Naval Air Station Jacksonville - History


During World War I, the area now occupied by NAS Jacksonville...often referred to colloquially as "NAS Jax"...was named Camp Joseph E. Johnston, and was commissioned on October 15, 1917. The United States Army trained quartermasters and the center included more than 600 buildings. The second largest rifle range in the U.S. was constructed there, but the camp was decommissioned on May 16, 1919. The Florida National Guard began using the site in 1928 and it was renamed Camp J. Clifford R. Foster.

The first detail of Marines arrived from Parris Island, South Carolina on June 4, 1940 to secure the 3,250-acre (13 km2) area, setting up a barracks in a former residence on Allegheny Road. On October 15, 1940, Naval Air Station Jacksonville was officially commissioned, and became the first part of the Jacksonville Navy complex that would eventually include NAS Cecil Field and Naval Station Mayport, as well as numerous naval auxiliary air stations and outlying fields in northeast Florida. On the same date, Captain Charles P. Mason, USN, raised his command pennant as the station's first commanding officer.

Prior to the commissioning, on September 7, Commander Jimmy Grant became the first pilot to land on the still unfinished runway in his N3N-3 biplane. More than 10,000 pilots and 11,000 aircrewmen followed their lead to earn their "wings of gold" at the air station during World War II.

Increased training and construction characterized NAS Jacksonville’s response to America’s entry into World War II. Three runways over 6,000 feet (1,800 m) long were operating, as were seaplane runways in the St. Johns River and seaplane ramps leading from the water. Overhaul and Repair (O&R) facilities were built to rework the station's planes, a facility that in ensuing years would be renamed Naval Air Rework Facility Jacksonville (NARF Jax), Naval Aviation Depot Jacksonville (NADEP Jax) and its current name of Fleet Readiness Center Southeast.

More than 700 buildings sprung to life on the base before V-J Day (Victory over Japan), including an 80-acre (320,000 m2) hospital and a prisoner-of-war compound which housed more than 1,500 German prisoners of war. Archbishop (later Cardinal) Francis J. Spellman dedicated the Catholic Chapel (St. Edward’s) at its Birmingham Avenue location on January 17, 1943. The chapel and other buildings constructed during the war years, intended for a life of only 20 years, are still in use.

During the late 1940s, the jet age was dawning and in 1948 the Navy’s first jet carrier air groups and squadrons came to NAS Jacksonville. By April 1949, NAS Jacksonville was the East Coast's aircraft capital, with more naval aircraft stationed here than at any other naval base from Nova Scotia to the Caribbean – 60 percent of the Fleet's air striking force in the Atlantic area from pole to pole.

NAS Jacksonville continued growing throughout the late 1940s. Fleet Air Wing Eleven made its move to the base, bringing with it Patrol Squadron THREE (VP-3) from NAS Coco Solo, Panama and Patrol Squadron FIVE (VP-5) from NAS San Juan, Puerto Rico. The now famous U.S. Naval Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, who had called NAS Jacksonville home but later moved to NAS Corpus Christi in the late 1940s, performed a last air show at the station on April 29, 1950, before forming the nucleus of an operational fighter squadron, VF-191 (Satan’s Kittens), which was assigned to combat in Korea. The "Blues" would not return to the station for more than two years. In the early 1950s, Naval Air Technical Training Center (NATTC) Jacksonville was also reactivated and included nine different schools.

In the mid-1950s, an air traffic control center for joint use by the Navy, Air Force, and Civil Aeronautics Administration was approved and completed at a cost of $325,000. Major changes also occurred as parking ramps were added shore-based aircraft hangars and a 1,231-foot (375 m)-long taxiway was built.

By the mid-1950s, with the station's continuing growth, the Navy was having a tremendous impact on the economic growth in the Jacksonville and Duval County area. The station had over 11,000 military personnel assigned, along with 5,000 civilians and an annual payroll of more than $35 million.

In March 1959, Marine Attack Squadron ONE FOUR TWO (VMA-142) of the Marine Corps Reserve relocated to NAS Jacksonville from the closing MCAS Miami, along with the associated Marine Air Reserve Training Detachment (MARTD). VMA-142 would remain at NAS Jax until its relocation to nearby NAS Cecil Field in 1978.

In 1970, a major reorganization of the Naval Reserve resulted in three separate Naval Air Reserve flying squadrons, identical to their active duty Regular Navy counterparts, being activated at NAS Jacksonville. These squadrons consisted of Attack Squadron TWO ZERO THREE (VA-203), Patrol Squadron SIXTY-TWO (VP-62) and Fleet Logistics Support Squadron FIFTY-EIGHT (VR-58). VA-203 would later relocate to NAS Cecil Field in 1977, with the remaining reserve squadrons joined by Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron SEVENTY-FIVE (HS-75) in 1985 following its relocation from NAS Willow Grove, Pennsylvania.

In 1973, with the assignment of Helicopter Antisubmarine Wing One, the station’s primary mission became antisubmarine warfare. Accompanying the wing were five helicopter squadrons which are still based here today. With the new wings and squadrons, opportunities grew for both sea duty and shore duty assignment to NAS Jacksonville. The station's popularity grew and it became one of the most requested duty station for sailors and officers in Naval Aviation throughout the Navy.

A piece of history and Navy and Marine Corps tradition was lost in 1986 when the last unit of Marines left NAS Jacksonville. Marine Barracks Jacksonville had been one of the first groups to arrive at the base in 1940, but left due to mission realignments and a reduction in Marines authorized for Marine Corps Security Force duties at U.S. Naval installations.

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