PLATTSBURGH — Richard “Dick” Fletcher regularly visits longtime friends John and Marty Strack in Plattsburgh.
Their friendship was forged decades ago at the Officer’s Club when Fletcher was a 1st Lt. in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and stationed at Plattsburgh Air Force Base.
He has fond memories of playing hockey with John and his pals. It was a stress reliever from Fletcher’s assignment overseeing the Atlas F Program, the construction of 12 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile sites that were built around the base.
Fletcher’s remembrances are tempered by the tragedy of Tuesday, Jan. 16, 1962, when a B-47 crashed sometime after 2 a.m. on Wright’s Peak, about 10 miles south of Lake Placid.
1st Lt. Rodney D. Bloomgren, 26, plane commander; 1st Lt. Melvin Spencer, 28, co-pilot; 1st Lt. Albert W. Kandetski, 25, navigator/bombardier; and Airman 1st Class Kenneth R. Jensen, 22, observer, comprised the crew lost on the remote icy peaks in the McIntyre Range.
When the Air Force launched the search-and-rescue mission for the missing crew, Fletcher volunteered. It was beyond duty but personal. Kandetski was one of his roommates that shared a house on Oak Street.
Fletcher arrived at PAFB in August 1960 to assist in the construction of the missile silos.
“We had civilian contractors do the work but the Army Corps of Engineers was part of the design of the system and construction managers,” said Fletcher, who lives in Derby Line, Vt. He and his wife, Elizabeth, own and operate the Birchwood Bed & Breakfast.
“We had a civilian staff, and we had three or four of us military guys that were running the whole thing. Being an engineer myself, with a mechanical-engineer background, the colonel in charge put me in charge of overseeing what they called the installation of the propellant-loading system for the Atlas Missile, which included all kind of liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen and these kinds of things that fuels the missiles and sends it off to someplace. I was involved with that system at all 12 sites. There were other people that were helping me.”