Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, may be most beautiful at night when the rides and attractions light up. A ride on the Ferris Wheel is one of the best ways to view the fest.

Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, may be most beautiful at night when the rides and attractions light up. A ride on the Ferris Wheel is one of the best ways to view the fest. (David Josar / S&S)

NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — The United States and Spain marked the 50th anniversary of their defense partnership Thursday with a formal military ceremony that reflected on its past and looked toward a predictably long future.

Adm. Gregory Johnson, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, said the agreement helped the West win the Cold War and will go a long way in winning the global war on terrorism.

“Together we have done great things here,” Johnson told hundreds of U.S. and Spanish military personnel, their families and civilian base workers at the ceremony. “We will continue to do great things today and we will do so in the future.”

The Pact of Madrid signed by the two countries in 1953 led to the construction of this Spanish base and to the basing of U.S. troops at the naval station and at various other military installations in Spain. Last year, the countries extended the defense accord until the end of the decade and have since launched a $500 million project to modernize the aging support and logistical hub.

Adm. Jose Antonio Balbas Otal, commander of the Spanish Fleet, said the ongoing partnership would allow people from both countries to continue to learn more about each other.

“It is true the solid friendship we enjoy today has lived through hard periods, but the idea of undertaking new projects together has ensured that this friendship reflected in the agreement we commemorate today remains and increases day by day,” he said in his speech.

The ceremony was held at the base’s Parade Field, a patch of land adjacent to the galley, and included a thundering aircraft flyover and 15-gun salute.

The two Spanish and American admirals, along with Capt. John Orem, commander of U.S. Naval Activities Spain, and Spanish Vice Adm. Jose Enrique de Benito Dorronzoro, commander of Naval Station Rota, dedicated a plaque marking the anniversary.

The plaque rests on a tetrapod, a large, four-pronged piece of concrete used to create breakwaters. It is part of the naval station’s emblem.

In remembrance of those who died for their countries, a Spanish marine platoon fired a shot from a cannon and a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion and a pair of Spanish Harrier jets zoomed over the crowd.

Carlos Nuanes, the U.S. Navy’s assistant security officer for the naval station in 1959, said he never thought he would witness the 50th anniversary of the agreement. He has lived in Rota for 40 years and has seen a lot of changes at the base. When the installation hosted U.S. submarines, it had twice the people it has now.

“This place was packed during the sub days,” Nuanes said.

While the defense agreement gave the United States a strategic launch pad for warships and planes, it also helped end a period of isolation for Spain. After World War II, the international community regarded Spain as having a fascist regime sympathetic to the Nazis.

President Eisenhower, however, formed a commission in 1951 to look at strengthening ties between the two countries. A series of meetings led to the creation of the naval station. The base officially opened April 14, 1958.

While Johnson praised the base for its contribution to providing “freedom over dictatorships and democracy over communism,” Spanish dictator Francisco Franco was central to the signing of the defense agreement.

According to a 50th anniversary commemorative magazine, Franco stood atop the roof of the city’s historic castle to see where the base would be built.

Soon after, Spain and the United States built the base on what was farmland, and the U.S. military presence in Spain grew rapidly. In 1988, there were 12,000 U.S. troops stationed at four major bases in Spain and several smaller installations scattered throughout the country, according to the U.S. Library of Congress.

Today, the Pentagon has forces in Rota, north of Cadiz, and at Morón Air Base, southeast of Seville. More than 3,000 active-duty military personnel are stationed at the bases, and between 6,000 and 8,000 Americans live in the region.

Thursday’s ceremony opened what will be a two-day anniversary celebration.

On Friday, the base is having a huge bash at Port Park with Spanish and American food and entertainment. Rock band Collective Soul will headline the free event, which begins at 6 p.m.

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