MINOT AIR FORCE BASE Retired Chief Master Sgt. James E. Twinn remembers when he was one of the first four military members assigned to Minot Air Force Base, now more than 50 years ago.
He arrived in Minot in July 1957. "As I recall, it was a rather hot day when I hauled my duffle bag off the bus downtown," he said.
Twinn, who now lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., was assigned to the 32nd Fighter Group a one striper out of personnel technical school.
Submitted Art --
This photo fromThe Ward County Independent, a newspaper once operating in Minot, shows James E. Twinn, center, when he was presented the “key to Minot AFB” in December 1960, a pre-enlistment surprise for Twinn. At the left is Joe Roberts, the first base commander, and Staff Sgt. Leonard Bielski, right, administrative noncommissioned officer.
"We worked in the lower level of the control tower, which was not complete," he said. He said the control tower was located just across the street from the fire station.
Twinn said he has wonderful memories of Maj. Joe E. Roberts (his mentor), plus Tech. Sgt. Robert Anderson and Staff Sgt. Leonard Bielski (now of Indiana) who were the only staff on site at that time.
Roberts was the first base commander; Anderson, administrative supervisor; Bielski, administrative noncommissioned officer and the first NCO assigned to the base; and Twinn, an airman third class who was a personnel specialist, the first lower grade airman assigned to the installation.
"In effect, I was assigned administrative duties setting up initial regulation folders and completing daily record-keeping tasks, which included responsibility for picking up the mail for the new air base," he said.
During the summer Roberts loaned Twinn to assist the Detlaff family on their farm near the air base.
"My assistance to Bob (Detlaff) was not all that significant just a few occasions when Staff Sgt. Bielski no doubt thought I needed a challenge," Twinn said.
"I recall the wonderful table of delicious food that Mrs. Detlaff provided have often thought I would have enjoyed that path in life a wonderful Christian environment," he added.
For some 18 months Twinn lived at the Minot YMCA and commuted daily with the mail in one of the base's two vehicles. "Such a fascinating and unusual assignment for a young fellow," he said, reminiscing.
"The mail carrier option was one of necessity," Twinn explained. "Since I was a resident for some 18 months at the local YMCA, it was convenient for me to pick up the mail at the post office and ensure delivery to Major Roberts. I'm sure that there were many residents who often wondered what that Air Force vehicle was doing in the parking lot every night. I never used it for personal transportation."
Twinn said he can honestly say his first impression of Minot and the air base environment were positive and at the same time a mystery.
"On arrival, the bus dropped me off on the Main Street outside of a small cafe. Someone took pity on me and called the military," he said.
But instead of going to the air base, Twinn said he ended up going to the 786th AC & W Squadron (at the radar station south of Minot) for a night. From there he was redirected to the new air base where they viewed his orders and assigned him to the 32nd Fighter Group.
"Strange how fate seems to touch one on occasion," Twinn said. He said he found out later the first sergeant at the radar site was Master Sgt. Charles Hatcher. Thirty-five years later, in 1992, Twinn applied for the position of supervisor of postal Customer Services at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The postmaster, Charles Hatcher by then a retired chief selected him for the job where Twinn remained until his retirement July 31, 2002.
In those early days of the air base and Minot at that time, Twinn remembers:
"The air base was devoid of any real structure no gate, barracks, and the runways were under construction. Later as a reserve security member I spent many a snow and wind blown night on the flight line guarding aircraft thank goodness for the heavy and hooded parka that was provided," he said.
"Minot was always special Sammy's Pizza near the small bridge and railway station was bustling with teenager activity. Just 19, I was welcomed into the social environment by all the young folks, although I must say that a couple of the boys no doubt viewed me as serious competition. Especially if in uniform with my one stripe, I always kept my distance and deferred to the group," Twinn said.
When Twinn reenlisted Dec. 18, 1960 three years after his arrival at Minot AFB he was given the "key" to the base.
Twinn, who was born and raised in Ontario, Canada, explained how he came about enlisting in the U.S. Air Force.
"While visiting the U.S. side of the border a friend and I stopped at the recruiting office and after testing and such the nice recruiter (so I thought) arranged for my enlistment on Dec. 18, 1956 (in Buffalo). I made out a declaration of intention to become a U.S. citizen and the rest is history best decision I made with perhaps the exception of getting married," he said.
Twinn was naturalized April 16, 1961, in Bismarck. "I have always considered North Dakota to be my home state," he said.
Twinn met his wife, Ingrid, in 1961 when he was assigned to Wiesbaden, Germany. She is from a small village in what was East Germany near Altenburg north of Leipzig.
Since retirement from the Air Force, Twinn worked for about 18 months as a vocational instructor for the developmentally disabled. In 1977, he was hired as a clerk with the local post office in Colorado and about 1986 he moved into management/supervision, remaining with the U.S. Postal Service until retiring.
"The Air Force and the good people of Minot, North Dakota, gave me a sense of values and determination which was highly instrumental in my career of 21 years assignments to Germany, Vietnam ('68) and England and wonderful opportunities to include a (master's) degree from Park University and friendships that I have treasured all my life, most importantly, my bride of 46 years," he said.