Retired Navy Reserves Capt. James VanderHoek speaks at a celebration in from of the A-3 Skywarrior memorial aircraft near Langley Gate Thursday afternoon. The group celebrated the 65th anniversary of the first flight of the skywarrior. Behind him from the left, Capt. Geoffrey Moore, Frank Cogdell, Al Archer and Bill Burklow. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

Navy celebrates dedication of A-3 memorial display to base

The A-3 Skywarrior Association formally handed over full control of the A-3 memorial display to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island on Thursday. This event took place two days before the 65th anniversary of the first flight of the A-3.

The dedication took place near Langley Gate in front of the memorial display, put in place by the A-3 Skywarrior Whidbey Memorial Foundation.

“This aircraft is a fitting memorial for all those service members, from airman recruit to admiral, that were members of the A-3 community,” retired Capt. James VanderHoek, the keynote speaker, said during the event.

Nicknamed the “the whale,” the Skywarrior was the largest aircraft to operate from a carrier. The Skywarrior was originally designed as a long-range bomber, but it was also used in photo reconnaissance, tanker and electronic warfare.

The memorial aircraft features the number 263 for the number of aviators who lost their lives in A-3 flight operations.

The aircraft landed on Whidbey Island in 2011 with the help of the national A-3 Skywarrior Association and the A-3 Skywarrior Whidbey Memorial Foundation. Once on the island, the Whidbey foundation raised money and found volunteers to restore the aircraft and finish the display. The A-3 Whidbey Memorial Foundation started organizing the memorial display in 2009.

“Many thought this day wouldn’t come,” said VanderHoek.

The association raised over $176,000 in eight years, said Frank Cogdell, of the A-3 association. The display also includes 664 pavers, 263 for the lost pilots, and the rest are for squadron members and their families involved in supporting the A-3 community through the years.

“This aircraft and memorial site are a touchstone for all who have ties to the A-3 Skywarrior,” said VanderHoek.

“As current and future visitors view this display, may they reflect on the contributions of all who are honored today.”

Retired Navy Reserves Capt. James VanderHoek speaks at a celebration of the 65th anniversary of the first flight of the A-3 Skywarrior Thursday afternoon. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

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