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Naval Air Station Whidbey Island celebrates 70 years
Naval Air Station Whidbey Island is looking good for a 70-year-old.
A celebration was held Friday on the Seaplane Base to mark the air station’s 70th birthday. Commanding officer Capt. Jay Johnston presided over the ceremony in front of Simard Hall (Bldg. 12), the same place the base was commissioned Sept. 21, 1942.
“In early 1941, the 13th Naval District, which is known today as Navy Region Northwest, was tasked with finding a location for a base that could support both seaplanes and land-based airplanes,” said Johnston. “Whidbey Island was chosen because of its favorable terrain and access to water.”
The attack on Pearl Harbor jolted America into action, Johnston said, and Whidbey Island served a strategic role during the remainder of World War II. Originally commissioned as a temporary base, it was scheduled to be closed after the war. But the Navy needed a Northwest air station with long runways, so in 1949 it was decided to keep NAS Whidbey open as the only naval air station north of California, which still holds true today.
Aircraft have come and gone from NAS Whidbey over the years. Heavy attack squadrons in the 1950s were eventually replaced by electronic attack squadrons in the 1970s. A-3 Skywarrior jets were eventually replaced by EA-6B Prowlers; today those Prowlers still fly, although they are slowly being transitioned out to make way for the latest in electronic attack, the EA-18G Growlers.
“Today, forward is our future, and our future is bright,” said Johnston. “We have the same strategic location, the same terrain, the same water access and wonderful community synergy.”
Johnston praised the city of Oak Harbor and Island County for their outstanding support of the base and for developing what he called “the best zoning practices in the nation.”
“Over the past 70 years, the city of Oak Harbor has partnered with NAS Whidbey in many ways,” said Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley, one of the guest speakers for the anniversary. “Our relationship with the base is special, it is unique. We’re not just neighbors, we’re family.”
NAS Whidbey also earned high praise from another special guest, Dr. Allyson Brooks, the Washington State Historic Preservation Officer.
“This base has done an amazing job following the State Historic Preservation Act,” she said. “You inventoried the property and tried to preserve as much of the history as possible.”
Brooks said base officials worked with the state to determine which buildings were the most important historically and how to handle any potential demolitions. She especially liked the fact that Simard Hall now houses the Naval Aviation History Center and the PBY Memorial Foundation.
“It’s fitting you’ve turned it into a place where people can follow history,” she said. “Keeping track of what you’ve done in the past, what you are doing in the present and what you will do in the future bridges history.”
Throughout the ceremony a formation of 42 sailors stood at the center of the street in front of Simard Hall. Before they were dismissed and the ceremony concluded, Capt. Johnston praised the success of Team Whidbey, defined as both the base and the Oak Harbor community, over the past 70 years.
“We will strive to provide the same outstanding support for the next 70 years,” he said.