The Heart of Havelock

The City of Havelock owes its very existence to Cherry Point, and recently celebrated the 50th Anniversary of its incorporation in 1959. The air station’s main gate is about 500 yards from the intersection of US Highway 70 and Carolina Highway 101 in the heart of Havelock, just 20 miles from the beach and 90 miles southwest of Cape Hatteras.

Havelock Tourist Center, behind Hampton Inn on Highway 70, looks just like an airplane hangar and also just like something you’d see on base. This is a mandatory stop for anyone with an insatiable lust for the wild blue yonder.

Eight full-size, mostly vintage, aircraft are on display, six of them clustered just outside the door, one of them out by the highway and another one dangling from the rafters of the multi-function room. These are the A-6E “Intruder,” the HH-46D “Pedro,” the F4B-3 fighter, the A-4M “Sky Hawk,” the AV-8A “Harrier,” the RF-4B “Phantom” II, the F9F-6P “Cougar,” and the RQ-2B “Pioneer.”

Dangling from the rafters along with the F4B-3 is a remote-control aircraft, about the same size and dimensions you might see hobbyists zooming around in a public park. This is a craft that can be operated from U.S. soil while patrolling and photographing foreign turf anywhere in the world.

The tourist center even has a door sufficiently large to admit full-size aircraft-ostensibly in the event of a hurricane-though this has never actually been done. Its halls are lined with glass cases displaying military gear and tracing the lineage of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at Cherry Point from its inception in 1942, along with historic photographs, videos and artifacts.

An entire room is dedicated to the history of Havelock, how the area became an actual town rather than farmland, and with a big shout-out to Henry Havelock, for whom the town was named. It comes as no surprise that this historic figure was a military man, but his dates (1795-1857) call for a closer inspection. Clearly he was not involved in any of our major wars and, as it turns out, he wasn’t even an American.

Havelock is remembered for his victories on behalf of the British service in India, but there is a touch of irony in some of his biographical details. He was stationed for a time in Afghanistan and involved in the occupation of Kabul – sort of a precursor to the current situation – and a major-generalship was conferred on him after his death from dysentery, before the news of his death reached England.

A statue was erected for him in London’s Trafalgar Square, his legacy being one of the world’s great experts in the art of war and an eloquent speaker who delivered inspirational messages to his troops.

The Havelock Chamber of Commerce is housed in the Tourist Center and, once a month, a representative from that organization holds a “Welcome Aboard” event at the station for new arrivals, a get-acquainted session with ample opportunity to distribute packets of information describing all the amenities the community has to offer.

The Chamber of Commerce hosts a big chili cook-off the third weekend in October, not just as a festive occasion but also as a qualifying round for North Carolina’s Chili Cook-Off, which is in turn a qualifier for the national competition, a mobile and well-attended event that moves around from one coast to the other, and points in between.

The Tourist Center is also a banquet facility, capable of hosting a variety of events and with sufficient space to accommodate a sit-down dinner for up to 500 people. The main hall has a partition that divides the room in half for smaller gatherings such as corporate events, training seminars, informational meetings, even wedding receptions and sweet 16 parties.

One popular use of the hall has been to host Marine reunions. “It is kind of fun to hear their stories,” said Amanda Ohlensahlen, Sales Manager. “People identify so closely with whatever plane they flew or worked on. We have reunions here, and people love to come back to Cherry Point and talk about how things were and how they’ve changed.”

Among the fleet of planes parked outside are two very sobering memorials, one of them a Purple Heart memorial and the other a monument to honor our veterans. An adjacent waterfront park along Slocum Creek features a nature boardwalk and boat ramp. Find the center at 201 Tourist Center Drive behind the Havelock Hampton Inn, or call for Convention Center reservations at 252-444-4348.