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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Part 2: Memorial Day Feature - Charlestown's women do their part in the war effort

By Frank Glista
Photos from Larry Webster

Practicing mock carrier landings at Charlestown NAAF in the 1950s
At war's end, great reductions in Naval Aviation forced the closing of all the airfields in Rhode Island except Quonset Point and Charlestown.  By early 1950 the base was quiet and nearly closed during its caretaker status.

The Korean conflict forced the Naval Auxiliary Air Field (NAAF) to re-open and was re-designated as the Naval Auxiliary Landing Field (NALF) at Charlestown in 1951.  On January 30, 1974, NALF Charlestown was decommissioned.

The world changed dramatically during WWII but family and friendships remained strong.  Mildred (Millie) Link and Genevieve (Gen) Johnson were the second generation of friends having been introduced by their parents, all who had been residing in Charlestown during the 1930's.

Millie married her Iowa bred aviator, LCDR Glenn (Bud) F. Godden and Gen married her Connecticut tobacco growing aviator, LCRD Bernard (Jim) J. Glista.  The Godden's remained in Charlestown raising their children and starting a business.  

The Glista family moved to New York in 1955 and then to Connecticut in 1965.  Although no longer Charlestown residents, the Glista's continued to summer here helping Gen's parents run their seasonal business, Johnson's Deluxe Motel (now the Oceanaire Motel).  

Summers would start a third generation of friendships between the children of these two families, friendships that still exist today.

Upon retirement, the Glista family returned to Charlestown in 1978.  The two former "Plane Spotters" re-kindled their friendship and were inseparable. 

Although a bit older now, Millie and Gen never lost their volunteer spirit.  They worked together to help form the Charlestown Chamber of Commerce, joined town boards and committees and other joint ventures that are too numerous to mention. 

But nothing, nothing was more important to them then to provide a lasting memory to those who died in training while serving at "Charlietown".

The days of reminiscing about their youth and time spent during the war were many.  I would stop by to visit my mother only to find her and Millie in hysterical laughter enjoying a few cocktails or "tiddly's" as they would call them.   

Of course, the stories that brought tears of joy to their eyes would remain only with them.

At some point during one of these sessions, an idea was formed.  An idea to create a lasting memorial to the men they served with and lost while in training at NAAF Charlestown.  One should never underestimate the tenacity of these two women, they had a goal and nothing was going to stop them.

They quickly formulated a plan and approached the Charlestown Town Council with a dream.  They needed a committee, needed land and most of all....needed money. 

On June 28, 1993 a motion was made by Council President, Charles Beck and seconded by Council Member, Forrester Safford  "To establish an Ad Hoc Committee to erect a memorial to the Airfield at Ninigret Park".  They were on their way.

As the memorial stands proudly today, I'm reminded of the words written by a member of the Ad Hoc Committee or "Crash Crew" as they called it.  Barbara Ann Burdick wrote "A Tale of Two Tenacious Women" about Millie and Gen and stated the following:

Today that dream has been readied. As part of the Tree of Life these men will be remembered.  The ancient Hebrews believed that the "ultimate hell was being forgotten, erased from memory."  These men will not be forgotten.

A polished granite monument cool and comforting in its presence embellished with two marble bombs immortalizes their lives and names inscribed with these words, "Through these portals passed the hottest pilots in the world."

On a sheet-slapping Saturday morning in October, with vintage aircraft droning overhead, taps echoing and re-echoing throughout the park, I observe the two friends, Genevieve Johnson Glista and Mildred Link Godden who like the seasons and hue of autumn leaves have changed. 

Their hair is touched with silver, their skin is marked with lines of living, but none the less full of beauty at a combined age of 156 years.  I think of those two little girls playing with their toys, never realizing that one day they would be the dual engines pulling a train of cars filled with tenacity, stick-to-it-tive-ness, conviction and accomplishments. 

If you listen really closely you will hear resounding from this hallowed ground the voices of the pilots and their crew harmonizing the phrase, "We thought you could.....thank you, thank you."