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The Suburbanite
  • The Monday After: The Men of Sampson

  • Veterans who trained decades ago at Sampson Air Force Base meet monthly in Canton.

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  • The guys who meet for breakfast the second Friday of the month at Athens Restaurant on Harrison Avenue SW in Canton are the men of Sampson.
    All you have to do to be a member of the Sampson breakfast group is to have taken basic training at Sampson Air Force Base between 1950 and 1956. You also could be a Navy man who was stationed there from 1942 to 1945 when the base was Sampson Naval Training Center.
    Ron Addington of Canton took his training at the base in the summer of 1954. Jim Schnell of Strasburg, who was raised in Massillon, was there the summer of 1955. The two Air Force veterans, who had known each other through business, started the Sampson breakfast group about four years ago following a meal of their own.
    “We got together for breakfast one morning and thought it would be a good idea to find others from Sampson,” said Addington.  “We had nine at our first breakfast. We’re up to between 15 to 25.”
    A LITTLE HISTORY
    Members of the group each admittedly have a few years behind them. Sampson Air Force Base closed in 1956.
    “This is just a bunch of old guys who get together for breakfast,” said Addington with a smile, “to tell some lies.”
    During its history, the base was a significant military facility that sat near Geneva on the shore of Seneca Lake, one of the Finger Lakes in western New York. Because of the lake’s depth, the Navy tested submarine sonar systems at Seneca Lake.
    After World War II, the base served as Sampson College, Sampson Hospital and Sampson Grainary late in the 1940s. When the Air Force took over the base during the Korean War, the occupation was significant enough for the Geneva Daily Times to report on Oct. 24, 1950, “Air Force Takes Over Sampson.”
    The base itself was large. It had 24 two-story barracks buildings, a mess hall with seating for 1,840, a service club with bowling alleys and a billiard hall, a drill hall with basketball courts and a swimming pool, an indoor rifle range, a school made up of four classroom buildings, an auditorium, two administration buildings, a bank, a post office, two 300-seat chapels, a 78-man guardhouse, two fire stations, a reservoir and sewage treatment facilities, its own coal yard, a railroad yard, a base laundry, a 116-stall garage, a 70-stall vehicle maintenance shop and a storage area of 26 warehouses.
    A man could be stationed there with someone he knew, and not even be aware.
    “Most of us didn’t ever know each other in the service,” said Addington. “Don Selby, he and I went to high school together in the same class at Lincoln, but neither of us knew we were in the Air Force together.”
    Page 2 of 3 - MEN OF THE GROUP
    The Sampson Air Force Base Veterans Association — “Portal to the Air Force,” notes its slogan — was started in 1994. The association, which has a museum on the grounds of the former military installation which now is Sampson State Park, keeps records of veterans who were stationed at the base. Ohio Sampson veterans meet annually for a reunion in Dayton.
    The association also recognizes such informal gatherings as the Athens breakfast group, many of whose participants are members of the national association.
    “A lot of the guys can’t travel to Sampson anymore or drive to Dayton,” said Addington.
    Richard Deitrick started coming to the breakfasts a few months ago. “We have a lot of stories,” he said. Deitrick was stationed at Sampson from September to December of 1954.
    “What do I remember? It was cold. They have big winters there.”
    Most of the men in the breakfast group are Korean-era veterans or later. A few Sampson men who stayed longer in the service made it to the Vietnam War. Some World War II Navy vets from Sampson have attended the breakfasts.
    “I guess it’s just because we were all in this together,” said Schnell.
    VOICES OF VETERANS
    K.W. Fluke of Akron said that it isn’t difficult to attract the attention of Sampson veterans.
    “I was driving with a license plate that said ‘Sampson’ on it and a guy stopped me and asked, ‘Is that place still open?’ There are guys out there.”
    Fluke was at Sampson during the autumn, he said. Because of a problem with the government first not accepting and then accepting his ROTC appointment after schooling at the University of Akron, Fluke quickly went from corporal to second lieutenant in rank.
    Dennis “Van” Vanek of Massillon first took basic training at Sampson and later became a drill instructor at the base. He served there from the fall of 1954 until the base closed in May of 1956.
    Stanley Koczur of Randolph was at the base in its coldest time of year — January through April — in 1955. The airman first class, an aircraft electrician, remembers the 3,000-acre camp becoming an icebox.
    “The base was right along the lake, and when the wind came across the lake it was cold.”
    Talk might have centered more continuously on the Air Force base during a recent breakfast than during most meetings of the former Sampson minds because a journalist attending was eager to learn about it. Usually, breakfast conversation wanders to wherever those attending want it to go — sports, politics, military stories.
    Still, a banner hanging on the door to the breakfast’s meeting room at Athens leaves no doubt what tie binds these veterans in a comfortable embrace.
    Page 3 of 3 - “Sampson AFB,” that banner identifies. “United States Air Force.”