Tempers grow short over road name trim

Some vets decry change at old air base

By Emily Sweeney
Globe Staff / June 13, 2010

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Shea Memorial Drive, the main boulevard through the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station, is getting a new name: Shea Drive.

The developers of the shuttered military base decided to drop the word “Memorial’’ from the official street name because they wanted to name another road Memorial Grove Avenue, and said they didn’t want the two to be confused.

The name change is one small detail in a massive plan to transform the base into a mixed-use community called SouthField. But to some, the change is significant and regrettable.

Francis J. Burke, director of Weymouth veterans services, said he first noticed the new street name during the recent Memorial Day weekend.

“The sign’s already changed,’’ he said. “The sign on Route 18 just says Shea Drive.’’ Burke said he isn’t happy with the abbreviated version: “When you name something in memoriam to someone, leave it alone.’’

Shea Memorial Drive was named after Navy Lieutenant Commander John J. “Jack’’ Shea, an officer at the Squantum Naval Air Station who was killed in action when the aircraft carrier USS Wasp was sunk in the South Pacific in September 1942. (Shea later became famous for a heartfelt letter he wrote to his 5-year-old son just a few weeks before his death. After he died, his letter (see sidebar below) was reprinted in newspapers and magazines across the country.)

After the Squantum Naval Air Station closed in 1953, the airfield at South Weymouth Naval Air Station was named Shea Field, and the main road through the base was named Shea Memorial Drive.

So far, only one portion of the boulevard has been rechristened as Shea Drive: a half-mile section from the entrance at Route 18 to the intersection of Memorial Grove Avenue.

The change was proposed a few years ago by LNR Property Corp., a Miami Beach real estate company that wants to redevelop the base into SouthField, according to Jim Young, project manager for South Shore Tri-Town Development Corp., the public agency that acts as the administrative body for the base. The change was approved by South Shore Tri-Town in April 2007.

Young said LNR decided to drop “Memorial’’ from Shea Memorial Drive so it wouldn’t be confused with Memorial Grove Avenue, a new road that was built adjacent to Shea Memorial Grove, a small park with benches and trees and a Douglas A-4B Skyhawk attack aircraft that’s displayed on a pedestal. The park was dedicated on Veterans Day in 1997, and is maintained by the Association of Naval Aviation Patriot Squadron, a nonprofit veterans organization.

Bill Horsch, a squadron member who served at the South Weymouth Naval Air Station from 1953 to 1957, said the ANA Patriot Squadron has no objection to the new road name. He said his group was notified of the change in advance and did not object because Shea was still being honored.

But not everyone likes the truncated name. Dominic Galluzzo, an outspoken critic of the SouthField project and member of the local watchdog group Advocates for Rockland, Abington, Weymouth, and Hingham, has been encouraging people who oppose the renaming to write to South Shore Tri-Town and to their elected officials. Galluzzo said the road has been called Shea Memorial Drive for decades, and the word memorial carries significant weight, especially among veterans.

Holbrook resident John F. Ragusa, a Marine reservist stationed at South Weymouth from 1969 to 1976, said he was disappointed by the change.

“That’s unfortunate,’’ he said. “It should have remained Shea Memorial Drive. He was killed in World War II.’’

Walter O’Connell, a Weymouth resident and member of the ANA Patriot Squadron, said he was unaware the name was being shortened.

“I’m surprised they would do that,’’ he said.

Young said he was aware of the concerns of some residents.

“We [South Shore Tri-Town] and LNR are certainly sensitive to the historic nature of the site, particularly around the Memorial Grove. There was never any intention to drop the Shea name.’’

Young said the original plan was to name Memorial Grove Avenue “Memorial Avenue,’’ but there was a “potential conflict with Memorial Drive in Weymouth,’’ which could cause problems for 911 dispatchers.

“We couldn’t go with Grove Street or Grove Avenue,’’ said Young, because there’s already a Grove Street in East Weymouth, a Grove Way in Abington, and a Grove Street in Rockland.

LNR decided — with South Shore Tri-Town’s approval — to go with Memorial Grove Avenue instead, said Young, adding that, at the time of the decision, there was no public opposition.

“We thought it would be a nice tie-in’’ with Shea Memorial Grove, said Young. “And there are no other streets with that name. It seemed to fit well. . . . We thought it would be a nice way to keep the name and recognize the memorial.’’

The rest of Shea Memorial Drive will also take on the shortened name, according to Young.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.

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