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Pax River Remembers 1943 Commissioning
Patuxent River, MD - 4/1/2013
By Dick Myers
Seventy years to the day, on probably the same spot. Admiral John Sidney “Slew” McCain, Sr. was guest speaker at the Commissioning Ceremony for the Patuxent River Naval Air Station. His grandson, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R: AZ) recently noted his grandfather’s historical participation in the base’s beginning in remarks in the U.S. Congressional Record.
The guest speaker at the base’s 70th anniversary, Retired Vice Admiral Joseph Dyer, pointed out that historical event among a number in the memorable history of Pax River. He said of the arrival of the base to a “remote location…It changed St. Mary’s County forever.”
The former commander of Naval Air Systems Command said he had spent half his life at Pax River during five separate tours that also included the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School.
V.Adm. Dyer noted that from the timeline of history from 1790 to 1940, St. Mary’s County had slightly declined in population. He called that the definition of stability. What followed was a “Wild West Boomtown,” he said with the onslaught of construction workers, some of whom were from a “mixed background” of criminal history.
Dyer said the 111 acres was purchased for $712,000. He said the base engulfed farmland, churches and cemeteries. Even into the 1970’s, when he arrived at the Test Pilot School, Dyer said, “I could feel both the pride in and resentment of the Navy.”
But he said the base in the 70-year history has brought another kind of stability to the county. “Our community today has returned stability to St. Mary’s County in many ways. It is economically stable.” He reeled off a number of statistics, including the county’s 14th national rank in household income and low unemployment rate.
But Dyer also added a note of caution. He said some communities such as Oak Ridge, TN and Huntsville, AL have created a diverse economy outside their gates. “In many ways we are a one-company town,” he said, adding “it is the time and place for us to diversify.”
Of Pax River, Vice Adm. Dyer said, “It’s all about an institution. It is something that is bigger than all of us but all of us have an opportunity to contribute.” He observed, “
Shepherd, Glen and Carpenter are all names that resonate through our history.”
Dyer said that all around the base, “You can see the future of naval aviation here.” He concluded, “It’s a magical place indeed.”
Dyer was introduced by Pax NAS Commanding Officer Capt. Ted Mills, who will be relinquishing command on Thursday and retiring. Mills noted that the event also was honoring the 120th anniversary of chief petty officers. The CO said to the chief petty officers standing at attention close by: “You are the backbone of the Navy and we can’t do anything without you.”
Capt. Mills pointed out that the anniversary event was just the beginning of a year-long celebration of the base’s 70 years. “This is a fantastic place. I think I am partial but I think you are partial with me. There is no place like this. This place is magical.” He added that he is not sure some people in the Defense Department and the Navy appreciate the base’s importance.
During the ceremony Master Chief Gordon Carlon, who served as event master of ceremonies, gave a moving speech on the importance of chief petty officers. Also at the event, youth from the base’s Child Development Center sang “Happy Birthday” and the drill team from the Calvert High School Navy Junior ROTC performed. The team will represent Maryland in the Pearl Harbor Day ceremony this year in Hawaii.
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