History Up Close
Objects of History
"Final Fling" Plaque from Naval Air Station (NAS) Cubi Point (1992)
An interesting bookend to the long service of Naval Air Station (NAS) Cubi Point in the Philippines recently arrived at the museum through the efforts of Captain Dan "Darth" Cain, USN (Ret.). Back in 1992, Cain commanded the Freelancers of Fighter Squadron (VF) 21, which was part of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5 embarked in the carrier Independence (CV 62). During the period March 17-21, 1992, Indy had the distinction of being the last U.S. Navy flattop to make a port call at Naval Base Subic Bay in the Philippines, the members of CVW-5 spending the liberty period at NAS Cubi Point. In the aftermath of the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 and the vote by the legislature of the Philippines to not extend the United States leases on the military installations in that nation, both Subic Bay and Cubi Point were slated to close later that year.
"We had the biggest blowout and festive time," Cain recalled, "including...the catapult to the pool, 5K (sort of) run with wheelbarrows uphill from the O'Club to the BOQ and back with the squadron COs in them, and the "Tug A War" from hell where we had to defeat each squadron in the air wing and win numerous other events to decide who had the best squadron in the air wing." With the NAS Cubi Point O'Club famous throughout the Navy for the colorful plaques that adorned it, the spoils of victory in the competition was a plaque that would be the last to hang in the bar until it was disassembled and shipped back to the United States for display at the National Naval Aviation Museum.
Soon VF-21 joined the rest of the air wing back aboard ship for the remainder of the WestPac cruise, leaving behind the plaque reading "Final Fling Last Cubi O'Club Air Wing Party March 19, 1992" and proclaiming the Freelancers as the top squadron. In subsequent years Captain Cain visited the museum on numerous occasions to donate items from his service with VF-21 and during Operation Iraqi Freedom. When he did not find the plaque in the Cubi Bar Café, he enlisted the aid of Museum Deputy Director Buddy Macon in searching the inventory of items received from NAS Cubi Point when it closed. The plaque earned in the spirited completion was not among them.
Fast forward two decades from the events at NAS Cubi Point to a place far removed from the blue waters and mountainous jungle of the Philippines. During a solo cross-country flight in November 2012, a flight student from NAS Meridian, Mississippi, made a refueling stop at the airport in Grand Junction, Colorado. While visiting West Star Aviation, a local FBO, he noticed the plaque hanging on a wall, one of the names listed that of his simulator instructor back at NAS Meridian, Captain Jody Richardson, USN (Ret.). Upon hearing the news, the simulator instructor and VF-21 veteran called his old skipper and told him he would not believe where the plaque was located.
For some reason, the plaque never made it into the club and instead remained in the workshop of Mr. Ben Martinez, who crafted many of the plaques for squadrons over the years. After NAS Cubi Point closed, Mr. Doug Thompson was part of a group that sought to develop a NAS Cubi-themed restaurant, their efforts going to the extent of visiting the site of the former base. Finding Martinez, they acquired all of the plaques that he had stored and returned with them to the United States. When the restaurant idea failed to materialize, Thompson decided to loan the plaques to his employer, West Star Aviation, and that was why the flight student happened upon it in Colorado. It was through his generosity and the efforts of Captain Cain and Rear Admiral Mark Vance, Commander of the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center at NAS Fallon, Nevada, that the plaque has finally found its way to its intended final location.
Thus, plaque from the Cubi Point O'Club's "Final Fling" will finally hang alongside other memorabilia from the famous Pacific Fleet watering hole, a symbol of the passing of an era in naval aviation history.
Mark 3A Aircraft Navigational Plotting Board (1945)
For U.S. Navy sailors, whether on ocean waters in the days of John Paul Jones or in the cockpits of aircraft following the dawn of U.S. naval aviation in 1911, the ability to chart a course was among the most important of skills. While the modern era has given birth to global positioning systems that can pinpoint a location within moments, that was not always the case as evidenced by this artifact carried by a naval aviator on board the aircraft carrier Cowpens (CVL 25) during the final months of World War II. Standard equipment for pilots, aircraft navigational plotting boards like this one could be inserted into a space below the instrument panel in the cockpit and pulled out like a drawer, enbaling the referencing of information jotted down during the pre-flight briefing or navigational computation. The tops of these plotting boards could also be raised with the push of a small button, allowing access to other documents. In the case of this particular example, the contents from nearly seven decades ago are like a time capsule to a bygone era, their pages last flipped high above the Pacific Ocean in the waning days of the greatest war the world has ever known