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O.C. Fair Board eyes possibly relocating Vietnam-era jet to Heroes Hall museum

O.C. Fair Board eyes possibly relocating Vietnam-era jet to Heroes Hall museum
Orange County Fair Board members voted unanimously Thursday to explore relocating this A-4 Skyhawk jet from the Santa Ana Civic Center to the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa. (Courtesy of the OC Fair & Event Center)

A Vietnam War-era jet stationed for more than a decade in the Santa Ana Civic Center could potentially take flight to a new home at the OC Fair & Event Center.

On a 6-0 vote Thursday, with member Gerardo Mouet absent, the Orange County Fair Board agreed to further explore the possibility of relocating the A-4 Skyhawk to the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa and to hold formal talks with the county and the Heroes Hall Veterans Foundation for that purpose.

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For supporters, the hope is that the jet would take up residence on the property near the Heroes Hall veterans museum.

“I think it would be a real coup, so to speak, if we could get the aircraft and relocate it here at the Heroes Hall site,” said board member Douglas La Belle. “It would provide an added educational opportunity and kind of finish off really a very beautiful setting that has been created there.”

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The aircraft is on permanent loan from the U.S. Department of the Navy, but needs to be relocated because the county “is in the process of expanding [its] facilities,” according to a staff report.

“This is going to be an addition to the fairgrounds that will bring tradition and history about a war that has been so forgotten,” said Nick Berardino, a Vietnam veteran and former Fair Board member who currently serves as president of the Heroes Hall foundation board.

The cost to move the jet — and the best way to go about doing so — hasn’t yet been firmly established. Thursday’s board vote clears the way for the Fair & Event Center to hammer out a memorandum of understanding addressing such issues.

Once drafted, that agreement would come back to the board for review and possible approval.

“Realistically, there are going to be three parties involved in this, and we’re going to have to define the responsibility of those three parties,” La Belle said, referring to the Fair & Event Center, the county and the foundation.

Along with the benefits of adding another educational feature to Heroes Hall, supporters of re-homing the plane pointed to its historical significance and the role it played in the Vietnam War.

In one notable example, the A-4 Skyhawk was the plane former U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) was piloting when he was shot down during a bombing mission over Hanoi in 1967.

Costa Mesa resident Beth Refakes noted that this would be the second airplane installation in the city — joining the Korean War-era Grumman F9F Panther jet that’s been at Lions Park since 1960.

“I think this is a great idea and it is going to be a terrific asset and complement Heroes Hall,” she said.

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