Monday, April 9, 2012

Almaden Air Force Station: A Serendipitous End to a Five-Year Journey


Aerial of Almaden AFS
After a short lifespan of 23 years, changes in the political and technological landscapes led to the station’s closure on March 29, 1980. Within a few years, the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District acquired the property with plans of restoring the site to its natural habitat and allowing public access to the breathtaking vistas from the 3,486 foot peak. Funding delays have slowed that process. Atop Mount Umunhum, southwest of San Jose, resides a concrete box — the most recognizable remnant of the historic Almaden Air Force Station — the five-story base for the station’s large radar antenna.

Headquarters of the 682nd Aircraft Control and Warning squadron during the Cold War, the station was tasked 24 hours a day with protecting Central California from a Soviet threat that never arrived. Due to its relative remoteness, the facility served as a small community, encompassing 86 structures and nearly all activities, such as homes, stores and a bowling alley.

Squadron patch
One of these community presentations has been scheduled for June 3rd at History San Jose. Barbara Johnston, HSJ’s education director, requested that we search our collection for Almaden Air Force Station artifacts to accompany the presentation. What turned up in the search was a radar-shaped front entrance sign to the base, a photo of which I forwarded to Barbara and Basim. Over the past several years, San Jose resident Basim Jaber has taken an interest in preserving the history of the station, creating a website for former 682nd Radar Squadron members and families to share their stories. Over the course of these correspondences, Basim has acquired images and small artifacts of the station. Now acting as the squadron’s historian, he has made over a dozen community presentations about the station and also facilitated a reunion for the group.

On Wednesday April 4, Basim arrived at the HSJ Collections Center eager to see the sign. While walking him through our storage area, I shared some of the highlights of our collections, including the Perham Collection of Early Electronics. Basim remarked that certain station artifacts had been given to a Constance Perham for display at the New Almaden Museum, the initial display location of the Perham Collection. Realizing that HSJ might have more Almaden base artifacts in its collections, Basim immediately produced a typed manifest of donated items, including the sign.
Basim Jaber with welcome sign 

“Wow. And Wow,” was Basim’s initial response, followed immediately with a request to see the sign, a popular photo location for servicemen and station residents. Apparently, Basim had spent the last five years searching for particular objects, including the sign, given away after the station’s closing ceremonies.

As our walk continued, we inspected miscellaneous Perham Collection items. Sitting on the shelf were the exact items Basim had been seeking, including the last flag flown over the station, banners, and four brass memorial markers. Although he kept his emotions intact, Basim was obviously moved by this sudden closure to his multi-year quest.

Major Robert L. Robinson, Jr.
With the future demolition of the remaining station structures, History San Jose retains the largest collection of identifiable objects from this Cold War relic. Re-located several times before finding a permanent home at our Collections Center, these items await an opportunity for their stories to be re-told. Basim shared these objects’ stories as we positioned them for photography. For each of the four markers, he talked about the individual men who had lost their lives during their active service at the base. One in particular, Station Commander Major Robert L. Robinson, Jr., perished during a transport trip out of Hamilton Air Force Base and was the subject of a recent Scott Herhold Mercury News column.

We look forward to working with Basim to display these items at his History Park presentation on Sunday, June 3.