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Santa Barbara Airport Dedicates Memorial to Local War Heroes

The monument is a tribute to the aviators and squadrons who died during World War II

World War II-era planes flew by, 21 guns shot their salute and a bugler played “Taps” as the Santa Barbara Airport celebrated Memorial Day early on Thursday with the commemoration of a memorial dedicated to the aviators and squadrons that trained at the airport during WWII.

“This monument has been constructed to honor our local aviators who perished in World War II,” said Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, reading a proclamation from the city, “and to recognize the contribution of all the men and women who were assigned to the Marine Corps Air Station in Santa Barbara.”

The monument, a miniature version of the Washington Monument in black granite, bears the names of local aviators who died in WWII, some of whom have been memorialized by the names of the streets around the airport: David Love, William Moffett and James Fowler, to name a few. The obelisk is at the east end of the airfield.

Airport director Karen Ramsdell said the idea for the monument started when she realized that some of the streets around the airport would have to be decommissioned because of ongoing expansions and upgrades. At the same time, she said, she received material from a descendant of one of the local aviators whose name had not been immortalized by a street.

“As the airport redevelops in the future, some of the street names bearing the local aviators’ names may be decommissioned, and the recognition associated with the street names lost,” she said. “The memorial will help ensure that these individuals continue to be honored and remembered for their sacrifice.”

Members of several branches of the military were on hand for the ceremony. The Rev. Charles Griffin of the Navy gave the invocation, a color guard from the Port Hueneme base of the U.S. Marine Corps saluted the monument, and the closing benediction was given by Chaplain Albert Sanchez of the Air Force 30th Wing.

Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, left, joins Bert Curtain, retired from the U.S. Marine Corps, at Thursday's dedication.
Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, left, joins Bert Curtain, retired from the Marine Corps, at Thursday’s dedication. (Lynn Houston photo / Santa Barbara Airport)

Meanwhile, local high school students, chosen because local schools were often the source of the personnel who trained at the airport when it was a military base, did their part during the hourlong ceremony. Wolf Thielmann, a U.S. Air Force Academy appointee from Dos Pueblos High, led the Pledge of Allegiance, while Luz Cordova and Billy Grokenberger of Santa Barbara High, Aya Miyazaki of San Marcos High and Blaz Uribe of Dos Pueblos introduced and read the names of the local aviators who paid the ultimate price for their country.

“This dedication is very personal for me,” said retired Brig. Gen. Frederick Lopez, whose father’s friend, Frederick P. Lopez, is one whose name is on the monument. Lopez was a baby when his parents found out that Frederick Lopez had been killed in action.

“I was named after him,” Lopez said.

Before there was a Santa Barbara Airport or UCSB, the land on which the airport now stands was part of the Goleta Slough. In the early 1900s, there were small airstrips in the area, which eventually gave way to a small municipal airport. When WWII rolled around, the Marines moved in to build a Marine Corps Air Station, constructing 103 buildings and installing about 5.5 million square feet of pavement on the site, which included the present-day airport and much of the land that is now UCSB. After the war, the Marines handed the airport back to Santa Barbara.

Here are the names of local aviators whose names are on the monument:

Clyde M. Adams
Dean A. Arnold
Philip H. Bates
Wallace Becknell
Francis L. Botello
James E. Burns
Earnest T. Carmen
Gerald Cass
Cecil P. Cook Jr.
Earl A. Courville
Robert E. Coverstone
Francis R. Dibblee
John L. Donaldson
Rex A. Eckles
Norman S. Firestone
James L. Fowler
Augustus M. Griggs Jr.
William Harshbarger
Cyril O. Hartley
John W. Hays
Francis F. Hebel
Robert L. Keister
Frederick P. Lopez
David C. Love
Andrew R. MacFarland
Robert K. Marxmiller
Earl A. McAllister
Fred C. McCloskey
Nick J. Mesa
John E. Miller
William G. Moffett
Arthur P. Mollenhauer
Felix L. Moon Jr.
Robert W. Newman
Richard Oeschler Jr.
William T. Owens
Clifford J. Peck
Jack Peres
Jack B. Rickard
Kenneth E. Roberts
Robert C. Sawyer
Stanley H. Soto
Betty P. Stine
Parker G. Toms
John R. Troup
Edward G. Verhelle
Alan L. Wade
Dean K. Wilber
Sam M. Yee

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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