Long before SouthField was a twinkle in our eye, the land was home to another community — a community that served our country with distinction and honor. SouthField owes a debt of gratitude to those that have gone before us — just take a look at the U.S. Navy Douglas A-4B Skyhawk plane proudly positioned outside our Welcome Center.
For 55 years, SouthField was the location of the South Weymouth Naval Air Station (SWNAS). An undeveloped parcel of land on the South Shore, it was selected to become a major military staging post during World War Two with neighboring Hingham already hard at work building ships that would launch from the newly constructed shipyard.
At South Weymouth, it was another kind of ship that would set sail. Costing the military a cool $6 million (a significant amount even in 1940!), SWNAS was built as the site of a dirigible airbase to provide lighter-than-air cover for merchant ships that were under threat of attack by German U-boats off the East Coast of Massachusetts.
The sight of blimps floating through the sky became a common sight on the South Shore and with fighting confined mainly to the battlefields of Europe and Africa, they provided local residents with the comfort of knowing that Homeland Security was a priority.
With the Allies victorious in 1945, the base was closed down but re-opened in 1953 after a major facelift. Blimps were still here, but runways were now built and reconfigured for more conventional aircraft. This naval aircraft base became home to more than 80 different types of aircraft.
Over the years, SWNAS became part of the established landscape in South Weymouth. Recreational facilities were built for the men and women who lived here — shops, housing and the community flourished.
Although there were no global conflicts to occupy the minds of the military personnel on the base, the Cold War ensured a sharp focus was maintained when it came to the protection of the nation and the sights (and sounds) of jet engines flashing through the sky became a familiar one. The end of that “conflict” was to be the beginning of the end for SWNAS as an operational naval base. The Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) was formed and South Weymouth appeared on the list of possible closures. The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990 meant that the base was considered to be useful again with 400 Sailors and Marines dispatched from South Weymouth to head overseas. As we know, the first Gulf War was over almost before it began and in 1995, BRAC nominated the base for closure once again. This time, there was no reprieve.
In 1996, the base hosted a “Blue Farewell to Boston” air-show and 100,000 visitors to the airfield saw an inspiring display of aviation skills and iconic aircraft. As a tribute to SWNAS, the last two planes to fly over were a Hercules and an Orion, both of which recognized that the first form of defense often comes in the surveillance of hostiles and not just being the Top Gun.
In 1997, South Weymouth Naval Air Station officially closed. It has left behind a legacy of memories, a monument to the service that the armed forces provide for the nation and for that we salute them.
As we continue to build our own piece of history here at SouthField, it is always good to think about where our foundations have come from. Community is about putting down roots; sometimes those can run very deep.