FBBA Members Get History Lesson from Cpt. Rocco Montesano

Business, Flour Bluff, Front Page, History
Captain F. W. “Rocco” Montesano (Ret’d. US Navy)

     F. W. “Rocco” Montesano, U.S. Naval Academy graduate and retired captain of the Unites States Navy now serving as Executive Director at the USS LEXINGTON Museum on the Bay, addressed a group of about 35 Flour Bluff Business Association members and guests at the regular meeting on May 10, 2017, at Funtrackers in Flour Bluff.  Montesano came to Flour Bluff in 1994 as the commanding officer at NAS Corpus Christi. “Both of my kids attended Flour Bluff Schools and got a great education there.  My wife taught and retired from Flour Bluff School System.  When I retired from the Navy, I said, ‘I want to live in the Bluff.’  It’s a unique place, and it’s really great to be in the Bluff.”

     “Normally I talk about the Lexington,” said Montesano in reference to the carrier nicknamed by Tokyo Rose as “the Blue Ghost”, which was commissioned in 1943 and was the oldest working carrier in the United States Navy when decommissioned in 1991.  “Last year we had 305,000 visitors.  We now have a brand new digital, state-of-the-art, 3-D laser projector in our theater, and we are premiering a new carrier movie simultaneously with the Smithsonian on the 24th of this month.  If you haven’t been there lately, come on out.”

    “We have one volunteer at the museum who is a Pearl Harbor survivor,” Montesano proudly said as he spoke with great reverence for the thousands of Sailors who gave their lives in WWII and how these members of “the Greatest Generation” are “fading away.”  He explained how the current Lexington’s predecessor, USS Lexington (CV2) was sunk in the Battle of Coral Sea, the battle that saved Australia from being overtaken by Japan.  Then with the aid of maps and charts, Montesano proceeded to take the audience on a trip back in time seventy-five years to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid, and the Battle of the Coral Sea, all the while working his way to the story of the Battle of Midway, the decisive battle that occurred six months after Pearl Harbor.

Lexington burning fiercely after the Japanese attack.
Archival image housed at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana

   With slides of maps, Montesano walked the group through the events described by historians as the “turning point” of WWII. He spoke of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Ensign George Henry Gay, Jr., who went on to become a TWA pilot, Captain Clarence W. McClusky, CDR John Waldron, Lt. William Hall, whose daughter lives in Corpus Christi, and CDR Joseph Rochefort, who led the team of code breakers that gave Nimitz the information he needed to make the decisions that led to the Battle of Midway. Rochefort, who was denied the Distinguished Service Medal twice during his lifetime and ousted as an intelligence officer after he was first nominated for it, died in 1976. “He was finally awarded the medal posthumously in 1985,” said Montesano, explaining the Rochefort’s information, which was correct, ran counter to what Washington, D.C. put out, and awarding the medal would be a confession of their faulty thinking.

Joseph rochefort.jpg
Captain Joseph John Rochefort

     “War is about big things, big movements, movements of troops, but it boils down to people,” he said as he spoke of those who paid the ultimate price.  He told of Ensign Frank O’Flaherty and his gunner, Bruno Gaido, who were taken aboard a Japanese cruiser, interrogated, beaten, and thrown overboard with 5-gallon kerosene cans tied to them.  He commemorated Harold Smith, Dean Hallmark, and William Farrow, three of Doolittle’s Raiders, whom the Japanese captured and executed.  Montesano said that the three men were told the day before that they would be put to death and that William Farrow was able to write a letter home to his mother. Farrow wrote, “Don’t let this get you down. Just remember God will make everything right, and I’ll see you again in the hereafter.  If you want to know how I’m taking this, my faith in God is complete, so I’m not afraid.”

William Farrow

     Montesano reminded everyone a lot was going on at home while all this was occurring in the Pacific.  The United States was building ships and carriers and airplanes.  “We built 19 ‘Lexingtons’ from 1940 to 1946.  That’s in addition to the battleships, tanks, and airplanes.  We were building 30,000 airplanes a month at that time,” he added.  “Who was building them?  It was Rosie the Riveters.  There were a lot of women in the workforce because many of the men were at war.”  He encouraged those who are interested in learning more about the Battle of Midway to attend the 75th Anniversary event on June 3, 2017, at the USS Lexington Museum located on North Beach.

Other FBBA News

FBBA President Jennifer Welp welcomed new members to the FBBA:

     Welp also thanked everyone who took part in the HEB/FBBA Earth Day clean-up of Waldron Road and the Flour Bluff Citizens Council Litter Critter event coordinated on the same day.  She also recognized Jonathan Vela, FBBA Events Coordinator, for his work on this year’s Flour Fest event which will be held at Parker Memorial Park on Waldron Road, October 28, 2017, from noon to 8:00 p.m.  All FBBA members and community and school organizations are encouraged to visit the FBBA website (https://www.flourbluffbusinessassociation.com/single-post/2017/05/10/Flour-Fest-Vendor-Registration-Now-Open) to see how sign up as a vendor or volunteer their services.

