Editorial: History flies into Oak Harbor Friday

Whidbey Islanders won’t want to miss a piece of flying history Friday.

Look down Saratoga Passage at about 1 p.m., and go back in time approximately 65 years when the PBY Catalina was a common sight, flying in and out of the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station Seaplane Base.

The old base property is now a popular destination for its city boat marina and the Navy Exchange. But the broad seaplane ramp is still intact, and it will be used once again as this particular Catalina rolls up onto dry ground for a few days of public display.

Arranged by the PBY Memorial Foundation with assistance from the Navy, the flying boat called the Catalina will no doubt bring tears to the eyes of aging islanders who manned the airplanes on their long, dangerous patrols during World War II.

The Catalina was responsible for Oak Harbor’s transition from a hardscrabble farm town to a thriving Navy town. Farm families went to work building the base and working in the myriad civilian jobs suddenly available, including keeping Oak Harbor Bay clear of driftwood as the Catalinas came in for a watery landing.

To see the sight of a flying Catalina, and hear the roar that oldtimers still talk about, will be an historic occasion in Oak Harbor, serving to unite the generations in a common interest. The airplane is owned by Bud Rude of Deer Park, and fittingly, it’s still a working aircraft, involved in putting out forest fires.

The public should particularly appreciate the PBY Memorial Association, which as done admirable work with scant resources in recent years, from building a memorial to the PBY crews to opening a museum at Building 12 on the Seaplane Base. This event will give the association some well-deserved attention and boost its efforts to eventually put a PBY Catalina on permanent display.

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