EL CENTRO — The Naval Air Facility El Centro (NAFEC) officially named their airfield “Vraciu Field” Friday, March 8, in honor of legendary Navy pilot Commander Alexander Vraciu, a World War II ace with direct ties to the base, having won top honors at an annual aerial gunnery competition at the base in 1957. Admirals, friends, and family members joined the celebration and were given presentation certificates from Captain Brent A. Alfonzo.
Chief of Naval Air Training Rear Admiral Gregory N. Harris delivered the keynote address to a crowd of 200 military and civilian members. About 80 members of the Vraciu family filled the first three rows at Hangar 2 and had the privilege to see the tower unveiled.
“It is an incredible honor and privilege to share this moment with all of you and the Vraciu family,” said Harris. “I am humbled to be a part of a ceremony that honors a man with incredible caliber.”
“This ceremony is the culmination of a project we started in 2017,” said Alfonzo. “I am tremendously pleased that we have the opportunity to honor the exceptional achievements of this legendary aviator and to express the admiration and thanks of both our installation team and the United States Navy to his family.”
Vraciu’s legacy began on June 19, 1944, when he had the distinction of shooting down six Japanese aircraft in one flight during the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”; in less than eight minutes, Vraciu used only 360 rounds of ammunition. He was nominated for the Medal of Honor and awarded the Navy Cross, the nation’s second highest combat decoration, for his actions during the war.
Vraciu trained at NAFEC in 1957 after WWII, achieving the highest individual aerial marksmanship score while serving as commanding officer of VF-51, a Navy fighter squadron then flying the FJ-3 Fury.
“This event is a very big thing because this was only supposed to be a temporary airfield,” said Kristopher Haugh, public affairs officer. “And after all these years we kept getting new missions, and that’s when Admiral J.M. Richardson and I decided to work on naming the airfield … The word ‘excellence’ is something Vraciu has always embodied, and that’s what the Vraciu name exemplifies."
Attendees watched a short but entertaining air show given by the Blue Angels after the unveiling of the newly named airfield.