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New Book Captures Overlooked History of Vandenberg Air Force Base

Author completes fourth in ‘Images of America’ series about Western spaceport, as well as its Camp Cooke roots and even Honda Point disaster

A 1958 Air Force photo shows Capt. Hoyt S. Vandenberg Jr. and his mother, Gladys Rose Vandenberg, at the main gate’s entry sign. Cooke Air Force Base was renamed after Vandenberg’s father, Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, who died in 1954. Click to view larger
A 1958 Air Force photo shows Capt. Hoyt S. Vandenberg Jr. and his mother, Gladys Rose Vandenberg, at the main gate’s entry sign. Cooke Air Force Base was renamed after Vandenberg’s father, Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, who died in 1954.  (U.S. Air Force file photo)

A new book captures the history of Vandenberg Air Force Base through pictures of the rockets and missiles sent into the sky — plus some that went awry — since the 1950s.

'Images of America: Vandenberg Air Force Base' is available for purchase now.
Images of America: Vandenberg Air Force Base is available for purchase now.

The book, Vandenberg Air Force Base, is part of Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series and features more than 200 black-and-white photographs along with memories of the installation.

Author Joseph T. Page II compiled the images from Air Force historical records plus people’s personal collections, focusing on the key missions along with other important milestones at the 99,000-acre base.

“I am ecstatic at the way it turned out,” he told Noozhawk, adding he tried to include information to cover a wide range of interests.

The book recounts some of the history of the site before it became America’s Western spaceport, including the 1923 naval disaster at Honda Point, where seven destroyers ran aground and 23 sailors died.

It also shares about about the site’s role during World War II and the Korean War when it was dubbed Camp Cooke.

But the bulk of the pages and pictures focus on rockets, missiles and satellites, including the early programs now unclassified and credited with helping win the Cold War.

Since 1957, Vandenberg has launched more than 1,900 rockets and missiles.

“I think I’ve a good overview of Vandenberg’s history,” Page said. “I think it’s maybe 25 percent of what could be told about Vandenberg’s story.”

Images of America: Vandenberg Air Force Base can be purchased at the Arcadia Publishing website for $21.99. Signed copies are available at Old Town Market, 405 E. Clark Ave. in Orcutt.

Researching, writing and publicizing the book pays off when Page gets to hear the stories of those who worked on the programs decades ago.

“This is amazing,” he said. “This is why I wrote the book. I want to hear these stories from the old-timers who, maybe their kids don’t want to hear their stories for the hundredth time, but I want to hear them.”

Page often tagged along on Wednesday afternoon tours to the Space and Missile Heritage Center on base to hear visitors’ stories. He also enjoys encountering retired aerospace workers, many of whom are unaware the government has since declassified many of those programs.

“This is why the story’s got to be told,” he said, adding he was dropping names of once-top-secret programs to the amazement of one visitor who worked on declassified programs from decades ago.

“His reaction was priceless,” Page added.

The author, Air Force Maj. Joseph T. Page II, was a missileer who underwent training at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Today, he serves in the base’s Joint Space Operations Center. (Page family photo)
The author, Air Force Maj. Joseph T. Page II, was a missileer who underwent training at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Today, he serves in the base’s Joint Space Operations Center. (Page family photo)

This isn’t Page’s first foray into the world of publishing. He has written three other books as part of the Images of America series. One focused on the the site of his previous assignment, Holloman Air Force Base outside Alamogordo, N.M.

Another centered on the New Mexico Space Trail, following more than 50 sites dealing with space, while the third is about White Sands National Monument.

Page grew up in New Mexico, and while visiting his parents saw the Images of America book on White Sands Missile Range, planting the seed that somebody needed to write one about Holloman AFB. When he couldn’t find anyone interested in tackling the project, Page decided to do it himself.

When he arrived at Vandenberg for his third stint, he figured its hidden history would be a perfect subject. Along the way he learned much more about its origins as Camp Cooke.

“I didn’t realize that what they built during Camp Cooke days back in the ’40s and early ’50s, that a lot of the stuff is still around,” he said. “Some of the building had been either repurposed or reused. There were mock villages where the soldiers had trained and used their weapons. There was firing ranges ...

“That just completely surprised me this time around. I Just didn’t realize that stuff was still there.”

From the start of the contract until the final edits were due, took eight months.

“What I’ve learned from my previous books is the more information you get ahead of time as you’re prepping the project, it helps out immensely in the end,” he said.

The son of a veteran from the Vietnam War-era to the 1990s decided to join the “family business.”

His dad encouraged Page to first attend college and then become commissioned as an officer, instead of enlisting in the Air Force after high school.

“I went to the recruiter and I said I would like a job that has no applicable civilian skills,” he recalled. “I want to do something that I can do in uniform that I can’t just get a higher-paying job as a civilian. ... There were three jobs — missile combat crew member, tank commander and astronaut.”

He ended up as a missileer and was sent to Vandenberg for training. He returned in 2009 for training on space-related systems. Now a major, he works in VAFB’s Joint Space Operations Center.

Page already is mulling his next book — the legendary competition for missileer operations and maintenance crews. Originally named Curtain Raiser, it was long dubbed Olympic Arena and held annually at Vandenberg. In the 1990s, the merger of space and missile career fields, saw the competition expand and become Operation Guardian Challenge.

“I think that would be a good recognition of what missileers do,” he said of his book plans.

That book likely wouldn’t be part of the Images of America series since it would use more color photos and be more specialized, he added.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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