Thursday, April 19 , 2018, 12:49 pm | A Few Clouds 62º

 
 
 
 
Advice

John Blankenship: Goleta Airfield’s Advantages Provided Base for Marine Corps Air Station

Marine Corps Air Station Santa Barbara was established at the Santa Barbara Airport not long after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor pulled the United States into World War II. Among the reasons? Already operational runways. Click to view larger
Marine Corps Air Station Santa Barbara was established at the Santa Barbara Airport not long after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor pulled the United States into World War II. Among the reasons? Already operational runways. (Santa Barbara Airport file photo)

This is a new column for and about veterans, active duty military, and families of both — presented by the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation. We will have news of interest to all and a listing of upcoming events honoring veterans.

We also will have profiles of local veterans and active-duty military. And there will be tips and information for veterans on how to deal with the Veterans Affairs Department.

Marine Corps Air Station Santa Barbara WWII

Installment 1: A municipal airport becomes Marine Air Station

The history of the Marine Corps Air Station Santa Barbara (Goleta) begins with the first official document in the station files: a wire dated Feb. 17, 1942, from the Bureau of Aeronautics to the commandant of the 11th Naval District requesting that negotiations be initiated to acquire a lease on the Santa Barbara Airport.

The station’s emotional history, in fact, begins earlier, on Dec. 7, 1941, when the United States was plunged suddenly into World War II by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In the swift expansion of Marine Corps Aviation, along with all the other military services, an urgent need developed for Marine Corps air bases on the West Coast.

How the Santa Barbara airport came to the attention of the Bureau of Aeronautics, and why it was chosen as a Marine Corps air station is no doubt documented in the bureau files in Washington. For this history, the personal account of one man — then-Santa Barbara Mayor Patrick Maher — of the events leading up to establishing the base will have to suffice:

The Santa Barbara airport was built in the 1920s on a tidewater swamp about eight miles from the city, in the town of Goleta. In 1930, Frederick Stearns II founded Santa Barbara Airways and built the first paved runways and installed the first radio equipment at the airport.

The field first consisted of two short runways on relatively high ground, and which were used by privately owned aircraft, a small flying school, and, occasionally, the Boeing 247s of United Air Lines.

In 1941, the city purchased some 568 acres through a bond issue for $149,000; swamp was filled in and runways laid through Civil Aeronautics Authority allocations totaling approximately $1 million; and by the end of 1941 was a thriving three-runway field operated by the United Air Lines.

Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Maher, no doubt well aware of the commercial benefits his city would derive from a military base in Goleta, sought to interest Navy officials in the municipal airport. Late in December 1941, he made arrangements to see Cmdr. Lawry, executive officer of the Naval Air Station at San Diego. With the commander was then-Maj. William J. Fox, USEC.

According to Maher, “Commander Lawry looked over the charts and said, ‘Nope, it doesn’t seem suitable for our purposes. How about you, Bill? You’re looking for airfields; maybe the Marines can use it.’”

“The major studied the charts for a while and said, ‘It looks pretty good except for that road going through the middle of it.’”

A few weeks later, Fox, representing the commandant of the 11th Naval District, flew in to inspect the airport. He found a field of three 4,000-by-5,000 feet runways, serviced by five taxi strips. On the northeast side of the field, where the elevation was greatest, United Air Lines maintained an office and two hangars.

Overlooking the beach to the south, on Mescaltitlan Island (high ground surrounded by swamp, once a thriving Chumash village and an important site to the tribe) stood a beacon tower.

Across the field from the hangars was a slaughterhouse. Marshland surrounded the field to the south, west and north. And past the airport ran Highway 101, which, as the major correctly foresaw, was to be a source of danger and controversy.

In spite of the drawbacks of the airport, Fox saw its possibilities. It had one great advantage over other projected sites for Marine Corps air stations: the runways for operational training were already built. When Fox went to Washington in February to secure authorization for four West Coast air stations for the Marine Corps, the Goleta airport was one of them.

— Published with permission from the research of historian Adam Lewis

Note: Second installment will be coming soon. If you or anyone you know served at the Marine Corps Air Station, please let us know. There were many weddings between Marines and local residents. If you have memorabilia, photographs or would like to record your personal knowledge of the base, or other related stories about how Santa Barbara served during WWII, please let us know at [email protected].

For the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 218, the Fiesta food booth at Santa Barbara’s De la Guerra Plaza is an important fundraising venue for the group. You can help. (Tom Palmeri file photo)
For the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 218, the Fiesta food booth at Santa Barbara’s De la Guerra Plaza is an important fundraising venue for the group. You can help. (Tom Palmeri file photo)

Fiesta Volunteers Wanted

Don Matter mans the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 218 food both at last year’s Old Spanish Days-Fiesta. (Tom Palmeri file photo)
Don Matter mans the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 218 food both at last year’s Old Spanish Days-Fiesta. (Tom Palmeri file photo)

The Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 218 is looking for volunteers to help at their Old Spanish Days-Fiesta booth at De la Guerra Plaza, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Aug. 5-8. Help is also needed prior to Fiesta, Aug. 1-4, and also after Fiesta for booth breakdown on Aug. 9.

The Fiesta booth is the chapter’s major fundraiser for our scholarships, helicopter restoration project and bringing the Moving Wall to Santa Barbara.

We sell pulled-pork sandwiches, fries, lemonade and sweet tea. New this year: pulled-pork nachos!

Please contact Donald Matter at [email protected], or leave a message at 805.284.6372. Your assistance is appreciated.

Pitching In

Town & Country Women’s Club notified TEN-Hut to let all veterans know that the club will provide pizza, dessert and bottled water for our local veterans and the staff at the Santa Barbara VA Clinic from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, July 29. A local Coast Guard veteran will provide some piano music, playing oldies and goodies.

Community members can join us in the pizza project, donate and receive a letter qualifying them for a full deductible contribution as required by the IRS.

The Santa Barbara VA Clinic is located at 4440 Calle Real in Santa Barbara. Parking is very limited.

Before We Forget ...

Definition of a veteran, by an unknown author: “A veteran, whether on active duty, retired, National Guard, or in reserves is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America for an amount of up to and including his or her life. That is honor, and there are way too many people in this country who no longer understand it.”

— Lt. John W. Blankenship (retired) graduated from UC Santa Barbara and the naval flight school in Pensacola, Fla., in 1965. He flew T-34sT-28s, S-2s and finally the P-3C Orion Aircraft with VP-19. Blankenship was stationed in Iwakuni, Japan, and then in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. In 1970, he returned to Santa Barbara to start his career in building and construction, retiring in 2008. He became the founding director of the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation in 2004. Ten-HUT is a biweekly column for veterans, active duty and families presented by the PCVF. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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