A Salute Along the Shore
Pay Tribute to Virginia Beach’s Military Past and Present
By Arielle Patterson
A trip to Virginia Beach has plenty offer. From spending time on the beach to exploring the city’s diverse neighborhoods, the options are virtually limitless. While Virginia Beach is known for the surf and sand, the city is home to so much more. Virginia Beach and all of the Coastal Virginia region are recognized for the area’s military installations.
The Coastal Virginia statistical area, which encompasses the Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Newport News metropolitan areas, has the largest concentration of military personnel outside of the Pentagon. Over 86,000 active-duty military personnel, representing every branch in the Armed Forces, call this region home.
Nine major military installations, from the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, NATO, Marine Corps and Navy, are based out of the region. That jet noise you hear overhead comes from Naval Air Station Oceana. The Navy’s East Coast Master Jet Base is home to F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet squadrons. Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, also located in Virginia Beach, is a major East Coast operation for Overseas Contingency Operations and provides support and services to 18 home-ported ships and shore-based resident commands. The other military installations include Naval Station Norfolk, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Join Base Langley-Eustis in the Hampton/Newport News area, Coastal Guard Base in Portsmouth, Training Center in Yorktown and Naval Air Station Oceana Dam Neck Annex.
While you might not be able visit these bases, you can learn more about the region’s military history through engaging museums and free-standing monuments.
Driving through southern Virginia Beach, in the Pungo area, you may hear and see biplanes in the sky. These planes are housed at the Military Aviation Museum, home to one of the largest private collections of World War I- and World War II-era military aircrafts in the world. Tour the museum and browse the assortment of historic planes. The Military Aviation Museum even flies the planes in demonstrations and also allows visitors to hop in and go for a ride.
Located along the Virginia Beach Boardwalk is the Naval Aviation Monument Park, on 25th Street. Learn the history of the aircrafts, ships and people who dedicated their lives to the defense of our nation through bronze statues and granite storyboards. The elaborate monument park, dedicated in 2006 by the Hampton Roads Squadron of the Naval Aviation Foundation Association, tells the story of naval aviation history through three historic times.
Begin with the start of naval aviation with the flight of Eugene Ely. The civilian pilot was the first to take off from a ship in 1910, right here in the waters of Coastal Virginia. The next display showcases the “greatest generation” of naval aviators. WWII air crewmen emerge from a ship’s hatch to man their aircraft aboard a carrier. The final display depicts today’s “modern force”—naval aviation in the 21st century. This is also the first monument to feature a female combat pilot.
Just ahead on 38th Street is the Navy SEAL Monument. This six-foot-tall statue of the Naked Warrior stands at the center of the monument. The SEAL depicted is a WWII Underwater Demolition Team swimmer. Instead of making the statue larger than life, like many others on the boardwalk, the Naked Warrior is purposefully life-sized. The SEAL reputation was not made by supermen, but by ordinary people who do extraordinary things for their country.
From the water, in the air and on land, Virginia Beach’s decades of military history offers a lot to uncover. As you learn more about the heroism that these sailors, soldiers and airmen exhibited, take time to pay tribute to their bravery and sacrifice.