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Friday, May 26, 2017

Once again, in honor of Memorial Day, a series on the history of the Ninigret Naval Auxiliary Air Field

Reprint and update of popular Charlestown history series
By Will Collette

In past years, we took a break from the mundane town battles  to honor Memorial Day with a history of the Ninigret Naval Auxiliary Air Field (NAAF).

That air field not only trained thousands of Navy aviators to fight during World War II (including the senior President George Herbert Walker Bush), but has also had a profound impact on Charlestown's landscape, life and culture.

The series was written by Frank Glista who had a personal connection to the air field that you'll read about in the series. It spans six segments with several of them comprised entirely of vintage photos.

Lots of the young men who went through their training at Ninigret came back to Charlestown after the war. Most of those returnees were returning to sweethearts they had met and wooed while they were dashing young pilots. They settled in Charlestown and started families and businesses.

When the air field was decommissioned in 1973, it opened up 604 acres of coastal land. The federal General Services Administration invited proposals for potential future uses of the land, The GSA received 17 proposals that ranged from using the land as open space to Narragansett Electric's proposal to build a nuclear power plant.

The nuclear power plant gave rise to a broad and lively uprising by town residents and taught a new generation of activists about politics. Former state Rep. Donna Walsh was one of those who fought in the local resistance to the nuke.

By 1979, the GSA was ready to make its choice and decided to sell the Town of Charlestown 55 acres to use as it saw fit and gave the Town ownership of another 172 acres to use as passive recreation. The Town's property is known today as Ninigret Park.

That left almost 400 acres for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to transform into today's Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge.

This Memorial Day, we are once again running Frank's series. If you are a new Charlestown resident or new to Progressive Charlestown or missed reading it last year, I think Frank's series will open your eyes to an important chapter in Charlestown's history.