Column: Air show memories reflect upon a long relationship with Oceana

A performance during the 2017 Naval Air Station Oceana Air Show in Virginia Beach. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

VIRGINIA BEACH — I expected the normal complaints about the Oceana Air Show and, sure enough, some weeks back in a local paper’s letters to the editor someone complained about the flyovers.

The original solution to the noise and danger was to build military airfields in the middle of nowhere, but nowhere moved to the airfields. The story of Oceana began in Princess Anne County years before the airfield was designated a naval air station in 1952.

The location was purposeful. The sprawling farmland, with low population density and plenty of elbowroom, was the perfect location for a military airfield.

I met U.S. Navy Capt. Rich Meadows, the commanding officer at Naval Air Station Oceana, at a city council briefing last October. I ask if he would come to a meeting for the First Precinct Citizens Advisory Committee. He agreed to come, though I am sure he spends most of his time attending more meetings than he can count. None of us dreamed that by the weekend we would have a hurricane and flooded homes and streets.

But he was the guest speaker during our June meeting. He spoke of the massive solar panels that were being built outside the back gate to the air station on former farmland. He spoke of the fuel spill and the cleanup that was still taking place then. I wanted the air show to go well for him this year.

We had a few dark clouds and a sprinkle, but it was nothing like one air show I remembered when Capt. Jim Webb was commanding officer at Oceana. I drove through the heavy rain and flooded streets on a Friday afternoon, trying to get my 16-year-old grandson to his job. The radio kept giving updates on the air show. I thought how  Webb must be feeling having to make such decisions on whether to proceed as planned or cancel.

On Saturday morning, I was feeling a little guilt for enjoying the silence. I live just across the road from the runway. My neighborhood was built in 1963, and I moved here after living in Norfolk.

I do not have a bumper sticker on my vehicle that reads, “I Love Jet Noise,” but I do tolerate jet noise. Sometimes when I’m talking to a neighbor we have to pause and wait until the noise is gone. You cannot even imagine how many jets that I have seen, but it always amazes how beautiful they are. Sometimes I just stop to look when I am outside.

So the guilt that I felt was that if the show did not go on others would be deprived of seeing something that I see everyday.

Soon I heard some noise in the distance, but it was not the planes flying overhead. On Sunday the same thing happened, but with some overhead noise. My pride kicked in, and I said, “Yes.”

It was a tough weekend, but the entire Oceana team made about as much lemonade out of lemons as they possibly could. The active duty, reserves and civilian personnel were bound and determined to provide a top notch service to our tax-paying citizens as a show of appreciation for the support they all provide to Oceana and all Hampton Roads installations.

Webb deserved a pat on the back for the decisions that he made in keeping us all safe, but that was no surprise to me. He was the base executive officer for 18 months, just like Meadows was before becoming the current commanding officer. It’s almost like we get them for two tours rather than one. Lucky us.

The Blue Angels, centerpiece of the annual show, have a special place in my heart. When I married my Navy husband in 1963, our first duty station was Pensacola, Fla., home of the Blue Angels. My husband passed away 12 years ago, and he was buried in Colonial Grove Memorial Park. As we drove into the cemetery that day, the Blue Angels flew ahead of us. Later, I was asked how I got them to do that. They were doing an air show that day. 

Russell lives in Cardinal Estates.

© 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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