Take time to explore, make time to restore

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Aaron J. Jenne
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

In front of him stood a nondescript dirt path overrun with trees and brush. Turning to his wife, he said, ‘let’s see where it leads.’

No more than 20 yards down the path, they came up to an old, graffiti-covered, roofless concrete structure. Looking through what used to be a doorway, the earthen floor bore a tree in the middle of the room. In one wall, there was a hole that appeared to have been caused by an explosion of some kind.

Little is known today about this building on Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, only 10 miles from Dover AFB. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refer to the structure only as the World War II Headquarters.

“We know very little about the building,” said Oscar Reed, FWS refuge manager. “We have some information collected by a volunteer regarding the U.S. Army Air Corps presence and activities on the refuge from 1942 – 1945. This building is a reminder of that historic era and the role this refuge had in contributing to the war effort.”

Intrigued by his discovery and curious about the history, Tech. Sgt. Jerry Ivey, 436th AW Command Post NCO in charge of training, decided this site should be restored so others could learn more about this building and the Army Air Corps’ involvement. He reached out to the National Wildlife Service, which manages this land, and coordinated a restoration project completed by 15 members from the command post and the 436th Civil Engineer Squadron on Oct. 7, 2016.

“The building is located in the middle of the woods, it’s not something most people see,” Ivey said. “I go out there often with my family. I like history, and I didn’t like the way the building had been defaced with graffiti. I felt it needed to be restored, and as you know, waiting for someone else to do something takes forever, so I

The volunteers dedicated more than 80 hours resurfacing the 20-yard long path, moving 15 loads of crushed stone, removing approximately 10 trees and repainting the building to cover graffiti.

“Everybody loved it, they felt a great sense of accomplishment when it was done,” Ivey said. “This is more than just a cleanup project. Once they found out the history, it intrigued us all, and now our volunteers are wanting to come out and do more. Right now, we’re waiting on permits from the FWS to use metal detectors to try and locate some of the other sites the Army Air Corps used. There are eight sites in the park, but everything’s overgrown and destroyed. We’re hoping we can locate them.”

According to the FWS, the refuge was used as an observation station for voluntary civilian aircraft and observers starting in 1942. In 1944 and 1945, the Army Air Corps used refuge lands to construct radio direction finder towers, an air-to-ground machine gunnery training range and performed research on aerial rocket penetration power.

“We are very appreciative of the volunteer effort to improve the building site,” Reed said. “Though much of the original building is gone, what remains is very solid. This structure, located along one of our walking trails, quietly blended into the background. With the work completed by the volunteers, the building now stands out, and the graveled path welcomes those walking by to come see it.”

This sentiment was echoed by Ivey.

“I revisited the headquarters this last weekend just to stop by to see how it looked,” Ivey said. “While we were there for just a few minutes, we saw several people at the site. A couple said they’d been there before, but others said they’d walked right past it and never noticed. I’m glad we were able to draw a little more attention to the rich military history around Dover.”

The restoration project highlighted one historical site in the local area, but many sites like this have become lost in time and are waiting to be uncovered.

“There are forgotten sites and structures like this one all over this country. They all have a story to tell, and with the interest and efforts of volunteers like these from Dover AFB, their stories can start coming to light.”