 60s, the men live in Olympia.

  • A C-119 cargo plane flies over base housing at Paine Air Force Base in 1963.

    Photos courtesy of Paine Field Airport and Rick Sh

    A C-119 cargo plane flies over base housing at Paine Air Force Base in 1963.

  • The Shea family´s 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air and travel trailer are parked outside their home, a duplex on Bomarc Road at Paine Air Force Base, in 1963.

    Photos courtesy of Paine Field Airport and Rick Sh

    The Shea family´s 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air and travel trailer are parked outside their home, a duplex on Bomarc Road at Paine Air Force Base, in 1963.

  • An American flag flies outside the Shea family´s base housing at Paine Air Force Base on Memorial Day 1962. It was the first time the family had flown...

    Photo courtesy of Paine Field Airport and Rick She

    An American flag flies outside the Shea family´s base housing at Paine Air Force Base on Memorial Day 1962. It was the first time the family had flown the new 50-star flag.

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By Julie Muhlstein
Herald columnist
Published:
  • Rick Shea (right) with his younger brother, Mike, in 1958 outside their family´s military housing at 673-B Bomarc Road at Everett´s Paine Air Force Ba...

    Photos courtesy of Paine Field Airport and Rick Sh

    Rick Shea (right) with his younger brother, Mike, in 1958 outside their family´s military housing at 673-B Bomarc Road at Everett´s Paine Air Force Base. Now in their 60s, the men live in Olympia.

  • A C-119 cargo plane flies over base housing at Paine Air Force Base in 1963.

    Photos courtesy of Paine Field Airport and Rick Sh

    A C-119 cargo plane flies over base housing at Paine Air Force Base in 1963.

  • The Shea family´s 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air and travel trailer are parked outside their home, a duplex on Bomarc Road at Paine Air Force Base, in 1963.

    Photos courtesy of Paine Field Airport and Rick Sh

    The Shea family´s 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air and travel trailer are parked outside their home, a duplex on Bomarc Road at Paine Air Force Base, in 1963.

  • An American flag flies outside the Shea family´s base housing at Paine Air Force Base on Memorial Day 1962. It was the first time the family had flown...

    Photo courtesy of Paine Field Airport and Rick She

    An American flag flies outside the Shea family´s base housing at Paine Air Force Base on Memorial Day 1962. It was the first time the family had flown the new 50-star flag.

When Rick Shea was a kid, he played war games and cowboys and Indians. Seeing a movie cost 15 cents. At a small bowling alley, he paid a quarter a game.
In many ways, it was the typical childhood in America's boom years after World War II. Shea, though, can't go home again.
He grew up, from 1956 until 1964, at Paine Air Force Base.
"I knew that base like the back of my hand," said Shea, 64, who now lives in Olympia.
Like many who spent much of their childhood in one place, he can rattle off his old address. "Bomarc Road, that was the street we lived on -- 673-B Bomarc Road," he said.
After reading Herald writer Bill Sheets' article about noise studies related to possible commercial air service at Paine Field, I visited the airport's website. That's where I found Shea. His childhood pictures are featured in an online photo album called "Growing Up in Paine Air Force Base Housing."
"I took a lot of those pictures," said Shea, an Air Force veteran who works for the state Department of Personnel.
Shea said his father, Chief Master Sgt. Patrick Shea, was the senior enlisted man at Paine before he was transferred in 1964 to Michigan's Selfridge Air Force Base. Patrick Shea died in 1983.
Rick was the eldest of Patrick and Phyllis Shea's three boys. The move to Michigan interrupted his senior year at Cascade High School. "I would have been in the second graduating class at Cascade, but my father was transferred," he said.
While living in Paine Air Force Base housing -- noncommissioned officers had duplexes -- Rick Shea also attended Fairmount Elementary School and Olympic View Middle School.
Glenn Humann, who has researched Paine Field history, said Tuesday the airport was started in 1936 as a federal Works Progress Administration project. "In 1940, the Army Air Corps took over," he said.
It was 1951, at the time of the Korean War, that the name was changed to Paine Air Force Base. An Air Force Aerospace Defense command unit was stationed there. By 1966, the Air Force was largely gone. The Snohomish County airport's history became intertwined with the Boeing 747.
Neither Humann nor Dave Waggoner, airport director at Paine Field, know exactly how many people lived at Paine Air Force Base in the 1950s and '60s. Shea, who used to deliver newspapers on base, believes there were 73 housing units.
"It was split into two areas. Officer housing sat on a kind of hill. It was based on rank," he said. "They were nice houses. My folks felt very lucky."
He remembers the homes' modern design, with Swedish-style freestanding fireplaces. His duplex had a low-slung roof and a carport where his dad parked his 1958 Chevy Bel Air.
His father, who served in Europe during World War II, advanced from aircraft maintenance to administrative work. Shea recalls F-86 Sabre jets, a type used in the Korean War, and later F-106 interceptor aircraft being on the base.
What about airplane noise back then?
"When you live on an Air Force base, you don't hear it. It's just there," he said. He does remember his father talking about callers complaining about low-flying planes disrupting television reception. "Everybody had a TV antenna," he said.
There was a base exchange, a store "like a tiny Sears," he said. At the commissary, he had a job on Saturdays. He didn't get paid, but bagged groceries for tips.
Cold War tensions were acute on a military base. "The biggest deal I remember was the Cuban missile crisis, that and the Kennedy assassination. We were always having alerts," he said.
Mostly, he remembers a tight-knit community. "Everybody had kids. There were tons of kids," Shea said. His mother was in a club for the wives of noncommissioned officers. Shea was in the Boy Scouts.
The base had more racial diversity than the surrounding community. "The biggest segregation was between officers and enlisted men," he said. "It extended to the wives and, to some extent, the children."
He played in the woods and on old foundations of demolished buildings. "It was a secure area. You had to go through a gate to get in. We had the run of that base," he said.
"I loved it," Shea said. "The bad part? There wasn't any bad part. It was all great."
After retiring from the Air Force, his father moved back to Snohomish County, lived near Silver Lake and worked for Boeing.
Shea called veterans of Paine Air Force Base "kind of a clique."
"To this day, my mother keeps in touch," he said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.
A look back
Read about the history of Paine Field Airport at: www.tinyurl.com/painehistory
To see photos from Rick Shea's childhood at Paine Air Force Base: www.tinyurl.com/sheahistory
To read a Herald story on potential noise at Paine Field and view an online timeline of the airport go to www.tinyurl.com/PaineFieldNoise.


Story tags » Air ForceSnohomish County history

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