Sound Off: PBY Foundation is alive and well

By James R. Vannice

What drew 14 local men and women together over lunch at the CPO Club at NAS Whidbey Island Sept. 28, 1998, was their love of the PBY Catalina. They formed the PBY Memorial Association to honor the hundreds of brave crewmen who trained and flew from the Seaplane Base in Oak Harbor, in the early days of World War II.

Now almost seven years later, the group has grown to about 178 members and a mailing list of 221 individuals and families. The invitation is always open to anyone with an interest in preserving naval aviation history to join us on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 11:30 a.m. at the CPO Club for lunch and a business meeting.

We expect to open our new headquarters soon in a pre-war service station in Old Town at Pioneer and Midway, just down the road from the Seaplane Base. Volunteers have painted and spruced up the building which will feature displays, models and plenty of veterans on hand to talk about their experiences. Our goal is to educate the public about how selecting Crescent Harbor for a seaplane base put Oak Harbor on the map in 1941, the vital role the PBY Catalina played in the South Pacific and in turning the tide in the Battle of Midway and how crews flew endless missions to the Aleutians, hunting for enemy ships and submarines.

We are counting on public financial support to help us realize our vision of opening a Naval Aviation Historical Center, complete with a PBY Catalina and other U.S. Navy aircraft. Because the PBYMF is a non-profit 501 (c)(3) organization, all donations, large or small, are tax deductible.

We invite individuals and organizations to consider sponsoring our efforts with their own tax-exempt gifts or membership. We will even send a speaker a reasonable distance to describe our efforts to memberships of other organizations.

Far from sitting in their rocking chairs, our members are working with renewed vigor to make this vision a reality in their lifetime. It is refreshing to see their patriotism, as strong as it was in World War II. They know that if they don’t do it, a precious part of naval aviation history in the Northwest will be lost forever.

We dedicate our work to the memory of the late Admiral James Russell, whose name is synonymous with early naval aviation in the Northwest, to the many PBY crewmen who never returned from their missions and to our members who have made their final flight. Russell was commander of Patrol Wing Four in the Aleutians where the PBYs had a remarkable record sinking enemy shipping and bombing land targets under severe weather conditions.

I urge everyone reading this letter to get behind this group of aging warriors, as volunteers and benefactors. Visit www.pbyma.org and leave a message with your email address, write to PBYMF, P.O. Box 941, Oak Harbor, WA 98277, or e-mail winvp91@whidbey.net or apmsr@oakharbor.net. One of us will get back to you.     

James R. Vannice, Cmdr. USN, retired, is an ex-PBY plane captain. He lives in Oak Harbor.

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