When Col. Paul Malandrino took off from Plattsburgh Air Force Base in his FB-111 Aardvark for the last time, his was the last plane to leave on July 10, 1991. His destination was Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. It was an emotional experience.
“I flew it out to The Boneyard and left it there,” he told the Plattsburgh Press-Republican in 2020. “I had my name on it, and Little Joe was the nose art painted on the side of the airplane."
Malandrino was the last commander of Plattsburgh AFB in upstate New York. First founded in 1814, Plattsburgh started its life as a military installation during the War of 1812. It ended its service life in 1995 as an air force base under the Air Mobility Command.
"I loved the people," Malandrino said. "I loved the Wing. I loved the area. … Being the wing commander was just a phenomenal experience.”
In between, what would be known one day as Plattsburgh Air Force Base was a gathering point for Union troops during the Civil War, the departure point for soldiers headed to Cuba during the Spanish-American War and a training camp for naval officers during World War II.
By 1954, it was part of the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command, one of the northernmost bases inside the continental United States. It had two pieces of America’s nuclear triad stationed there, nuclear bombers and medium-range intercontinental ballistic missiles. It was the only ICBM base east of the Mississippi River.
"The wing just outperformed just about everybody else,’’ Malandrino said. “It was just a great bunch of people. I just always have respected them and admired them. I was privileged to work with a great group of people. Very proud."
The 380th Bomb Wing has a storied history of its own. The wing flew B-24 Liberator Bombers out of Australia during World War II. When veterans of the unit from World War II met up in Plattsburgh, they told stories about their own planes. One of the Liberators shared a name and nose art with Malandrino’s Aardvark.
"I was talking to a gunner, who had been on this aircraft,” Malandrino said. “He showed me a picture. Little Joe was a pair of dice that was painted on their B-24 and that's what was painted on my airplane.”
But nothing lasts forever. When the Cold War ended, Plattsburgh Air Force Base and the 380th Bombardment Wing stationed there fell victim to the 1991 Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
In the first round, Plattsburgh went up against Loring Air Force Base in Maine. Plattsburgh won the first round but went down in the second.
"Boring Loring. We went up against them, and that was the first BRACC and we won. They got closed. Then two years later, the next BRACC we lost to McGuire Air Force Base.”
Later, the artist who painted the dice on Malandrino’s plane painted the same design on the back of a leather bomber jacket. Before the colonel took off from Plattsburgh for the last time, the citizens of the area presented him with that jacket.
"I wear that proudly," he said. "Plattsburgh was the high point of my Air Force career. I just loved PAFB, the people around the area, the people in the Bomb Wing. It was a beautiful place and a memorable experience.”
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