Just ask “Stretch” what he is famous for.
At 6’ 7” Wayne Barneveld’s talent was featured in USA Today, USA Weekly and Time.
Barneveld, 1969 graduate of Aitkin High School, didn’t sign up for the draft. He was deferred the first two times he was called up. Then came the third.
“I tried to talk them into an hour head start but they wouldn’t go for it,” he joked.
Barneveld’s home was on the north side of Mille Lacs Lake in southern Aitkin County. His grandparents came there in 1910, when his grandmother founded Barneveld’s Resort. The resort has been in his family ever since.
Wayne and his wife, Karen, were already married with a baby on the way when he joined the U.S. Air Force in 1970. While in basic training, he received a Red
Cross telegram that said, “It’s a boy – all is well.”
Karen relayed that the Air Force motto concerning military families was, “If we would have wanted you to have a family, we would have issued you one.”
WHERE IN THE WORLD?
Since the Air Force was in need of weapons mechanics, that is where Wayne was assigned.
“They sent you where they wanted a body,” he noted.
In Strategic Air Command and Technical Air Command, Wayne never knew where he would be sent. He worked on Vulcan cannons on F4 Phantoms and as a bomb loader on B-52s. He was also a foreign pilot weapons instructor and retrained in radar surveillance and radar repair. He was moved nine times during his six-year enlistment.
The nickname “Stretch” stuck with him because he could load bombs by hand into the bomb bays without mechanical assistance. He was known as the “One man bomb crew,” which led to the news magazine articles.
Sometimes dodging snipers while loading bombs, it generally took six hours to load 66 bombs into a B-52.
“We did it in 45 minutes,” he said.
Karen and their son, Arthur, lived with Wayne whenever they could. Sometimes it was difficult to find housing because of the small housing allowance. They only lived on a base one time because base housing was always full.
“When Wayne went to work for a normal shift, I never knew if he was coming home at the end of the day,” said Karen. “When he was sent overseas, they never told him when or where he was going until he hit the ground.”
When that happened, Karen and Arthur returned to Barneveld’s Resort until they heard from Wayne again.
“It’s a strange way of living,” Karen said. “You learn fast.”
Stateside, Wayne worked in Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Mississippi and Washington. But he spent the majority of his military career in Thailand. When the Vietnam War ended in Vietnam, it continued in Thailand, according to Wayne.
The Barnevelds liked living in Thailand, where they could scuba dive and interact with native people. The locals had a peculiar belief about Wayne. Apparently the Thai people, who were fond of ‘70’s horror movies, believed they were true.
“They thought Wayne was a vampire because he worked at night,” Karen laughed.
Before his enlistment ended in 1976, Air America came recruiting. Air America was an American passenger and cargo airline established in 1946 and covertly owned and operated by the CIA from 1950 to 1976. It supplied and sup-
ported covert operations in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.
“It was an automatic $50,000 and you could go anywhere in the world,” said Wayne. “But you had to give up U.S. citizenship.”
He didn’t take up the offer and opted to be discharged. Forced to wear his Air Force uniform on the flight home from Thailand, he was spit on by protestors when he landed in San Francisco.
THE CALL OF HOME
Wayne said he would have made a career of the Air Force, but the resort kept calling him home. Not only that, but Arthur never spent a full year in any school and Wayne had little faith in military schools.
The family resort was passed down to Wayne and Karen. They operated the resort and all the services that go with it, although Wayne also took a job with Northwestern Bell, doing contract phone work all over the U.S. He was laid off after six years and returned to the resort.
In 1991, Wayne lost one lung when it was misdiagnosed as being cancerous. He wound up in the Mayo Clinic when it was discovered that it was histoplasmosis which could have been treated with drugs, he said.
He embarked on a self-imposed recovery program, he said. Getting seven semi-truck loads of railroad ties, he picked away at building a retaining wall on the beach near the lake. The couple raised elk for 20 years which also kept him occupied.
THE NEXT GENERATION
In about 2004, Wayne and Karen turned Barneveld’s Resort over to Arthur and his wife, Andrea. They also have two more sons, Karel and his wife, Renee; and Ben and his wife, Kim. They have eight grandchildren.
Wayne and Karen still live near the resort and are often seen helping out.