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'Gerral's Girl' greeted warmly by PBY lovers at Seaplane Base

PBY Memorial Foundation members Will Stern and Win Stites secure the U.S. Navy flag onto a PBY flying boat while Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s commanding officer, Capt. Gerral David, speaks about the historic aircraft.  - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
PBY Memorial Foundation members Will Stern and Win Stites secure the U.S. Navy flag onto a PBY flying boat while Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s commanding officer, Capt. Gerral David, speaks about the historic aircraft.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

Aviation lovers, veterans, U.S. Navy dignitaries, former newspaper pubishers, even a state representative showed up to Simard Hall on the Seaplane Base Saturday, July 10, to permanently welcome back a PBY 5A Catalina flying boat that once called Whidbey Island home.

The historic aircraft, which was stationed on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in 1943, was recently purchased by the PBY Memorial Foundation and transported to the Seaplane Base. It’s to be restored and put on permanent display just outside the foundation’s museum in Simard Hall.

“I’ve only got one word, ‘awesome,’” said foundation President Win Stites, of Saturday’s dedication ceremony.

A sizable crowd turned out for the event that officially welcomed the PBY home after its 67-year absence. Speakers included Stites, the widow of the one of the aircraft’s first pilots, and base commander Capt. Gerral David.

David commended the foundation for its work to acquire the plane, as it was an effort that spanned about 12 years. It will serve as a unique attraction for the Seaplane Base and is a piece of Whidbey Island’s history, he said.

“This is truly part of the legacy that informs our future,” David said.

Norwood Cole, who died in 2000, was one of the plane’s earliest pilots. He flew the PBY in the Aleutian Island campaign of World War II. David said the families of servicemen, such as Cole’s wife Phillis, also make sacrifices and deserve special recognition.

“She is a patriot that shared her husband and son with the Navy,” David said.

The Coles’ son, Peter, retired as a commander after a 26-year career in the Navy.

Phillis Cole said her husband, along with his fellow pilots and crew, flew their missions in hostile weather and under enemy fire for the preservation of freedom, and that she was honored that their contribution was being memorialized.

“It is exciting to me and our son, Peter, to be able to honor these brave young men after all these years for service to their country,” Phillis Cole said. “May this PBY Catalina always stand as a living reminder of the sacrifices made by our flyers in World War II.”

The foundation is planning an extensive restoration project over the next few years. If it can acquire the funding, it will invest up to $150,000 into the aircraft in several project phases. While the restoration will be extensive, there are no plans to restore the PBY to flight-ready status.

The dedication ceremony was concluded when Phillis and Peter Cole broke a champagne bottle over one of the aircraft’s cleats, officially rechristening it as “Gerral’s Girl.” According to Stites, the foundation may have secured the aircraft, but Capt. David deserves much credit. He has not only made it possible for the foundation to set up its museum in Simard Hall, but he also OK’d the PBY’s return onto base property.

“Capt. David made this possible for us,” Stites said.

The foundation is looking for people to help restore the aircraft. Those interested in volunteering can leave a message at the museum by calling 240-9500.

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