POPE AFB, N.C. -- "I was here, I had fun, I'm leaving. That's all you need to print."
Sorry, Dave, but you don't get off that easy. Not when the "I was here" part has encompassed more than 40 years of supporting the Pope mission, both in uniform and as a civilian.
Dave Davenport, base photographer and unofficial C-130 and Pope historian, retires today, almost 42 years to the day that the orders assigning him to Pope were cut. But if you want to know about his first official visit to the base as a teenager, you have to go back 10 years farther.
"I came here in 1954 for aircraft recognition training," said Mr. Davenport. "That was before they finished the (Defense Early Warning) Line and they had ground observers."
Mr. Davenport, who grew up in western North Carolina as the son of a forest ranger, worked with the Ground Observer Corps, watching for enemy aircraft in a heavily traveled air corridor during the height of the "Red Menace" days, a time when people expected Soviet missiles and bombers to attack the United States at any time. There was no aircraft parking ramp at Pope at that time, he said, but there were three shorter runways, and the aircraft were all parked on the grass field.
He eventually joined the active duty Air Force in 1957 after working for several years with the Civil Air Patrol and Air Force Reserves, and was initially stationed in Maine as a C-47 flight engineer.
His move to Pope also brought a job change. In 1964, the Air Force was looking for people to send to Vietnam as bomb loaders, Mr. Davenport said, and anybody who didn't already have a secondary Air Force Specialty Code was being picked up to load bombs in Southeast Asia.
"I immediately got myself a second AFSC as a reciprocating engine mechanic," Mr. Davenport said. "I came to Pope and was still working as a flight engineer, since they had two C-47s assigned to base operations and only one flight engineer was assigned."
Once C-130s became a permanent fixture on Pope, Mr. Davenport attended an Air Force school to learn how to work on their T-56 engines, and a long-time love affair with the venerable "Herk" was born. He stayed with the airlifter through rotation to France and England, and five assignments that saw him flying missions into Vietnam on a regular basis.
"Technically there were never any (cargo) C-130s assigned to Vietnam," Mr. Davenport said. Congress mandated a limit on how many people could be in-country, but you didn't count if you were there on temporary duty. So they were temporarily assigned to bases in the Philippines, Okinawa and Japan, would fly into Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos for 28 days at a time, stay at their home station for a few days and then repeat the process again and again until the one-year tour was up.
Mr. Davenport returned from his last trip to Southeast Asia in 1973 and stayed here until he retired as a master sergeant in 1977. He worked in a Bragg Boulevard motorcycle shop and managed the Pope recreation center at night, and attended Fayetteville Technical Community College, taking art and graphics courses. He was eventually hired by the contractor that was running the Visual Information office on Pope, initially as a graphic artist.
"I worked in graphics for one day, but when they found out I'd been doing photography for 27 years as a hobby, that was it," Mr. Davenport said.
It was right after retiring that the Herky Bird was born. Herky Bird was a talking C-130 caricature that started out as an editorial cartoon for the Fayetteville Observer and ended up running as a weekly cartoon in the Hercules Herald - predecessor of the Carolina Flyer - for more than 13 years and almost 500 cartoons. Several of his cartoons have graced the pages of the Air Force Times, Airman Magazine (which did an article on him as well), and Air Force magazine.
Mr. Davenport also worked with Morale, Welfare and Recreation - now Services - in the marketing and publicity section for several years before leaving in 1991 for what he thought was the last time. It wasn't long, though, that the base photo lab called and he was back shooting Pope pictures, a job that would last until now.
With that retirement, Pope is losing not only a photographer, but an unofficial historian and knowledge storehouse of all things C-130. For the past 24 years, he has collaborated with a retired Swedish colonel annually on a book that tracks every C-130 ever manufactured. He is always ready to explain where any particular C-130 has been stationed since it was manufactured, and talks about aircraft like "Frankenherk" and "Patches" as if they were children he's watched grow into maturity.
While there have been major changes at Pope since Mr. Davenport's first visit, the biggest change, he said, is in the recognition of Pope as a major player in the defense community worthy of funding and upgrades.
"When I first got here, we were under (Tactical Air Command). They used to concentrate on the fighters and the fighter-bombers, so we didn't see a new building or any renovations for years."
So what is the biggest thing he will miss when he retires?
"The first thing is the people. The people here have always impressed me. Whenever you give them a job, you know it's going to be done right and it's going to be done with pride," Mr. Davenport said. "I always said that if I was going to hang around, it would have to be with people like we have here.
"Then I'll miss the aircraft. A lot of the aircraft that are out there right now were here when I got here."