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Sunday, May 28, 2017

1st anniversary of new sign and display honoring NAAF

Sign Dedication Ceremony Speech
By Brandon Perrone
Photo by Will Collette
This memorial is dedicated to the sixty-two men who trained at this airfield and made the ultimate sacrifice, and it is also for all members of the military to show them we appreciate what they do for our country every day.

Now, I ask that you all take a look around. Imagine runways, hangars and control towers.

Imagine Hellcats and Avenger fighter planes roaring overhead, and the bravest, most skilled airmen in all of New England training to defend freedom.

This was Charlestown Naval Auxiliary Air Station, as it was known at the time, and former President George H. W. Bush trained here before flying in the Pacific in World War II.

This area we are sitting in has some of the richest history in all of Rhode Island.

I was fortunate enough to see some of this history when Mr. Larry Webster, a local Aviation Archaeologist, invited me to his home to see some artifacts from the time period.

Mr. Webster is one of those exceptional people who does not want the memory of the airfield to fade away, so he does a great deal of work to make sure all artifacts from this area are found and preserved for future generations.

A lot has happened here in the past seventy-three years. 

The construction of the Airfield began in January of 1943.
The new memorial sign is surrounded by a collection of markers
dedicated to the memory of flyers and of local first responders
Photo by Will Collette

In September of that same year, the first aircraft arrived. The pilots trained in all weather conditions, honing their skills in preparation for battle.

On August 15th, 1945, World War II ended and six years later the Airfield was reduced in status.

In 1951, the airfield made a return for use in the Korean War for practice drills. The airfield was decommissioned in 1974.

Two years later, the idea was pitched to use the abandoned airfield as the site for Rhode Island’s first nuclear power plant but the idea was scrapped.

So, in 1980, hangars were removed. Then, in 1990, the roadways and taxiways were torn up.

But through all this, people never forgot the mission of the airfield and wanted to do something to memorialize the history of “Charlietown” forever.

“Charlietown” is a nickname for this area commonly used by those who flew out of this airfield and trained here, but also by people who remember it fondly and care about it deeply.

I know that two special people who cared about this airfield were Mrs. Mildred Godden and Mrs. Genevieve Glista. These two extraordinary women are responsible for this Memorial Garden and Monuments’ existence.

They had a vision to create a permanent memorial for the men who served and were lost while here at this Airfield.

Another one of those old markers now collected for display at the foot
of the new sign. Photo by Will Collette
Much like I approached the Charlestown Parks and Recreation Board for approval on replacing this sign, Mrs. Godden and Mrs. Glista approached the Charlestown Town Council about dedicating this area we are in to those valiant men.

The council agreed with them, and twenty-three years later this monument still stands, and people still care as much as they did then about upholding the memories of this airfield.

For my Eagle Scout Service Project, I wanted to do something to honor the military. I saw parallels between scouting and the military and thought it was important that something be done to honor them in some way.

Thinking back, I remembered that Charlestown was the site of a former naval landing field, and my father and I made contact with Mr. [Frank] Glista.

It was decided that since the sign was in a state of disrepair, it should be replaced. The main goal was to preserve the original design characteristics while at the same time giving it new life with modern materials.

This new sign should last for many years to come. None of this would have been possible without the help and guidance from some very special people.

I would like to thank all of the individuals as well as the many organizations who donated to the project. I am extremely appreciative and humbled by everyone’s generosity.

Additionally, I would like to thank Mr. Frank Glista, the project beneficiary and the person with whom I collaborated the most with over the past year to help bring this day to fruition.

Mr. Glista is the volunteer caretaker of this area, and it is truly remarkable how hard he works to continue what his mother and Mrs. Godden started.

Moreover, I would like to thank Mr. Charlie Beck, who graciously allowed me to fundraise at the Mini Super.

As you may have noticed, the memorial garden has fresh mulch and everything looks wonderful. This would not have been possible without the assistance from Mr. Dana Millar of Dana Design Landscaping and my fellow troop members.

Whether it was fundraising, planning or landscaping, my troop was always there to fulfill the third point of the scout law, being helpful, and I could not ask for a better team.

I would not be standing in front of you today without the constant support and encouragement from my parents, and brother, Aaron.

And finally, I would like to dedicate this speech to the airmen who served here having made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom we enjoy today, and I ask that we all keep them in our thoughts and prayers.

In closing, I would like to share a quote from former President George H. W. Bush. In his 2008 commencement speech at Bryant University, the President said, "When I was a Navy pilot back there a thousand years ago, flying in the Pacific in 1944, we had a saying that some pilots still use today called CAVU - C-A-V-U- Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited.

“That applies to my life today. I've been blessed with so many challenges, failed in some, succeeded in others, but Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited, that's the way I feel about life itself, and that's the way I want your lives to be”.

Thank you all again for attending this ceremony, and God Bless the United States of America.