TOP O' THE MORN: Navy's planes changed our town

It isn’t little Oak Harbor anymore. Driving down the hill from Cackle Corner, two lanes of traffic are bumper to bumper, then Car Corner looms, with acres of new and used cars packed into the area. Where the slough used to run from downtown Oak Harbor to Freund’s Hill, banks and condos stand.

Little apartments that in 1941 were chicken houses and became emergency housing for Navy people are no more. Larger housing fills the four-way street area, with buildings bright and shining on the Swantown side of the hill.

No need to mention the shopping area of Wal-Mart, Albertson’s, Starbucks, et al, where Farmer Freund formerly herded his cows.

It’s a new world, and we are going to have to get used to it. Where Oak Harbor was once a village of a one to two thousand people, it is a Navy town, and fast becoming a city!

Going back over a number of years to 1941, when the big PBY’s landed on what is now the Seaplane Base of the Navy, the young pilots and crewmen who flew the big, noisy planes between Whidbey and the Aleutian Islands formed an association where by their planes would not be forgotten. Effort is now being made to acquire a real, honest-to-goodness PBY to grace a museum of that era at the Seaplane Base!

Meeting regularly every month for the past several years at the CPO Club for dinner, last week’s meeting filled the dining area to learn that things are moving slowly but surely toward the ultimate goal.

The young pilots and crew of the early 1940s are a bit older today, but their zeal for the new promotion is terrific. Each meeting a speaker tells of the “good old days” when the PBY crews flew in the Philippines, among other tales of flight from Alaska and the Aleutians to Vietnam.

One gets acquainted with the crews and their views at dinners, and exchange yarns of another day.

A quartet of PBYers went to Moses Lake a weekend or so ago, to inspect four PBY’s that are possibly for sale. Another big plane is in England with its price tag on its nose. Several other notices of PBYs have caused a bit of excitement in Oak Harbor, where the big planes first landed at the beginning of World War II.

The cost of the planes is more than a smalltown group of folks who remember the old days some 60 years ago can afford, so fundraisers are being sought for the advent. The Navy is interested, as are as residents of our Navy town.

One day, Seattle newspapers, which are not sure there is an Oak Harbor will give us a front page story and picture (color) and the country will know that on the little island of Whidbey there is a fascinating town that is basically Navy!

Our husband, Melvin Neil, captained a small tugon Crescent Harbor that rounded up driftwood that might be dangerous to the big ships as they landed in the harbor. It was an interesting work, and as we recall, no plane lost its footing landing on Crescent Harbor, or leaving it.

Which makes us a sort of fourth cousin, twice removed, from a really truly PBY crewman, but we treasure the relationship. We remember the big planes soaring at 10-minute intervals over Oak Harbor, coming from Crescent Harbor, around Maylor’s Point, and back again. They made a terrific noise, but we learned to live with it. We were at war!

Anyone out there who would like to be a member of the PBY Association? $25 will be sufficient, and you will become a member. Come one, come all. We’ll save a seat for you at the next PBY dinner at the CPO Club in May!

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