FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CARRIER MUSEUM PROJECT RECEIVES $500,000 FUNDRAISING PLEDGE FROM NAVAL AVIATOR GROUPS
The USS Saratoga Museum Foundation, Inc., has received a pledge of another half million dollars for the creation of a non-profit Air, Land & Sea Heritage and Technology Park as part of the Quonset-Davisville development. Ray Patrylak of Danielson, CT, representing veterans of Fighter Squadron VF-31, released a letter this week confirming his commitment to proceed with a fund raising effort among all the aviation units who ever served about the two carriers named USS Saratoga. (From 1956 to 1980, VF-31 served aboard USS Saratoga [CV-60]. This 24 years of continuous service represents the longest such relationship between squadron and carrier in US Naval history.)
Of the estimated $7.5 million start-up costs for the project, $5 million has already been committed by investment bankers Greenwich Partners LLC and a $2 million fund raising goal has been pledged by the USS Saratoga Association. All the funding commitments are conditioned upon state approval of an appropriate mooring and the Navy's eventual donation of the vessel as a museum.
Congressman Bob Weygand, Honorary Co-chairman of the Foundation's Advisory Council, joined Ray Patrylak and Foundation president Frank Lennon in announcing this new pledge on Monday evening, prior to a Wickford-Middletown cruise aboard the Wickford-based motor sailer Brandaris, one of the project's principal business supporters.
Lennon stated, "Last April I was happy to say, 'We have $7 million, and we're only looking for the last $500,000'. Now, thanks to these veterans of VF-31 and their sister aviation squadrons, that final half million has been promised."
Patrylak, who served with VF-31 from 1972 to 1976, said: "From her commissioning in 1956, Saratoga's role was that of 'Peacekeeper'. In fulfilling this mission many who served aboard her made the ultimate sacrifice, and project will go a long way toward keep their memory alive."
The proposal for the Park received a major boost in June when the Quonset/Davisville Management Corporation board voted conditional approval of the project. This decision must still be ratified by the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation board, which has deferred action pending resolution of the container port proposals.
Lennon hopes to have the blessing of the EDC board in hand when he makes a presentation to the annual reunion of Saratoga veterans at Bremerton, WA on the weekend of October 8. The USS Saratoga Reunion Association committed to a fund raising goal of $2 million at their annual convention last September. Adding credibility to the Association's pledge, they already raised that money once before--in 1994 and 1995 during the previous attempt to establish a Saratoga museum in Jacksonville.
"A majority of those pledges came from shipmates who wanted to see Sara saved as a museum, and the location was irrelevant," said Brad Senter, President of the Association. "We're confident we'll be able to renew many of the old pledges, and also generate new ones. This separate commitment of support from Sara's air crews is very exciting for us," he added.
"As you can imagine, the green light from the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation board is crucial to our efforts. We only meet once a year, and our ability to go full speed ahead in October is crucial to our efforts."
At sixty-four years of age VF-31 is the second oldest fighter squadron operating in the U.S. Navy today. Originally established as VF-1B in July 1935, flying the Boeing F4B-4, the squadron received its current designation in August 1948. The distinctive VF-31 "Felix the Cat" insignia has been used by the U.S. Navy since 1929. VF-31 is the only US squadron (of all three air arms) to score confirmed kills in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
In 1982 the squadron began flying the F-14A Tomcat, and transitioned to the current F-14D Super Tomcat in 1992. The squadron is currently part of Carrier Air Wing 14 on the west coast, deployed aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72).
USS Saratoga Reunion Association
From the F3B-T biplanes of VB-2B to the F14-D Super Tomcat of VF-31, Felix the Cat has been grinning from the sides of naval aircraft through much of twentieth century U.S. Naval history. He has operated from many of the Navy's illustrious aircraft carriers, from USS Langley (CV-1), the Navy's first, to USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72). He was aboard USS Enterprise (CV-6) during the bombing of Pearl Harbor as well as the Battles of Wake Island, Marcus Island, Midway, Guadalcanal, and the Eastern Solomons. He achieved aerial victories during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
More recently, Felix deployed in the Mediterranean aboard USS Saratoga, USS John F. Kennedy and USS Forrestal, as well as in the Western Pacific aboard USS Carl Vinson. He has conducted operations off Lebanon and Libya and patrolled Southern Iraq enforcing the No Fly Zone during Operations Southern Watch and Desert Strike.
Felix has also flown with some of naval aviation's greatest heroes. A photograph in VF-31's historical records shows an F4B-4 manned by Charles Lindbergh with Felix adorning the side. The famous Butch O'Hare and countless other naval aviators have taken Felix into battle with them.
An icon of American culture, Felix the Cat has participated in nearly 80 years of our history. His appeal to our frisky side has allowed him to entertain us as well as build a firm tradition in U.S. Naval Aviation over the years. In addition, his "Cat" pride and style represent basic values common to all Americans. The Tomcatters of VF-31 are as proud to wear the Felix emblem today as were naval aviators in 1928. This pride is reflected in the squadron's timeless motto: FELIX RULES!
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