The United States Naval Air Facility (NAF), Sigonella, Sicily, was formally established June 15, 1959, by its first commanding officer, Capt. Walter J. Frazier. The idea of having a U.S. naval base here was conceived during the early 1950s when it became obvious that the planned base loading of U.S. Navy P-2 Neptunes would result in overcrowding at the existing facility at Hal Far, Malta.
Because there was no more room for expansion at Malta, the Navy got NATO backing to use Sicily. Land for Sigonella was therefore made available to the Navy on a temporary basis under the terms of an agreement with the Italian government June 25, 1957. Six days later, equipment began arriving at Sigonella from the Malta base via landing ship tank (LSTs). The fleet Aircraft Service Squadron FASRON (Special) 201 at Halfar was disestablished July 1.
The first U.S. aircraft, a R4QD type Marine 1665, arrived here at 9:31 a.m. from Naples, Aug. 8, 1957.
By the end of August 1959, the NAF II airfield was available for daylight VFR flights, with 24 flights logged by Aug. 31.
Sigonella's automatic 200-position telephone switchboard was also connected. Because there was a limitation on the amount of non-U.S. personnel manning at NAF, the switchboard was manned only during regular working hours.
The initial building of Sigonella began in September 1957, with the administrative area at NAF I beginning in 1958. The building, which is now occupied by the Housing Office, was Sigonella's first Admin. building. However, Capt. R.W. Jackson, Sigonella's commanding officer in 1970, decided that his offices should be at NAF II near operations. It was then that his and the executive officer's office moved to the NAF II's administration building, where they are still located.
The first Americans arrived at Sigonella in March 1959, but they stayed in Catania except for daily trips to the administrative area because there were no buildings ready for occupancy. During the six months required to make NAF I habitable, the Navy occupied the large warehouse complex called Magazine Generale, which is opposite the cemetery on the right side of the street as one enters Catania from the base.
Sigonella's first buildings were the administration building (Housing Office), the chapel, which opened in November 1959, theater, NAF I galley, bakery and dry provisions (where the 7 Day Store is now), enlisted barracks 171, 172 and 173, the BOQ, the infirmary and dental, (which is now the NEX mini-mall) the central heating plant, the water treatment plant, Security (half of its present size, it was a brig with a capacity for six men), the Navy Exchange building, (which included a snack bar), the sewage treatment plant and the switching station.
Housing units were being built in April 1958, and were approved Feb. 2, 1961. Because officers' housing units were not the first to be completed, the first unit to be occupied by Sigonella's commanding officer was quarters 137-D.
Another of Sigonella's first buildings was what is now the American Forces Network (AFN) building. In 1958, that building was Sigonella's vector (pest) control center, where rat poison was stored. The Army Corps of Engineers next used the building for their offices, later sharing it with Special Services, or what we now call Morale, Welfare and Recreation. Around 1966, AFN came to Sigonella and joined Special Services, which soon moved out, leaving the building to the broadcasters.
The dispensary began functioning in October 1959, with one flight surgeon, one general practitioner, two nurses, one dentist and 15 hospital corpsmen.
As of Sept. 8, 1959, Sigonella had 56 military and U.S. dependents aboard, with dependents from Malta still arriving. The teaching staff had arrived also, for the new school opening that fall. By Nov. 30, Sigonella had 320 enlisted men and 39 officers, with 194 enlisted men and 40 officers in deployed squadrons here. The NAF galley began serving school lunches September 30, 1971.
Also, in September 1959, most of the streets were partially paved and movies were being shown nightly on the back of the administration building, which was almost complete.
Sigonella's first flood occurred mid-September 1959. The Dittaino Bridge between NAF I and NAF II was under six feet of water Sept. 20. All traffic to NAF II was going through Catania. Power outages accompanied the floods. The road to the NAF II airfield was flooded Sept. 30, with the bridge under five and one half feet of water.
The last month of Sigonella's first year, the population rose to 299 dependents (78 in school), 36 NAFSig officers and 330 enlisted men. An additional 235 men were here with the squadron. The bridge to NAF II was again under water January 12, 1960. The water then receded, but was back over the bridge January 20.