     The next FBBA general meeting will be held on Wednesday, June 14, at noon at Funtrackers Raceway Cafe’.  The speaker will be the Honorable Judge Loyd Neal of Nueces County.

Nueces County Judge Samuel Loyd Neal
Nueces County Judge Samuel Loyd Neal
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Captain Steve Banta Talks about NASCC 75th Anniversary at March FBBA Meeting

Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, Front Page
Capt. Steve Banta and Melanie Hambrick
Capt. Steve Banta and Melanie Hambrick
Beck
Lt. Scott Beck
Fifi Kieschnick NAS PAC FBBA
Fifi Kieschnick

     Captain Steve Banta shared a slide presentation of 75th Anniversary Celebration of NAS CC with those in attendance at the March FBBA meeting.  He first recognized Lt. Scott Beck, the coordinator for the event, and Fifi Kieschnick, NAS CC Public Affairs Officer, for doing hours of research through the CC Public Libraries, the Navy archives, the Caller-Times archives, and any other place they could locate material to create the slide show.  Captain Banta, who went through flight school at NAS CC in 1994, returned as the commanding officer June 26, 2014.

    “The theme of the event is the successful cooperation between the military and the community,” said Captain Banta.  “Although we really enjoy how Texas and South Texas love the military, Corpus Christi is unique and better in that area.  Flour Bluff is the area of Corpus Christi that directly supports the base.  There will always be a strong bond here, and it’s something I really appreciate.”

     Directing his comments to Cdr. Armando Solis, FB NJROTC instructor, Banta said, “The school is amazing.  As far as you folks are concerned, Armando, there is no doubt about that, as is evidenced through the history of your success with those kids.  The only way anybody else has gotten close to you or even gotten a little better than you is because they copied what you did.  There’s no doubt about it.  They’re amazing!  We’re really lucky because they’re going to perform for us at the 75th.”

NJROTC 2
Flour Bluff NJROTC

      Captain Banta described the area of Flour Bluff prior to the base being built.  “Flour Bluff in 1939 had kids going to school on horseback and people playing in the sand dunes.  These sand dunes are where the base is now.  They were 40-foot sand dunes.  This area was a place where people would vacation or take their families for the day to go to the beach.  The didn’t have to go all the way to the island.  This was an area that was ripe for development.  In 1940, Congress passed an appropriations bill to fund twelve military installations around the country, the largest of which would be built right here in Corpus Christi.  It ended up being – at the time – the largest aviation training complex in the world.  That was 1940.  The funds were made available in the summer of 1940, and by March of the next year, the base was 70% complete.  In just nine months, the base was dedicated.  Some of the buildings are still standing.  It was incredible.”

NAS FB Before 1938
Flour Bluff 1939

NAS CC sand dunes leveled
The Navy settled on a site at Flour Bluff bounded by the Cayo del Oso, Corpus Christi Bay and the Laguna Madre.

Fence line at the construction site of Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, July 1940, Lexington Road and Flour Bluff Drive Source: National Naval Aviation Museum
Fence line at the construction site of Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, July 1940, Lexington Road and Flour Bluff Drive Source: National Naval Aviation Museum
An aerial view of Naval Air Station (NAS) Corpus Christi, Texas, as it appeared on January 27, 1941, seventy-two years ago today. The air station was commissioned in March 1941.
An aerial view of Naval Air Station (NAS) Corpus Christi, Texas, as it appeared on January 27, 1941. The air station was commissioned in March 1941.
NAS CC South Gate 1949
NAS CC South Gate 1949

     Captain Banta continued, “On the 12th of March in 1941, at 11:00 a.m. on the steps of Building 1, where the admiral and the CO had their offices, the dedication took place.  Representative Lyndon B. Johnson was present.  The CO at the time, Captain Alva Bernhard, dubbed this base the ‘University of the Air.’  He wanted to make sure everyone knew that premier aviation training was going to happen at this base.  The theme of Secretary Knox‘s speech was ‘Cooperation with the Local Community’.”

Secretary Knox gives speech while Captain Alva Bernhard looks on
Secretary Knox gives speech while Captain Alva Bernhard (right)  looks on.
NAS 1941-ceremony pao platform
NAS 1941 Dedication Ceremony

     “20,000 civilians were on board doing construction on the base making sure we could get mission capable.  Today, when everybody’s on board – military, civilian, family, contractors – we might get up to 12,000 total,” said Banta.  He shared pictures of the various types of aircraft use at NAS CC in the last 75 years.  “The purpose of this base – Naval Air Station Corpus Christi – is as a Navy aviation training base.  It is the reason the base was built.  In 1940, there was a lot of tension going on in the world.  We were not yet at war.  We needed to make sure we were prepared for any eventuality.  Pensacola could not handle all the aviation training that was needed, so this base was built.  Kingsville, Cabaniss, Waldron Field, Rodd Field, Cuddihy Field, and Chase Field were all outlying fields for this base.”

