SOUNDOFF: All patrol squadrons honored

By Don Grove

I would like to respond to Gene Gauche of Sun City, Arizona, whose letter was printed in the Sept. 18 News-Times. And, in the process, inform others that aren’t aware of what the recently approved Whidbey Patrol Squadron Memorial stands for. To begin I’ll quote the dedication that will be etched in stone at the memorial:

“This memorial is dedicated to all United States Navy personnel who served in Navy patrol squadrons based at NAS Whidbey Island, especially to those who supported, maintained and flew the Lockheed P2V Neptune and to those NAS Whidbey P2V airmen who lost their lives in the line of duty.”

It will be a memorial to ALL who served in Navy patrol squadrons at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station!

The history of Navy patrol squadron’s at NAS Whidbey Island began in the early 1940s when the base was established just outside the tiny rural town of Oak Harbor. This new Northwest Navy base quickly became home to Navy squadrons that would patrol the waters of the Northern Pacific denying access to the Japanese Navy during World War II. These airmen would do battle with Japanese attackers around the fog-shrouded Aleutian Island chain.

PBY Catalina seaplanes were the first to operate from the NAS Whidbey Seaplane Base, taking off from and landing upon the waters of Crescent Harbor. The present Navy Exchange building on the Seaplane Base was originally a hangar for these seaplanes. The PV-1 Ventura, soon followed by PV-2 Harpoon, operated from the Ault Field landplane base. These early patrol squadrons patrolled the waters of the Pacific Ocean from their Whidbey Island home, and trained for forward deployment to Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. There, searching out and battling enemy forces, they operated from such icy “garden” spots as Kodiak, Cold Bay, Adak and Shemya. From the western end of the Aleutian Island chain, often flying in horrible weather conditions, these Navy airmen took-off for bombing raids on the northern Japanese home islands.

As newer types of Navy patrol aircraft became available the original aircraft assigned to NAS Whidbey were replaced. The P2V Neptune replaced the PV-2 Harpoon and the PB4Y Privateer, and was itself eventually replaced by the P-3 Orion, the patrol and reconnaissance plane currently operating at NAS Whidbey. At the Seaplane Base the PBY “Cats” were replaced by the PBM Mariner, which was in turn replaced by the P5M Marlin. These seaplanes held sway at the seaplane base until the mid-1960s.

The P2V Neptune patrol bomber was selected as the ideal representative aircraft for all Navy patrol aircraft that served at NAS Whidbey. All models of the Neptune, up to the final P2V-7, with jet engines and highly sophisticated electronics equipment, served at NAS Whidbey Island. The aircraft, flight crews, maintainers, and support staff called Oak Harbor home from 1948 to the mid-1970s. Among the P2V patrol squadrons that operated at NAS Whidbey were VPs 1, 2, 4, 6, 17, 29, 42, 57, 69, 812, and 931. These venerable patrol bombers roared down NAS Whidbey’s runways for over 25 years.

Because the P2V Neptune is the aircraft representing all Navy patrol planes that served at NAS Whidbey Island, some folks got the idea that the Whidbey Patrol Squadron Memorial was to be a P2V memorial. Tain’t so!

Oak Harbor resident Don Grove is a member of the Whidbey Patrol Squadron Memorial committee.

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