Life at Sigonella
March 17, 1969 the local Fiat automobile agency treated 150 Sigonellans to a St. Patrick's Day cocktail party in Catania. In April, the Mt. Etna Softball League began with seven teams participating. The Italian Air Force helped get the games underway by assisting in the construction of a softball diamond at NAF I. Also that month, Sigonella's first Boy Scout Troop was launched.
Sigonella's first wedding was April 23, 1960 when Lt.j.g. William Gallivan married Patricia Zangs, daughter of ADC and Mrs. L.J. Langs, in a ceremony conducted by Father Anthony Navarria in the Sanctuary of the Consolation in Paterno.
The Navy Neighbors, as the enlisted Wives Club was called, was formed. One of their first functions was sponsoring a fashion show at the theater in cooperation with a clothing shop in Catania.
Sigonella celebrated its first birthday with an all hands party at NAF I on June 15. The base displayed its good neighbor policy three times that month, first successfully fighting a fire at a small private farm, then making an emergency flight from Naples to Malta to deliver blood plasma needed to save the life of a Maltese baby dying of severe malnutrition. Three Sigonella Hospital corpsmen also saved a young Sicilian boy who was drowning near one of the local beaches.
The first USO show to perform at Sigonella was the "Harlem Parade," held between barracks 171 and 172 Aug. 4. Jan. 8, 1961, Public Works was called to repair the water main in front of the new fire station. The Bank of Sicily opened a branch office at Sigonella Jan. 28.
Pity Sigonella's first gate guards. Their only protection from the weather was a red Birra Messina umbrella! In scouting news, Sigonella's first Eagle Scout was 14-year-old Bobby Ginn, son of Chief R.D. and Mrs. Ginn, who was given that honor April 19, 1963. Girl Scout Troop 71 began May 10, 1963 and one of their first activities was a campout at Navy Beach. Cadette Girl Scout Troop 96 was organized late in 1967 for junior highschool girls. Apparently, Navy Beach was first used by Sigonella personnel the summer of 1962. The Navy had parking space, heads, dressing rooms, a picnic and camping area, a snack bar and a well.
Capt. John H. Caldwell opened a four-lane bowling alley Aug. 22, 1966. At that time there was also an archery target adjacent to the golf course, which is the area now occupied by the hospital.
In April 1965, the swimming pool was taking shape, with completion set for July 30. The 1,840 square feet addition to the Enlisted Men's Club was almost finished then and the gymnasium building was in its formative stages, with completion slated for October that year. The Commanding Officer, Capt. L.E. Doner, arrived at the new swimming pool to cut the opening ribbon in a Sicilian cart drawn by Julietta, Weapons' donkey mascot. The date: Aug. 1, 1965, right on schedule.
Few offices have moved as often as has MWR, which has been here (as Special Services) since the base opened. It's been in Barracks 173, the recreation room of the chapel, the radio repair shop, the post office parcel annex, the first administration building at NAF I, the Community Building, and now with the Human Resource Office on NAS II.
Sigonella's first base newspaper, The Initiator, began publication in February 1960. Succeeded in June 1962, by the NAFacts, the paper was printed once a month. February 1, 1963, publication increased to twice monthly. But hard times fell on Sigonella in April 1965, when the newspaper was cut back to quarterly issues. The weekly Praetorian became Sigonella's third newspaper Sept. 30, 1974. In 1984, the base paper became The Signature, and published out of Naples bi-weekly. In January 1995, The Signature once again became a weekly publication and was locally printed.
The newspaper office has been in various locations including AFN, and the Community Building. These days, the Public Affairs Office and The Signature is located on NAS II along with Staff Judge Advocate, and other Admin. Assistants.
In the 1980s, the designation Naval Air Station was assigned to Sigonella.
Many Sigonella residents are not even aware that NAS I once included Rocky Hollow Golf Course. Thousands of rocks were cleared off the golf course during off-duty hours in 1961. With the steady increase in Sigonella's quality of life, the number of active duty and family members increased, (more than 7,500 people in FY96). A bigger and better hospital equipped to handle the health care needs of its population became a priority. The three-level, 98,000 square foot U.S. Naval Hospital took over the links in 1993.