The tarnished carcasses of old fighter planes litter the landscape here, relics of what once was the biggest American air base outside the United States. In the Cold War days, combat aircraft and transports would take off in their hundreds, heading for targets from the Middle East to Vietnam to Korea. But these days, as new Cold Wars loom on the horizon with Russia and especially China, this historic former base is a symbol of emptiness in American defense policy.
The storied parade ground is still here, an expanse of greensward over which generals once presided as the base grew from an old Spanish cavalry post in 1898 to a symbol of global U.S. power.
As tremors in mid-June 1991 shook Mount Pinatubo, looming ominously 10 miles to the west, a U.S. Geological Survey team warned of one of history’s most dramatic volcanic blasts. The American commander, Air Force Major General William Studer, ordered the withdrawal of all 14,500 troops and civilians along with almost all the planes two days before the first of 42 eruptions in three days coughed up a firestorm of lava, mud and dust.