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The day we bombed Fort Plain

By Bob Cudmore
Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Just over three months before the United States entered World War II, the American military simulated an enemy attack on the airport in Fort Plain.

Robert von Hasseln has posted notes on the incident on the Facebook page of Historic Amsterdam League.

According to press accounts, 46 soldiers and two officers were on the ground at Fort Plain’s airport on Tuesday, Aug. 26, 1941, having arrived the night before. They included an artillery regiment that would defend the airstrip against a simulated attack by six fighter planes and one bomber flying out of the airport in Windsor Locks, Conn. A passenger on the bomber was Lt. Robert Ardison of Fort Plain.

Dynamite was used to simulate bomb impacts. Roads were closed off and spectators prohibited from the immediate area.

A flight of six P-40 fighters took off from a temporary airstrip concealed in a nearby apple orchard to fight the attacking planes. Von Hasseln said that it is likely that Lt. Phillip Cochran was part of the fighter group in Fort Plain.

Pictures of the Fort Plain exercise were included in the Dec. 1 edition of Life magazine, just a few days before America was attacked for real at Pearl Harbor. One of the photos shows a pilot reading in a barn. He appears to be Cochran.

Von Hasseln said Cochran was the inspiration for “Colonel Flip Corkin” and “General Philerie” in Milt Caniff’s cartoon strips “Terry and the Pirates” and “Steve Canyon.” In real life, Cochran was commander of a fighter group flying in Burma in support of British and American Special Forces.

Cochran pioneered many innovative tactics, including operating from temporary unimproved airfields.
“Perhaps he got the idea flying out of Fort Plain in 1941,” von Hasseln wrote.

Charleston Airlift

More than two feet of snow fell on Montgomery County and other parts of the state in February 1958. A U.S. Army helicopter was used over four days to evacuate isolated families and bring in food, fuel and medicine to Charleston and other towns.

Snowplows reached farms in the town of Florida after several days of effort. There were about 100 rescues. Grateful families provided plow operators with coffee and sandwiches and even full meals.

Some farmers had to dump their spoiling supplies of milk. Amsterdam city schools were closed for a week.

Later that year there was major spring flooding in the Mohawk Valley. After that, the Army Corps of Engineers built retaining walls along the south side of the Mohawk River in Amsterdam.

Lepper Road

Lepper Road in Fort Johnson is named for an immigrant family from the German Palatine region who fought in the American Revolution.

The parents of Jacob Lepper and his brother Frederick were killed by Mohawk Chief Joseph Brandt and his forces in 1778 in the massacre at Andrustown in the western Mohawk Valley. At the time of the massacre, the Lepper brothers were off fighting with the Tryon Militia. Two years later at the Fort Planck massacre, Frederick’s wife, Mary, and their 1-year-old son were captured and taken to Canada.

After the war, Jacob and his wife, Mary, built a home on what is now Lepper Road in Fort Johnson. Jacob helped his brother Frederick ransom Frederick’s wife and child from Canada and they too moved to Fort Johnson.

The original family homestead is still a private residence. There is an historical marker at Lepper Road and McDonald Drive. The original settlers are buried in a private cemetery some 300 yards behind the home.

Amsterdam native Mark Lepper of North Waterboro, Maine, collected the preceding information. An insurance professional, Lepper did his research in the 1990s when employed in the Utica area.

Bob Cudmore is a free-lance columnist. Opinions in his column are his own and not necessarily those of the newspaper. Reach him at 346-6657 or at bobcudmore@yahoo.com.

 
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