Woman’s memories of Hanscom span 60 years

  • Published
  • By Theresa Feely
  • 66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
In September of 1943, while World War II was raging, a young woman who had recently graduated from business school began her new job in a hangar at Laurence G. Hanscom Field, which was eventually renamed Hanscom Air Force Base. Marge Garten (Adley) began working at the airfield as a young adult, left to raise a family, and later returned to and retired from Hanscom. Her time working on the base would bookend not only her professional life, but also significant developments at Hanscom. 

Hanscom was a hub of patriotism and purpose during World War II. "The military [personnel] were great to work with, and everyone was proud to be working for the Army Air Corps in support of the war effort," Mrs. Adley said. "Spirits were always very high on base, and it was a fun place to work." 

Among those hard at work were several fighter squadrons who trained at Hanscom in preparation for overseas deployment. Next to the hangar where Mrs. Adley, then Miss Garten, worked, was a Link Trainer -- the 'pilot maker' -- where pilots practiced instrumentation flying. 

Mrs. Adley, who worked in the supply office, fitted these pilots with their favorite gear. "Part of my job was to check out leather flight jackets to the air crews to be worn during flight time. I remember how the air crews loved the leather flight jackets and hated having to turn them back in after a flight." 

Research was also a primary function of the base during this time. Personnel from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's radiation laboratory tested airborne and ground radar systems at Hanscom, and there were many different types of aircraft on base used in the testing. 

From her office on the hangar's second floor, which was located near where the AAFES Base Exchange and Commissary are today, Mrs. Adley would watch the planes being repaired and tested. "It was very exciting, considering how important the systems were to the war effort," she said. By the end of the war, there were 95 Army and Navy planes and two large hangars at Hanscom. 

Planes carrying war wounded from Europe flew into Hanscom before being transferred to the Charlestown Naval Hospital, the Murphy General Hospital in Waltham and the Veterans Hospital in Bedford. "The 'girls' on base would meet the planes and greet the patients with refreshments and chitchat," Mrs. Adley said. 

During Mrs. Adley's first tenure at Hanscom, circumstances were very different for female employees. "There were very few women supervisors, and addressing or referring to female clerical staff members collectively as 'the girls'' wasn't considered an insult back then," Mrs. Adley said. 

Hanscom Field also proved to be an attraction for west coast visitors. Hollywood visited Hanscom to film scenes of sorties taking off for the film "13 Rue Madeleine," starring James Cagney and Annabella. Base military personnel appeared as extras in the film. 

"We were all excited one day when actor Walter Abel came up to the supply office to use one of our telephones. He was very nice to everyone," Mrs. Adley said. 

Military celebrities also graced Hanscom Field. In 1945, many high-ranking military men landed at Hanscom on their way to a parade in Boston to celebrate the end of the war; among them were Adm. Chester Nimmits and Gen. George Patton, Mrs. Adley said. 

When she married in 1946, Mrs. Adley left Hanscom to embark on a new career as a wife and mother. Thirty years and five grown children later, Mrs. Adley returned to what was now Hanscom Air Force Base. 

"The kids were grown and I felt I wanted to come back to Hanscom," Mrs. Adley said. "I worked in the Print Plant and moved on to the Small Business Office in 1984." By then, the manual typewriters, carbon paper copies and hand-operated mimeograph machines of her first years at Hanscom were gone. In their place, Mrs. Adley was introduced to electric typewriters and word processors, then computers, photocopiers and Fax machines. 

"Things were much more complicated when I returned, and there were so many more organizations and sub organizations than back during the war," Mrs. Adley said. She adapted quickly, however, and remained with Hanscom until her retirement. 

"Now that I'm retired, I miss the camaraderie, the activities and the day-to-day socialization on base," she said. "I really loved it here. From my return to the base in 1976 to my retirement in 2006, I always felt I was a part of the Air Force and contributing to my country."