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A perspective from the point of view of a museum volunteer

  • Published
  • By Pam Bradbury
  • Museum Volunteer
As a volunteer at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, I want to share a few thoughts about the museum, the visitors and the dedication of the volunteers and staff.

I have been coming to the museum since I was a youngster in grade school. At age 64 I am no longer a youngster. The museum isn't young either. It has blossomed, from one hangar in the 1950s, to a 17 acre complex. The museum was once located just inside the gate near downtown Fairborn, Ohio. There was a rocket outside the entrance, and every Christmas it donned a large Santa Claus hat on the cone. Rockets were new and unusual to see in the late '50s and early '60s, and this one loomed high enough to attract attention. Today the museum can show off a NASA Crew Compartment Trainer and an entire area devoted to the progress of rocket engineering. When you think of the time span from early 1900 through the beginning of this new century, you can't help but be amazed at how rapidly air flight and the Air Force have progressed. Traveling the galleries at the museum, you can go from balloon flight, Orville and Wilbur's flyer, and later view a prototype of a B-2 bomber. You can finish the day by taking an elevator to the top of the Missile Gallery.

Although every exhibit in the museum is impressive, the most impressive part of this complex operation has to be the dedication of the volunteers, the museum staff and our visitors. Our volunteers and staff members are inspired by the museum. They devote their time to answer questions, direct families to the sights and talk to the veterans. A fair number of our volunteers are veterans. Others are relatives of veterans. All are good people with a sense of community. Members of the staff and volunteers devotedly restore planes, clean and press uniforms, dress manikins, schedule volunteers for work areas and check the detail and history of every exhibit. They do all of this for the most important people who come through the doors: our visitors.

The visitors come to see antique aircraft and modern spaceflight. They also come because they love the idea of our Air Force Heritage. Countless visitors made this history possible. As a volunteer, there is nothing more rewarding than to help a World War II veteran locate a plane he or she flew, traveled in or maintained. Fewer and fewer WWII veterans are making the trip these days as they are becoming frail from aging. They are missed by the volunteers, and when they arrive we are all happy to see them and grateful to talk to them. For many of us at the museum, these WWII veterans are like legends. Tom Brokaw called them the "Greatest Generation." They are our fathers, mothers and grandparents. The relatives of these veterans also come to see a snapshot of their family history. Without the men and women who were part of the Army Air Corps and the modern Air Force, the history would be little more than inanimate objects. The stories are the fiber of the museum. These stories come to life every day when the doors of the National Museum of the United States Air Force open to welcome our quests. There is a special appreciation for all of our visitors but especially our veterans. That is why the museum highlights the concept, "We are the Keeper of Their Stories." As time moves ahead and we lose more veterans, the National Museum of the United States Air Force will tell the stories of each generation that made our country and our Air Force the most honorable and unequalled in the world.

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