Korean War Legacy Project

Bob Courtmache


Bob Courtmache enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1954. Following completion of basic training at Sampson Air Force base in Geneva, New York, he was trained as a heavy equipment mechanic and operator. After two years at Sampson Air Force Base, he transferred to the Strategic Air Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska to work on the O-11 and O-11A Firetrucks. From there, he transferred to the 922nd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron at Cartwright Long Range Radar Site in Labrador, Canada. He officially separated from the Air Force in 1957 but continued to serve in the reserves until his discharge in 1962. With the rise in tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, he proudly served his nation but was thankful to receive his honorable discharge in June 1962.

Video Clips

Russian Submarine Off the Coast of Maine

Bob Courtmache reflects on his time at the ​​Cartwright Long Range Radar Site. While stationed in Canada, he notes the work at Cartwright was important for protecting our country. He recalls the radar station spotted a Russian submarine off the coast of Maine in 1957. He shares how the Russian submarine left the region without any incident and that they closely monitored the movement of the submarine.

Tags: Home front,Pride

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Life at Cartwright Long Range Radar Site

Bob Courtmache recalls his time at the Cartwright Long Range Radar Site in Labrador, Canada favorably. He notes he enjoyed the work and shares some of the recreational activities that he enjoyed. He expresses pride in their work to protect the United States.

Tags: Pride

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of Transcribed Material]


B:        My name is Bob Courtmache.  I’m 78 years old.  I’m an Air Force veteran. I came out of the Air Force as Airman First Class. I took my basic at Samson Air Force Base in Geneva, NY. I became permanent party there. And I stayed there for two years.  I became a Heavy Equipment Mechanic and Operator.



After six months of training, working on heavy equipment, I took the test, and I was issued an All-Engineering Equipment Driver’s License to operate and work on any vehicle that the Air Force had.  I stayed there for two years, left there, I went to Offutt Air Force Base Headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska.  I was there for six months.



I worked on the O11 and the O11A firetrucks.  Primarily, those fire trucks were foaming the runway which we had a chance to do one time when a B52 came in, and the landing gear wouldn’t come down.  So, we were all called to go out to foam the runway, which we did.  And the B52 landed safely.



From there, I was transferred to Cartwright Labrador which was an isolated radar site, 922 AC and W Squadron, and I was up there for one year, just shy of one year.  And I worked on bulldozers, plowed snow quite a bit up there. I worked on Weasels, amphibious track driven Second World War vehicles.



And those were kind of our toys for off time, go out and roam around the snow.  It was on a day that Sandridge Bay was the name of the day.  We had one road that was 3 ½ miles down to the Bay and on the top of the mountain.  And we tried to keep it open in the wintertime, but it was impossible because of the wind drifts.



We had temperatures that went down to 50 below, winds that topped out at 125 knots.  And that was quite a storm.  And I was out in that also.  The only communication we had were what they called Pole Vaulting.  They were big screens, mesh screens that would go from one mountain to another mountain, and that would take our communication.



We had three radars, and one went out 50 miles, one went out 100 miles, one went out 150 miles.  And I wasn’t in the radar part of it. I was in the mechanic end of it.  And we were, there was great duty up there.  We ate good.  Put on weight.  And when I come home, I had to borrow a uniform.  But I guess that was pretty common to a lot of the guys that were shipped out from up there to come home.



I came home at the tail end of 1957 and was separated from the Air Force and stayed in the Reserves for four more years, actually 4 ½ years.  I did an eight-year obligation with them.  And I received my Honorable Discharge in June of 1962, right in the middle of the Cuban Crisis.



I was very glad to see the discharge and not orders to ship out again.

I:          Okay.  So, when you joined, enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1954, why did you decide to enlist?

B:        Mainly because I didn’t want to be drafted.  And I knew I had already enlisted into a school that I wanted to go to.



And to become a builder.  And it was a two-year course, $245 a year for tuition.  I was gonna live at home and work my way through school.  And I gave it up to go into the service, and I joined the Air Force primarily because I did not want to be drafted.

I:          Where did you do your basic training?

B:        Samson Air Force Base in Geneva, NY.



I:          And then you went to

B:        Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska.

I:          And then you went overseas, sort of overseas, to

B:        It was considered overseas duty at the time, and it was to Cartwright Labrador in Canada, off the coast of Canada.

I:          What was your favorite thing to do in Labrador?

B:        Go to the bar and drink.



I could have become an alcoholic, but I didn’t.  I gave it up soon as I left.

I:          What are your favorite memories from Cartwright Labrador?
B:        Actually, I enjoyed the work that I did up there for one thing.  Summertime we used to play a lot of volleyball out there.  And we all, one of the Lieutenants, the Major come out and a lot of guys come out and we played Volleyball.



There wasn’t a whole lot to do up there anyway other than going to the either NCO Club or the Officers’ Club.  And we were welcome to do either.  We played cards.  We played cribbage.  And believe it or not, we even danced.  And it was a lot of fun.

I:          Can you talk about the atmosphere in Cartwright Labrador?


It was a good atmosphere really.  I mean, we were there for a reason.  And that’s, we did our work proudly.  And it was a source of protecting our country, trying to keep anybody from coming, crossing the border, coming down into the America.  We did spot a, I believe it was a Russian sub off the coast of Maine.



That we had our eyes on.  They were just outside the 12-mile limit. I didn’t see it cause I wasn’t

Being on radar.  But I heard about it.  And every now and then, the periscope would come up, and was watching the sub.  That was back in 1957.  Finally left.  Didn’t cause any trouble, but we were up there actually watching this on our radar.



I:          Would you do your service again?
B:        I’d do it in a heartbeat.  Knowing what I know now, I’d do it the same way.

I:          Is there anything else you want to share?
B:        I think that’s pretty much everything, I was one of the fortunate ones as far as Korea went.  I was in during that time period.  But I was one of the fortunate ones that didn’t get sent to South Korea.



I could have been very easily as not.  And they chose to send me north instead of over across, way over.  So yes, I was one of the lucky ones.