Who was Adm. Fitch?
It’s just another name atop a signpost on an old and changing military base.
But who was Adm. Fitch?
The primary access road to the former Brunswick Naval Air Station bears his name. But the local relevance of Adm. Aubrey Wray Fitch largely was lost when the Navy decommissioned BNAS and its signature P-3 Orions lifted off for the final time, bound for Jacksonville, Fla.
A naval commander and aviator who helped change the way military air superiority would be used in the 20th century, Fitch was born 130 years ago this week in St. Ignace, Mich.
After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1906 at age 23, he began a progression through the ranks that eventually would include Navy superintendent, commander of numerous battle groups during World War II, and deputy chief of U.S. Navy’s air division.
Fitch earned his flight wings at age 47, in 1930, and then went on to reshape the Navy’s attitude toward aerial versatility and power. As commander of a carrier task force during the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1948, then- Rear Adm. Fitch led the first naval battle in history which was fought entirely by aircraft. While the battle resulted in the loss of an American aircraft carrier, the victory effectively blunted the Japanese navy’s push toward a strategic South Pacific stronghold, and set up the pivotal Battle of Midway a few weeks later.
After retiring to Maine in 1947 — Fitch was promoted to admiral upon his leave from active duty — he lived in Newcastle until his death in May 1978.
He is interred on the grounds at Annapolis.
Fitch’s name last graced the stern of guided-missile frigate hull designation FFG- 34. The USS Aubrey Fitch, built at Bath Iron Works and commissioned in 1982 in his honor, served in U.S. and coalition military victories in the first Gulf War in 1991.
Nothing is forever — not even glory — and after 17 years in service, the Fitch was decommissioned in 1997 and later sold for scrap in 2004.
But the name atop the sign posts remains.