A Look Back at Harmon Field Day
This article is from a heritage partnered project. It was written in 1998 by students from Stephenville Integrated High School and edited by their teachers. It has not been vetted by the heritage website's academic editor.
Harmon Field Day was an event that took place every second summer in the town of Stephenville, NL. It was a day that celebrated the history of the Earnest Harmon Air Force Base, operated by the United States military from 1941 to 1966. Harmon Field Day was a significant day for Stephenville in that it brought the past and the present closer together.
The tradition of Harmon Field Day initiated with a discussion among the members of the town council of Stephenville in 1985. The next year, 1986, would mark the twentieth anniversary of the closing of the base. In honor of the historical date, the town council decided to hold a reunion for the military personnel that once worked at the base. As part of the celebrations, American military aircraft were invited to put on an air show to be enjoyed by the public. The reunion was a great success and it was decided, after much discussion, that it would be profitable for the town of Stephenville to hold an event like this every two years. The people involved felt that this was an excellent idea.
During the days surrounding Harmon Field Day, several activities took place in the area. The highlight of the entire celebration was an air show involving military aircraft. In 1996, forty-two aircraft, the largest number ever, were involved in the show and display. As each plane arrived, it put on a demonstration for the crowd that had gathered to welcome it. At the Sunday show, on July 21, 1996, 12,000 people assembled to witness the exhibition. Although there were some challenges, the spectators were thoroughly entertained. The public was also invited to talk with the pilots and crew members, an activity which everyone involved enjoyed. In 1990, in addition to the aircraft display, there was a Canadian Coast Guard's aerial search and rescue display and parachuters. Other events which have taken place during Harmon Field Day include: a Sunday social, visits from local comedian "Ned, the Newf" (actually committee member, Scott Hurley), and a display of base memorabilia and charts and maps of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Sable Island drawn by Captain James Cook. These activities entertained the residents of the Stephenville area and drew tourists to the region.
Harmon Field Day held a special significance for people of all ages. It offered a rare privilege to the children of the area. As Bob Byrnes wrote to a Western Star reporter: "One of the advantages of having the show is that younger children have the chance to see sophisticated equipment they normally wouldn't have the chance to see in this province." Harmon Field Day created memories for the young generation while it stirred up the memories of the older generation. For these people, the day was reminiscent of when the base was in operation. The day also created a paradise for aircraft lovers and an atmosphere that promoted good moods and smiles all around. Not only was the day special for the spectators, but for the pilots and crew members as well. They enjoyed performing for the crowd and answering their questions. They came back because of the excellent hospitality that they received. For one pilot, Capt. Tim Hassel, Harmon Field Day provided the chance to realize a dream. He was born to Charles Hassel, an American sergeant, and Lorna Janes, a Newfoundlander and Labradorian, while Charles worked on the base. Capt. Hassel lived in Stephenville until he was in grade two and then moved to New Jersey with his parents. He visited Stephenville several times during his childhood, keeping his Newfoundland and Labrador heritage alive. At the 1996 Harmon Field Day, he reached his dream of coming back, flying a fighter jet. Overall, Harmon Field Day reminded the people of the Stephenville area of their history and culture, and at the same time was advantageous for the town's economy.
Harmon Field Day was a special event that required a lot of work. Behind the scenes, there was a hard-working and dedicated committee and many volunteers. The cooperation of the United States Military and the support of the businesses in the town were vital to the day's success. Without these efforts, this occasion, which brought people together to discover history, culture, and knowledge in a relaxed atmosphere, would not have been possible.
Harmon Field Day evolved over the years to become The Friendly Invasion, an annual summer festival that remembers the friendship that was forged between the local people and the American military personnel from 1941 to 1966.