Santa Barbara Airport has a state-of-the-art terminal which is only five years old, and most residents get to know the facility in between arrivals and departures.
What most people don’t know is the important role the airport played during World War II, serving as a training facility for air crews being deployed to the war in the Pacific.
Now, a new effort is underway to commemorate those who served at the base.
It started as an airfield in the 1920’s, had regular airline service in the 1930’s, and in 1941 became Santa Barbara Municipal Airport.
Soon after, World War Two started, and the military saw the potential for a Marine Corps Air base on the site. In six months, marines transformed the airport into “Marine Corps Air Station Santa Barbara”.
Frederick Lopez is a retired Marine Corps Reserve Brigadier General who’s studied the Air Station’s history. By the middle of 1943, more than 100 additional buildings had been erected in the area, and the airport had gone from around 600 to 1500 acres. Fighter pilots, torpedo bomber crews, and scout bomber crews got final training before being sent into combat in the Pacific.
The base’s role in the war was even noted by Hollywood in a feature film, the “The Flying Leathernecks," starring John Wayne. He plays a Marine pilot home from combat, and his character gives his wife, played by Janice Carr, the good news that he will be stationed in Goleta for a while to retrain his squadron.
After the war ended, the federal government gave the City of Santa Barbara the airport facilities, and nearly a thousand acres of land. More than 400 acres was deeded to the University of California, which allowed the creation of UC Santa Barbara.
As the years passed, the airport’s key role in the war was all but forgotten. Lopez and other community leaders don’t want that to happen, so they’ve launched what’s called the “Wings of Honor” project, an effort to build a lasting memorial. The goal to build a massive 20-foot-high glass sculpture at the airport.
Artist Douglas Lochner has been commissioned to create the sculpture. The ambitious project has a $3.1 million dollar price tag. At a special event at Santa Barbara Airport, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians made the biggest pledge to date, a $500,000 commitment. Kenneth Kahn is the tribe’s chairman, and says the tribe, which has a number of veterans itself, is proud to be a part of the effort.
The campaign’s organizers say they are now at around the million dollar mark, and hope to raise another million by this fall. If they can get to that point, they want to break ground on the project on December 7th, 2016, the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which plunged the U.S. into World War II.