NAS CC 1940 Planes
1940

NAS CC 1941 Flight Training NAS CC PBY

 

     Captain Banta said, “During WWII, over 35,000 aviators graduated from this base.  Shortly after the base was dedicated, flight school and ground school started.  Pearl Harbor was bombed in December of 1941.  The first group of aviators graduated in November 1941.  After that, there were two graduations every week with up to 90 students in each class.  In 1943, one of the classes had over 100 students.  Today, we have winging ceremonies twice each month, and there are probably 16-18 aviators graduating with multi-engine training.  There is absolutely no doubt that the support of this community letting this base function helped win the war.  And there’s no doubt that all the aviators turned out by this base in its 75-year history are making a difference in the world, executing the mission for national security of this country.”

     The captain spoke of how Rear Admiral Dell Bull is a huge supporter of this community.  He said, “The admiral tells a story about how a few years back, Isis targeted Baghdad, and we answered the call for assistance.  Over half of the first group of aviators who were part of that assistance were trained right here in Corpus Christi.  What you do here supporting the military makes a difference, and I want to personally thank you for that.”

     Captain Banta let everyone know about the NAS CC 75th Anniversary celebration that has several events leading up to a culminating event on March 12, which will include an official ceremony, flyover, static displays, tours, a concert, and fireworks.  A golf tournament is scheduled for Friday morning, March 11. Also, the South Texas Navy Historical Committee is planning a 1940s-themed gala Friday event at the American Bank Center (Contact Fifi Kieschnick at nascc-pao@navy.mil to RSVP for this event). The official ceremony will be held Saturday morning, March 12, beginning at 11 a.m. — 75 years to the minute that the commissioning ceremony was held.  Sunday morning, March 13, a non-denominational church service will be held at the Protestant Chapel, followed by breakfast at the Catalina Club.  All events are free to the public.

     Reminders:

  • Saturday, March 12, the Main (South) Gate to NAS Corpus Christi will open at 10 a.m. to the general public.
  • Driving on the installation, visitors must have a valid driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance.
  • Visitors will be directed to parking adjacent to the ceremony site.
  • All are reminded that they may not bring: coolers; backpacks, large bags, tents and large umbrellas; animals, unless they are service animals; weapons of any kind; alcoholic beverages; cooking equipment; skateboards, bikes, and roller blades; illegal drugs or paraphernalia; fireworks; and kites, balloons and radio-controlled devices.

     NASCC 75

Recognitions and Other FBBA Announcements:

     FBBA President Melanie Hambrick recognized Mark Thomas, owner of Jack and Jill of Many Trades, as winner of the Spotlight Award for the month of March.  Thomas thanked the association and talked a little about his business that specializes in lawn service, tree service and tractor mowing. “We do commercial, industrial and residential. Our service area is the Corpus Christi Coastal Bend, especially Flour Bluff, Padre Island and Port Aransas, but we are available for Aransas Pass, Portland, Ingleside, etc.”  Thomas has been in business in Flour Bluff since 1986.  He also lends a helping hand to Bill Barton, who is working to get Parker Pool open by Memorial Day weekend.

Spotlight Award recipient, Mark Thomas of Jack and Jill of Many Trades
Spotlight Award recipient, Mark Thomas of Jack and Jill of ManyTrades
Solis at FBBA
Cdr. Armando Solis
Joe Kelley FBBA
Joe Kelley

      FBISD Superintendent Joe Kelley recognized Cdr. Armando Solis for leading the FB NJROTC to a second-place win at the state competition.  “Commander has led us to 22 first-place wins at the the state competition.  We just got back from the 23rd contest where we lost by just 33 points.  We are sure proud of his work and the work of the kids.”

 

 

 

 

     Hannah Chipman from Brent Chesney’s office announced the first annual Sand Castle Run/Walk on the beach and encouraged everyone to join in on the fun May 7, 2016, at 8:00 a.m. at Bob Hall Pier on Padre Island.  All proceeds will go to Camp Sandcastle America, a program of the American Diabetes Association established over 20 years ago to broaden the opportunity of Coastal Bend children with diabetes to experience summer camp.  See more at: http://www.diabetes.org/in-my-community/diabetes-camp/camps/sandcastle.html#sthash.pWUvDRZZ.dpuf

     Packet pickup is on May 5, 2016, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Mikel Mays on Bob Hall Pier.  Then, everyone is encouraged to stick around for the Cinco de Mayo party.  Packets may also be picked up the morning of the run starting at 7:00 a.m.  For more information, Chipman can be contacted at hannah.chipman@nuecesco.com or 361-888-0268.

Hannah Chipman FBBA

 

 

 

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