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Sunday, May 28, 2017

MEMORIAL DAY: Finding a home for our history

The struggle to keep memory alive
By Will Collette
Before restoration
Each year, we have ended this series on Charlestown’s major role in World War II as the host to the Ninigret Naval Auxiliary Air Field (NAAF) with an essay by Frank Glista on efforts to keep those memories alive.

Frank had secured and restored one of the most iconic relics of the NAAF, a large practice “bomb” that was used to train flight crews in the delicate art of loading aerial bombs onto the craft that Naval flyers were being taught to fly.

The "Ninigret Bomb" in its new home.
The bomb was never filled with explosives. Unless it fell on top of you and crushed you with its weight, it posed no hazard to human life.

The Ninigret Bomb is an important artifact of that period. In fact, its appearance in many photos taken in that era seems to show the pilot trainees thought it was an important symbol of their mission.

But year after year, no one would allow Frank to donate the Ninigret Bomb for display. Read about his quest for a “forever home” for the Bomb by CLICKING HERE.

Thanks to the Charlestown Historical Society, the Ninigret Bomb has now found a forever home at the Society’s main building on Old Post Road (next to the library), as part of a growing collection of NAAF articles on display.

Further, another important NAAF artifact is now on display, this time at Ninigret Park near the other memorials to the veterans of that period.

As the Charlestown Historical Society reports:
In time for Memorial Day, the town of Charlestown has put in place a new memorial at the Naval Auxiliary Landing Field Memorial at Ninigret Park. This propeller was pulled out of Charlestown Pond on May 12, 2004.  
It is from a F6F-5N Hellcat Nightfighter which crashed through the ice upon takeoff during a training exercise on March 4, 1945. 
The pilot, Lt. JG Kenneth Bruce McQuady, USN, was 21-years old and lost his life upon impact.  He left behind his wife Guilda and daughter Karen, who was only a few months old.
It would be better for the world if wars never needed to be fought. But if ever there was a war that was necessary to fight, it was World War II. It may be the only war in the lifetimes of those still alive where there was a national consensus for total commitment to fight to win.

Charlestown, like every community across the land, pitched in. The changes that World War II brought to Charlestown were profound and to a large degree permanent.

The Naval Air Field continues to shape public debate and discussion to this day, whether it’s concern over residual hazardous waste still left underground (DETAILS), who really owns what the airfield became (DETAILS) and the uses of land today (details HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE).

But on Memorial Day weekend, we look back at that Navy base and reflect on those wide-eyed young men who were being trained in how to tame those wild machines of war before they were sent to the Pacific to fight for their country. 

More than a few of those flyers didn’t make it through their training alive.

We thank them all for their service.

And I add my personal thanks to Frank Glista who has, in my opinion, done more than anyone else to add to our knowledge and to keep the memory alive of the brave souls who passed through the Ninigret Navy Auxiliary Air Field.