Mike Lopez, Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Business Committee member; Peter Jordano, Wings of Honor Project honorary campaign chairman; Retired Brig. Gen. Fredrick R. Lopez, USMCR, Wings of Honor Project Committee chairman; Kenneth Kahn, chairman of the Santa Ynez Bank of Chumash Indians; and Maxine Littlejohn, Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Business Committee member. (Nik Blaskovich photo)

The Wings of Honor Project, which aims to build a monument at Santa Barbara Airport to commemorate the site’s history as a U.S. Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) during World War II, announced the start of its public fundraising campaign Monday, Aug. 1, inside the old 1942 terminal at the airport.

The press conference included an official pledge of $500,000 by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians in support of the project, which will provide a one-of-a-kind, 20-foot-tall, self-cleaning glass “Wings of Honor” sculpture as a tribute to thousands of marines, sailors and coastguardsmen who trained and served at the MCAS. 

“When our elders learned of this project, they instantly wanted to find a way for our tribe to help make the Wings of Honor a reality,” said Kenneth Kahn, chairman of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. “We have a great respect for our military men and women who have served our country. And within our small tribe, many of our people have served in all branches of the military since World War II. We’re proud to take part in this groundbreaking memorial to WWII veterans project.”

Retired Brig. Gen. Frederick R. Lopez, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, who is the chairman of the Wings of Honor Project, has worked for six years to bring this monument to fruition.

He says the sculpture will be a lasting inspirational testament to the story of the base and will educate future generations about the vital role Santa Barbara played during World War II.

“Wings of Honor will be a world-class tribute to honor all who served at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station, Santa Barbara from 1942-1946 and to all those who served during WWII, so that they will never be forgotten. It commemorates the important historic fact that the Marine Corps Air Station, which trained Marine aviation units for combat in the Pacific, was based where Santa Barbara International Airport exists today.

“We are so grateful for the generous pledge of $500,000 toward the building of this monument from the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, as it puts us closer to the day when construction can begin,” Lopez said. 

“This donation also puts us in a position to officially launch the public phase of our fundraising campaign, which will include Peter Jordano as our honorary campaign chairman. Many others have also made contributions, including the Wood-Claeyssens Foundation and the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation, along with several individuals,” he continued. “We just need $1 million more to break ground. We hope that will be possible by Dec. 7, 2016 — the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.”

The cost of the monument, including construction and installation, is slated to total $3.1 million.

When the United States entered World War II, the government determined that it would need four Marine Corps air bases on the West Coast. 

The newly improved Santa Barbara Municipal Airport was chosen and leased by the U.S. government in February 1942 because of its location, pleasant year-round climate and access to the coast. Acquisition of surrounding lands began immediately.

Douglas Lochner, Wings of Honor artist and sculptor, behind the scale model he created.

Douglas Lochner, Wings of Honor artist and sculptor, behind the scale model he created. (Nik Blaskovich photo)

The first Marines arrived in June 1942, and in December of that year “Marine Corps Air Station, Santa Barbara” was commissioned.

By the middle of 1943, more than 100 new buildings had been erected and the footprint had grown from the airport’s original 580 acres to 1,490 acres. In effect, it became a small city with a population greater than Goleta’s, and it was capable of housing and feeding a few thousand marines.

The air station shared the airport with commercial flights and served as a training base for pilots and aerial gunners.

At its peak, it housed just under 500 officers, approximately 3,100 enlisted men and another 440 enlisted women. Nineteen fighter squadrons (most flew the F4U Corsair), 11 torpedo bombing squadrons (principally the TBF/TBM Avenger), and three scout bombing squadrons (with the SBD Dauntless) trained there. 

After the war ended, the U.S. government gave the land in the form of two quitclaim deeds to the City of Santa Barbara for the airport (928 acres) and to the UC Regents for UC Santa Barbara (414 acres).

Many of the Marine Corps’ buildings are still in use today as offices, UCSB dormitories and more. Even UCSB’s historic Olympic-size swimming pool was built originally for the physical conditioning of U.S. marine aviators.

For more information about the Marine Corps Air Station, Santa Barbara, and how to donate to the Wings of Honor Project, visit http://www.wingsofhonorsantabarbara.org/.

The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians has donated more than $20 million to hundreds of groups, organizations and schools in the community and across the nation as part of the tribe’s long-standing tradition of giving.

To find out more about the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Foundation and its giving programs, visit www.santaynezchumash.org.

Mike Traphagen represents the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.