Naval Air Station Oceana is 75 years old. (Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Matthew J. Thomas/Navy) VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — It’s the largest Navy air station on the East Coast and will celebrate its 75th birthday on Friday but it often escapes the limelight.
“During every armed conflict since World War II, aircraft and aircrews from NAS Oceana have had a significant role in the fight,” said Capt. Chad “Vinny” Vincelette, a career aviator and the 45th commanding officer of the base.
“I often tell people that when see the news at night and hear about naval aircraft dropping bombs in Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria, that chances are those are your neighbors who are flying in or who load the bombs or work on those aircraft. They’re all stationed here in Oceana , and a lot of people don’t realize that. I see that all the time.”
To fix that, Naval Air Station Oceana is pushing a vigorous public outreach initiative. It includes educational programs for school kids and ongoing efforts to strengthen already close ties to local government agencies, but its biggest boost is coming next month.
“It’s critical we have an outreach program like this,” Vincelette said. “It’s essential to our relationship with the community and it raises the awareness of our neighbors of all ages of what we’re here for, and what the Navy and naval aviation are all about.” A full moon rises behind the Naval Air Station Oceana control tower. (PH2 Daniel J. McLain/Navy) In late 1940, the federal government bought nearly 329 acres, mostly swampland, and began constructing a small airfield to house 32 officers and 172 enlisted sailors. A year later, they had asphalt runways.
It wasn’t close to a major city, but it nuzzled up to the Atlantic Ocean and was a great spot for training and air patrols snooping for German submarines. It was officially commissioned as Naval Auxiliary Air Station Oceana on Aug. 17, 1943, in the middle of World War II.
Vincelette explains that as America geared up for the global war, Norfolk Naval Base and Naval Air Station Norfolk became too crowded. So the Navy built four airfields in outlying areas at Oceana, Creeds, Fentress and Pungo.
Oceana boomed. It now sprawls across 5,916 acres. If the adjoining Dam Neck Annex is added, the complex includes 18 aircraft squadrons and about 20,000 sailors and their families, plus civilian workers, at any given time . That’s why it’s the largest employer in Virginia Beach, according to Navy Installations Command.
Vincelette credited part of World War II Oceana’s boom to its good road links to Norfolk but its quick access to the Atlantic Ocean helped, too.
By 1945, the base was a home to everything from PB4Y Privateer patrol bombers to F4U Corsair fighters. SB2C Helldiver dive bombers, F6F Hellcat fighters and TBF Avenger torpedo bombers shared the tarmac, too.
“As we transitioned from World War II to Korea and into jet aircraft, that’s when they really expanded the field here,” Vincelette said. “It went from a small, triangular-shaped runway […]