P2V memorial approved

If all goes well, a solemn memorial with bronze statue of an airman, a granite wall inscribed with names of 85 men who died in Whidbey P2V Neptune operations, a matching granite park bench and a patio made from donated bricks, also inscribed with names of the dead, will be unveiled at Oak Harbor’s VFW Park in July of 2006.

Tuesday, Oak Harbor City Council approved a proposal, along with a list of conditions, that came from a group of former P2V crewmen to build a Whidbey Patrol Squadron Memorial at the park, which is located on Pioneer Way near the entrance to the Seaplane base.

“It’s long overdue that this town starts recognizing the Navy,” Councilman Paul Brewer said. “This is a first step.”

Retired Cmdr. Don Hanson, chairman of the memorial committee and a former P2V pilot, said the next step for his group — which includes Dave Bowen, Don Grove, Al Hall and Wayne Bowman — is to create a fund-raising brochure and start raising money, though he said they already have a good start.

He said they’ll need between $130,000 to $140,000 for the project. They hope to get donations from patrol squadron organizations, business and industry, and from the sale of bricks that will make up the memorial’s patio.

The idea, he said, is that each stone will have the name of Whidbey Patrol Squadron crewman who has died.

Hanson said Michael Maiden, an artist from Sandy, Oreg., is going to create the life-sized bronze statue of “the lone airman.” He’s the same artist who created the bronze statues at the Prowler memorial on the Whidbey Naval Air Station’s Ault Field base.

Hanson said the committee has to send Maiden the equipment that a P2V pilot would have worn. A human model will wear the equipment, Hanson said, and the artist will make an mold out of him, which will later be filled with bronze.

Hanson said the memorial committee hopes to get the project completed by July of 2006, in time for the VP-2 biennial reunion. Hanson said it’s been a long struggle so far to get a memorial. He said the group started about five years ago with the idea of obtaining a P2V Neptune airplane and placing it in static display on the Ault Field base, complementing the P-3 Orion aircraft display. But the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and resulting security changes put the kibosh on that.

A tribute was important to the members of the patrol squadron, Hanson said, because the P2Vs were stationed at Whidbey for 25 years and in those years 85 men died in operations. The unique planes, powered by both jets and props, filled a number of roles — from searching for submarines to dropping listening devices on the Ho Chi Minh Trail — and were involved in Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War.

After giving up on bringing in an aircraft, the committee decided to create a different type of memorial. Hanson said they searched the community and decided on the small but very visible VFW Park. “It’s the only site in town worth working for,” he said.

The memorial committee group has worked more than a year to get permission to give the city a memorial to place in the park. The process was held up while the Park Board and other city officials worked on a “gift catalog” which lays out what types of memorials or gifts folks can put in parks.

The gift-catalog policy would have banned the type of memorial that the Whidbey Patrol Squadron Memorial Committee proposed, but Brewer argued to have it “grandfathered in” under the old policy — or lack of policy.

Tuesday, the council members followed the Park Board’s recommendation to approve the project, which gives the memorial committee the green light to begin fund raising. The council’s decision was unanimous, though Councilman Richard Davis and Mayor Patty Cohen were absent. Councilman Eric Gerber was excused before the vote because he was sick.

Public Works Superintendent Cathy Rosen read a list of conditions on the project. They included reducing the size of the patio; barring signs identifying the Patrol Squadron Memorial; requiring the committee to pay for all permits, design, installation and maintenance; and allowing the city to relocate the memorial at its sole discretion, if necessary in the future.

Park Board Chairwoman Helen Chatfield-Weeks stood up at the meeting and said she was originally against the memorial, but was won over.

“What really changed my mind,” she said, “was that our city staff came forward and they had the most fantastic presentation I have ever seen.”

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