Special to El Observador
If you have ever looked up at the peak of Mount Umunhum in South San Jose you may have noticed what some incorrectly call a big concrete box.
But, on Sunday, January 13, 2013 at History San Jose, Basim Jabir thoroughly explained in his presentation, “The History of the Almaden Air Force Station atop Historic Umunhum”, that it is definitely not a concrete box, but a radar.
Basim Jabir is the founder of the United States Air Force 682nd Radar Squadron Veterans’ Association, the Air Force squadron that was stationed atop Mount Umunhum during the Cold War, until its closing in 1980.
Over the last several years Jabir has made over 30 presentations about Almaden Air Force Station. He presents his photographs of the station as well as photos given to him by the veterans themselves. “I thought, why not get involved and sort of spearhead the efforts to preserve the memories of this site so other people can enjoy it, and understand what it was,” said Jabir, adding that he first became interested in the station from a photography point of view.Atop Mount Umunhum, a 360-degree view spans as far as the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco and Mount Diablo– the perfect location for an air force station to keep lookout for a soviet attack. The 85 and a half ton radar on Alamden Air Force Station is one of 12 in the country which were used to detect incoming bombers during the Cold War. The five story tower on which the radar rests reaches 84 and half feet tall.
Jabir has had the opportunity to enter the station, which is currently closed to the public, and photograph its history. “I quickly realized that soon this place is going to be torn down and there are really no memories of it other than those of the people that were there, and eventually they will die too,” said Jabir.
Jim Maurer, History San Jose Volunteer, still clearly remembers visiting the station as a young boy.
“It was always a big mystery to us living down here in the valley. We could see it up there and see the radar sail turning around. We knew that these guys were there watching over us, so it was quite exciting to actually see it in person,” said Maurer.
Recently, Jabir has been spearheading the efforts to save the radar from being destroyed by the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District.
“They’re pretty much telling us to help raise money to keep it because, whether they are willing to spend the money or not, their mission statement isn’t really in concert with maintaining and saving buildings,” explained Jabir, who has been working toward raising more funds. He and other activists were recently able to negotiate an agreement that the radar stay for five more years.
Ideally, Jabir said he would like to see the radar tower used as a museum or for educational purposes. He recently ended a five-year search for the station’s original welcome sign and memorial plaques for veterans who died while stationed at Almaden Air Force Station, among other memorabilia stored at History San Jose.
“I was relived to find those plaques, to find the sign and to find all of them together in one place, safe and sound, in no better place than an actual archive warehouse. I was relieved,” said Jabir.
Lately, Jabir has been organizing the station’s reunions. He said what has surprised him the most is the sense of family among the veterans.
He recalls speaking to a veteran’s wife the Tuesday before a weekend reunion. She explained how they were in town all week having dinner at other Almaden Air Force Station veteran’s houses that were still local.
“I thought to myself, now that is a reunion, not going up and seeing buildings. It’s seeing friends that they haven’t seen in decades,” concluded Jabir.