LAKEHURST – Sailor Govea Celestine, a logistics specialist seaman recruit, began her Navy career eight months ago, moving from Fort Worth, Texas to the Joint Base in the borough. She quickly realized she was working in a very historic place.
This year marks the centennial year for Lakehurst and the Lakehurst Naval Base. This milestone was recently celebrated near the famous Hangar 1.
The facility’s place in aviation history is well known as the ‘airship capitol of the world.’ Lakehurst’s town symbol is the airship and it is synonymous with the Hindenburg disaster that occurred more than eight decades ago.
That tragedy, however, does not define a century’s worth of work and technological advancement. The recent celebration featured speakers and concluding with a special cake cutting ceremony. There were helicopters and jets on display and attendees were invited to explore Hanger 1 and the various attractions present inside.
Also present were USO, Red Cross, food tents, and military support groups. Representatives for Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Senator Donald Norcross (D-1st), and Congressman Chris Smith (R-4th) made presentations and Ocean County Commissioner Joseph Vicari, Toms River Mayor and Navy veteran Maurice “Mo” Hill spoke during the event along with Navy Lakehurst Historical Society President Carl “Mr. Lakehurst” Jablonski and Vice President Rick Zitarosa.
Command Senior Chief Jeffery Jones Jr. who served as master of ceremonies for the event introduced Captain William Sherrod. The captain, who will be concluding his time as the base’s commander, said, “thank you for being here – for coming to celebrate a centennial of service here at Lakehurst. It is a beautiful day for a birthday. We are here to reflect on 100 years of our nation’s most unique military installation.”
He said the event honors “not only of what we’ve done here over the last century but of the evolution of a community. In the hangar behind us and the fields over here bore the spirit of innovation. Fearless aviators, engineers, craftsman and those who support, came, learned, lived, served and turned their eye to the heavens, had aspirations to fly and touched the clouds. As we stand in the shadow of Hangar 1 we are joined by heroes.”
Captain Sherrod described Jablonski and Zitarosa as “true lamplighters of Lakehurst who keep the torch of knowledge and history alive for our community. They remind us of where we came from, not to relish in our past and the greatness that once was, but to find comfort and to help us understand the determination that is intrinsic in all of us as service members to serve our nation and our communities.”
“They built things to last back then. Today, this hangar still serves the needs of the military. They train people on flight deck operations. It is a storage facility for airplane parts. We have several display areas here,” Jablonski said regarding the Society’s Museum.
“I am honored to be here having served as president for the last 25 years and as a member for roughly 35 years but I did not fly on the Hindenburg. A lot of people ask me that question,” Jablonski added.
“Lakehurst was the Cape Canaveral of its day. The best and the brightest were sent here to learn and hone the technology of lighter than air, aircraft which was pretty much a European invention. The United States was going to use it to protect and project our interests. Airplanes couldn’t do the job at the time but giant airships could,” Zitarosa said.
He said Hangar 1 was, “a great physical example of the size and scale of the program. Unfortunately, there was a lot of losses but a great deal of heroism and a great deal of improvisation. Everyone remembers the Hindenburg disaster which to me is overhyped. It is the most famous but hardly the most important thing that happened here.”
“A great deal went on here before and after the Hindenburg. We like to say the Hindenburg disaster was the closing of the early chapters of what became Naval Air Station Lakehurst then Naval Engineer Station and now the Lakehurst portion of the Joint Base McGurie-Dix-Lakehurst,” Zitarosa said.
Commissioner Vicari presented the Centennial proclamation He noted that the American flag, which was flying beside flags representing each military branch of the nation, including the newest, the U.S. Space Force, “represents the greatest nation in the history of the world.”
“We are one nation. We believe in something that is very, very important, human rights. No one can take that away. Your freedom is safe, you can do what you want. We have the most veterans living in Ocean County than anywhere in the state of New Jersey. We respect what you do, every day. We thank you for what you have done.”
Vicari noted Commissioner Virginia “Ginny” Haines who was present in the audience, “her mom was a nurse during the time of the Hindenburg serving those who were injured. We have to make sure that 100 years from today that the spirit of America will still be alive and we will still believe in freedom and the spirit of the American dream.”
At the close of the ceremony per Navy tradition, the oldest person who served in the Navy joined the youngest which was Celestine, to cut the cake.
“When I was in school my teacher would share with us stories about this base. I had no idea though what it would be like when I arrived. I am honored to be here,” she said.