Top 'o the morn
July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:56 PM
"It was a lovely birthday party, the second for the PBY Memorial Association, with 60 members remembering the early 1940s when the big seaplanes came to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.Slides were shown of the construction of the Seaplane Base, the neck of land between Maylor's Point and Eerkes Hill that had to be widened and made ready for the planes that heralded Whidbey's effort at the beginning of World War II.Old-timers will remember the Eerkes farmhouse at what is today the entrance road to the base, and heavy equipment doing groundwork for the hangars.Tables at the PBY banquet, held last week, were covered with Navy blue cloths and in the center of each table was a sheaf of yellow lilies on a gold foundation, a PBY Association tribute to the little tug that patrolled and cleared the waters of Crescent and Oak Harbor for driftwood that might cause damage to water-landing planes if left to float. The Lily, a Dunbar Towing Company boat, was captained by Henry Koetje and Mel Neil, who did a good job keeping the waters clear of driftwood.It was the early days of World War II when the PBYs arrived, making regular trips to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and patrolling the Northwest waters. From the Seaplane Base, they made regular flights around Maylor's Point, over Oak Harbor bay and the town and back to the base.Oak Harbor residents soon became used to the noise of the planes as they flew overhead; all talking ceased and windows rattled when the planes flew overhead. We learned to continue our conversation between flights.It was something new for Oak Harbor and something new for Navy boys who had never before heard of the base at Oak Harbor. Housing was scarce even for the Navy boys but when mother and dad wanted to come from Oskaloosa to visit their son for a couple of days, it was tough finding an overnight bed for the visitors.Do you have an extra bed or a cot for a couple of nights? My Mom and Dad are coming out for a visit and I can't find a place for them to stay. Somehow, Oak Harbor found beds for the visitors who were anxious to find out just what kind of environment their son was experiencing out there in the far Northwest, on an island called Whidbey.Of special interest at the PBY birthday dinner was a design of the proposed PBY museum, to be erected on the Seaplane Base, designed by Adolph Meitz, a former PBY pilot.Plans are also in the offing to obtain a PBY in flying condition to enhance the museum. Win Stites of Yakima is president of the association and is moving to Whidbey Island to a home just below Coupeville where he will be closer to the PBY project. He has been instrumental in locating many former PBY pilots and promoting the PBY Memorial Association.A great deal of interest has been shown in the project, with contributions in letters and checks forthcoming. Local businesses are interested since the proposed museum would be a tourist attractions as well as a historic element of Whidbey Island, and because it is important that this part of Naval aviation history be graphically preserved for all generations.History is a vital part of the New World, i.e., America, whose people came from Europe, Asia, and other areas, to be free of persecution and poverty. More and more we are receiving reports from early day families on Whidbey Island who came as early as a century and a half ago to form little towns, establish businesses and develop land. Sometimes names were given to areas that would seem somewhat ridiculous today, but had a very real meaning when they were given and still recall our town's history.Monkey Hill brings back the heavily-laden farm wagons attempting an up-hill route. Cackle Corner recalls the chicken farms of the '20s and Great Depression days that helped islanders to survive; Olson's Landing will always be Olson's Landing to us, where the Camano-Whidbey ferry landed before Deception Pass Bridge was built; Strawberry Point, the vast hillside of strawberries where boats stopped on their journeys to Seattle for a fruit cargo.And there are many other places down-island that conjure up the history of one beautiful island in North Puget Sound.-------------------Dorothy Neil has gathered and recorded Whidbey Island history for more than 50 years. She is the author of 10 books, including By Canoe and Sailing Ship They Came, which chronicle Whidbey life and times. "