A life-changing blip in time

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Hannah Malone
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- To most people, four years isn’t a very significant amount of time during a lifespan. For someone who is 89 years old, four years only makes up 3% of their life. However small this blip in time may seem to most, to one man it meant the world.

Frederick T. Solomon served at what was then known as Rapid City Air Force Base between 1951 and 1955. He was a young Airman 1st Class, 18 years old, and shipped to seemingly the middle of nowhere from West Virginia. He joined the military as the Korean War began, excited and eager to serve his country.

“It changed my life completely,” said Fred. “I’d already gone to one year of college and didn’t do very well, but I made my mind up before I left for the Air Force that I was going to do better. I went out and it changed me.”

Fred worked as a B-36 Peacemaker electronic countermeasures operator during his time in the military. Although it was 70 years ago, you can still see the gleam in his eyes today when he speaks about his time at Ellsworth. One of his fondest memories was witnessing the dedication of the base by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to Brig. Gen. Richard Ellsworth in 1953.

“Listen, for three weeks before [President Eisenhower] came, we cleaned every bit of this base,” Fred said as he chuckled. “I never saw this base look better in my life - the president was coming!”

It was more than the job that gave Fred satisfaction, however, the people he met and memories of exploring the Black Hills during his time in South Dakota remain with him today.

He recalled learning to fly fish for trout from a rod bought at the Base Exchange, golfing with an old man using bamboo clubs, even the exact details of his dorm and suitemates.

He remains close friends with the men he met while serving in the 77th squadron. Looking at current photos of these Airmen in their late years of life, you can see the bond and brotherhood they built so many years ago.

“Being on that crew, bringing guys from different backgrounds, different areas of the country together and building a team…everything was different,” said Fred. “[You] come to the Air Force and you’re all equal all of the sudden, doesn’t matter where you’re from.”

Fred and his son Mark had the opportunity to visit Ellsworth Air Force Base in September, and he seemed as giddy as a child touring the sites that still remained from the 1950s. The most memorable of which was the Pride Hangar, a 3.5 acre facility initially built in 1949 to house the B-36’s. As he flipped through his picture book he paused on a tattered black and white photograph. The image showed open, barren land with snow covering the ground and a lone aircraft hangar seeming so out of place in its environment.

“You could get two B-36s in there,” Fred explained.

It is one of the few cherished buildings that still remain from Fred’s time here. He seemed to be in awe of the larger-than-life hangar, as if it were the first time he’d ever seen it. In fact, every building he saw that day seemed to be the pinnacle of architectural genius, down to the base movie theater.

“It [cost] a quarter, I looked at that building right away and said, ‘I think that’s the same one!’” said Fred.

It was obvious Fred never wanted to leave that day. As he began walking back to the car, he hugged his host, an Airman he had only just met. With tears welling up in his eyes he expressed an overwhelming amount of gratitude. He held her tight, thanking her through the tears with a deep sense of sincerity. It was clear revisiting the place he lived for a mere 3% of his life had made an incredible impact on him. He is, and will forever be, Airman 1st Class Frederick T. Solomon.

“You’ve made my dad’s day, month, year, and decade,” said Mark. “This experience has meant more to him than I think he imagined it would.”