BRUNSWICK NAVAL MUSEUM AND MEMORIAL GARDENS Executive Director John B. Briley, left, and museum Vice President Jeff Smat, inside the base's former chapel.

BRUNSWICK NAVAL MUSEUM AND MEMORIAL GARDENS Executive Director John B. Briley, left, and museum Vice President Jeff Smat, inside the base’s former chapel.

BRUNSWICK

Work on the Brunswick Naval Museum and Memorial Gardens – on its mission to preserve the legacy of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station – has been quietly ongoing since 2009.

Located in the former base’s chapel on Admiral Fitch Avenue in what is now Brunswick Landing, the museum’s organizers are continuing to collect artifacts from the former base’s nearly 70-year history.

THE SIGN that once stood at the entrance of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station now sits inside the Brunswick Naval Museum and Memorial Gardens.

THE SIGN that once stood at the entrance of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station now sits inside the Brunswick Naval Museum and Memorial Gardens.

The base was first established in 1943 as a training site for British pilots flying the F4 Corsair fighter aircraft. The base ceased operations after World War II, but was reactivated in 1951 and became an important staging area for Cold War maritime operations.

BRUNSWICK NAVAL MUSEUM & MEMORIAL GARDENS Vice President Jeff Smat discusses artifacts chronicling the history of the former base.

BRUNSWICK NAVAL MUSEUM & MEMORIAL GARDENS Vice President Jeff Smat discusses artifacts chronicling the history of the former base.

In 2005, the federal Base Realignment and Closure commission voted to close the base, a process that was completed in 2011.

Today, the vast majority of former base property has been transferred to civilian use, most under the auspices of the the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority.

The base is a different place today. A pair of 8,000-foot runways are still in use. But where P-2 Neptune and P-3 Orion submarine hunters used to land, the runways are now utilized by single engine Cessnas and private jets that touch down during Bowdoin College reunion weekends. Private aerospace companies are occupying cavernous hangars at Brunswick Executive Airport. At Brunswick Landing, call centers, preschools and light manufacturing companies now call the former base home.

THE MAIN HALL of the chapel at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station now serves as exhibit space, displaying items from the base's nearly-70- year history, as seen in the photo at the top. Above, a marker at the memorial garden commemorates those who died while serving at BNAS.

THE MAIN HALL of the chapel at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station now serves as exhibit space, displaying items from the base’s nearly-70- year history, as seen in the photo at the top. Above, a marker at the memorial garden commemorates those who died while serving at BNAS.

Brunswick Naval Museum and Memorial Gardens Executive Director John B. Briley spoke of the importance of preserving BNAS heritage.

“There’s no other museum around that really emphasizes maritime patrol aviation,” he said.

The museum also works to highlight the connection between the base and the surrounding community.

“The air station, really, made Brunswick what it is today,” Briley said. “For those who were based here, it was not just another duty station. It’s really a place they’ve grown to love, like another home.

“That’s why so many people retired here,” he added. “Some guys said ‘make this my last duty station so I won’t have to move when I retire.”

The organization’s vice president, Jeff Smat, did two tours of duty at Brunswick Naval Air Station, retiring to Brunswick after the last tour in 2004, before working as a contractor at the base until 2010. Even now, when he comes to Brunswick Landing, he still considers it “my base,” despite all the change that has occurred since the base was transferred to civilian control for redevelopment.

“This is home,” Smat said. “I want to do whatever I can to keep this alive.”

The long range goal is to host exhibits, programs, seminars, lectures and educational experiences on aircraft and those that give people an idea as to what happened on the base and the lives that were lived there.

“Real people lived here,” Briley said, who is a Navy veteran but was not stationed on the base. “We want people to realize how significant it was, for the community and protecting the country.

“The guys that were here, the sacrifices they made — a military life is just not the ideal life for a family,” he added. “It works if people make it work.”

The museum has converted former office space in the chapel to house an exhibit that recounts the air station’s history. Artifacts include uniforms and flight equipment and signal lamps. The museum has also set up a series of monitors and controllers to simulate flights in and out of the base. More artifacts are now on display in the main hall.

The museum was eventually able to acquire the building in 2015.

“We now have a mortgage, which we need to pay off,” said Briley. “But we have a very good deal with MRRA, where they hold the note, but we don’t have to pay that note off until we’re ready to do it. We don’t have to pay monthly payments and we are charged no interest.”

Two courtyards serve as places of introspection.

One is named “The Friendship Garden,” constructed honor the relationship between the town of Brunswick and the base, said Smat. The second, the Memorial Garden, serves as a reminder to those who lost their lives while in service at BNAS.

It is hoped that in the future the museum can be used as a gathering place — “a place of assembly,” as Briley put it. He said it will cost $300,000 to bring the building up to town code, and so a fundraising effort is underway.

“This is a new building, as far as the town is concerned, so we have to bring it up to modern codes. It can’t be grandfathered,” said Briley. “It’s federal — it was never on the town’s list.”

In addition to funds, the museum is also in need of volunteers.

“There’s a lot we can do,” said Smat. “We just need (people) to make it happen.”

Visit BrunswickNavalMuseum.org for more information on the Brunswick Naval Museum & Memorial Gardens, including how to make a donation.

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