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Prowler joins Intruder at Gateway

If Oak Harbor is not a genuinely proud military community, it has fooled people with the performance of a lifetime.

A gigantic, gray apparition cut through the thick blanket of fog Thursday afternoon at the corner of Highway 20 and Ault Field Road. Getting closer, the outline of the figure became more defined, until the sleek bullet morphed into an EA-6B Prowler, the face of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

The Navy’s Gateway display, an intensive labor of love undertaken by community-minded, military devotees, was completed Thursday when the Prowler came to rest alongside the A-6 Intruder, which was mounted in June.

“It’s nice that the Intruder is leading the Prowler through the fog,” said Jack Hawley of Oak Harbor, a former A-6 pilot stationed at NAS Whidbey.

“As it should be,” quietly agreed Dave Williams, a fellow A-6 man whose name appears on one side of the Intruder at the Gateway display.

Placing aircrafts on sticks was not in the job descriptions of anyone involved in the daunting project. The A-6 installation experienced complications that greatly added to the mounting time.

“It took us all day to get the first one up,” Cmdr. Sam Bovington, the Navy’s project leader, said before the crane lifted the Prowler. “Never having done it before, it’s a new procedure and process. It’s not something we do very routinely. It should go on smoothly, but you never know what might come up.”

As it turned out, nothing but the jet came up. And after trimming a bracket that proved to be the day’s only hitch, nothing but the jet went down on the metal poles.

“It’s gone very well,” said Williams, who has served as a project liaison between the Navy and the city. “I think there was a nice learning curve from the last time.”

The display, although clearly centered on the Navy, was carefully built to serve as a reminder of the fruitful coexistence be tween Oak Harbor and the base.

“It’s a wonderful display for the Navy and for the community,” Williams said. “I can’t emphasize enough that none of this would be here if it had not been for an incredible amount of dedication on the part of everybody involved in the project.”

From its conceptualization to the planes materializing at the intersection, the project was a community-wide effort. It turned out to be much more difficult than anticipated, but Williams said nobody would change a thing.

“It’s a great point of pride for everyone who made this happen,” he said.

Bovington said the Navy opted to employ local businesses and contractors to make the display a reality. Chugach Development Corporation worked on both planes, along with DEL-JIN, INC. and P & L General Contractors. Krieg Construction previously completed the concrete work, Washington Iron Works fabricated the steel poles, and Cane Engineering designed the site plan. Blue Mountain Electric, the company that rigged the lighting for the Intruder, will do the same for the EA-6B.

“We could have decided, ‘Hey, let’s go find some company in San Diego that’s done this before,’” Bovington said. “But we didn’t do that. We went with local companies. We have the talent in this town to do it.”

Hawley could not take his eyes off the display. He said the Prowler complemented the Intruder perfectly. Both aircraft were made by Grumman, now known as Northrop Grumman.

“It makes me proud every time I drive by,” he said. “It’s that whole Grumman thing. They built a lot of great airplanes and they kept a lot of us alive.”

With both planes up, the final phase of the project will entail moving dirt and placing the final sealant on the poles.

“Then we will put rocks down so weeds don’t grow,” Bovington said. “It’s going to be a nice, crushed gravel that nothing will grow through.”

The project will carry different meanings for different generations. Hawley had personally been waiting for a fitting tribute for decades.

“Finally, after all these years, we have this,” he said with a smile. “And it just makes a huge difference for all us ‘old timers.’”

A dedication ceremony will be held Thursday, Sept. 20.

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