NAVAL AIR STATION WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. - The family of former Army Air Corps Pfc. Lawrence Edward Sabin recently wrote Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island to help surprise him on his 100th birthday celebration on Nov. 12, 2016 at Veteran's Hall in Pioneer, Calif., and to coincide with Veterans Day on Nov. 11.
The surprise was in the form of a 5 by 9 foot U.S. flag flown Aug. 19, 2016 at the Naval Weapons Systems Training Facility (NWSTF) at Boardman, Ore., where Sabin served during World War II as an aircraft plotter. Sabin was also sent a Flag-flying Certificate signed by Capt. Geoff Moore, NAS Whidbey Island Commanding Officer, a photograph of the NWSTF staff hoisting and saluting this flag and a NWSTF Boardman ball cap donated by the Navy staff.
“I'm so grateful to the men and women of NAS Whidbey Island and NWSTF Boardman Range for helping to surprise my grandfather with something heartfelt for his 100th birthday,” said Sabin's granddaughter, Dana Gordin in an email to the NAS Whidbey Island Public Affairs Office. “The American flag, a personal and precious gift and symbol of freedom, honors my grandfather's service during WWII and represents all that is great about this Nation and her people. My family and grandfather will be very touched!"
Back during Sabin’s military stint, NWSTF was called the Oregon Precision Bombing Range. According to NAS Whidbey Island’s Integrated Cultural Resource Management Plan, the U.S. Army Air Corps needed an aerial bombing practice range in the Northwest region during the early 1940s.
Beginning in 1941, the U.S. Army Air Corps began acquiring approximately 96,000 acres in Morrow County (later authorized by a 1943 Act of Congress) at what is now NWSTF Boardman through purchase of private land and transfer of Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management land noted the document.
The U.S. Army Air Corps used the range from 1943 to 1945 for precision aerial bombing practice. Aircraft stationed at Walla Walla Army Air Base initially used the 12-square-mile range for air-to-ground gunnery practice. At the same time, the nearby Umatilla Army Ordnance Depot used the range for the demolition of munitions and small arms testing.
The Oregon range was an ideal location for practice bombing due to sparse population and the arid land wasn’t conducive to agriculture. The facility (under the U.S. Air Force) used other names including Arlington Bombing Range, and Boardman Bombing Range before the Navy settled on the current NWTSF Boardman in association with the nearby town.
The range property is no longer 96,000 acres, but only 47,432 acres after the western half was deeded back to the State of Oregon to accommodate the introduction of irrigated farming methods in the area. The U.S. Navy took over the property from the U.S. Air Force between 1958 and 1962.
Sabin trained as an aircraft plotter at Oregon Precision Bombing Range from December 1941 to January 1943 where he placed targets for bombers to practice deliveries. During this time he met his future wife Audrey Zastrow at an Arlington, Ore., high school dance where she was a senior. He then transferred to Cambridge, England from February 1943 to February 1945 as an aircraft warning plotter with the 50th Fighter Control Squadron. In August 1945, Sabin returned stateside to married Audrey and went to carpentry school to make furniture.
Today, the military staff at NWSTF Boardman provides target and facilities maintenance, fire suppression and range support operations. NWSTF Boardman is managed by NAS Whidbey Island, supporting the training and readiness requirements of tenant aviation units as well as Oregon National Guard partners and DoD contracts.
NAS Whidbey Island also recently celebrated a birthday like Sabin, but only its 74th on Sept. 21 when it was commissioned in 1942. The air station was named earlier this year the best naval installation in the country upon winning the 2016 Commander in Chief’s Annual Award for Installation Excellence.