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What's New from the Curator: Fall 2009

  • Published
  • By Terry Aitken, Senior Curator
  • National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
As the deadline for this column approaches, it is always a bit of a quandary to pick out one or two donations from the many outstanding ones of the past months to share with you. While anguishing over this, yet another donation came to our front step. I felt this might be the one to share with you as it is a bit different but of keen interest to us.

It started with a telephone call from a local building demolition contractor who was dismantling an old school in our area. In the course of the work, his workers found two boxes of Civil Defense Fallout Shelter rations containing "Survival Ration Crackers". It would seem that a section of the basement had at one time been designated as a fallout shelter and these were remnants of that past. Also present were some water containers but those had long since rusted through and deteriorated, and yet the boxes of crackers remained in quite good condition. While one box was intact the other box's lid had been opened, and you could see two large square metal tins with metal re-sealable press-in lids. The labels on the boxes indicate that there is a total of 24-1/2 pounds of crackers and that they were packed in September of 1962.

As we have been conceptualizing and developing our exhibits in the Cold War Gallery, we have faced many challenges as it was not a war in any of the usual senses. No doubt, however, that the Cold War did have a "home front" and many of us are veterans of living under the constant threat of nuclear war. How well we remember the air raid drills in school and the phrase of "Duck and Cover." For a long period of time, the yellow and black fallout shelter signs were common in our communities. And, speaking of fallout shelter signs, the donor returned to us the next day proudly bearing the fallout shelter sign which he had carefully removed from the school wall before it was demolished.

We have had a keen interest over the past years in collecting home front materials from the Cold War period but with only limited success. As a minimum, we would be interested in reconstructing examples of home and public building fallout shelters for exhibit and items such as the cracker containers will be important additions. Perhaps you also have or know the whereabouts of other items associated with fallout shelters such as rations, radiological measuring instruments, etc. Equally welcome would be printed civil defense materials. If you would like to share them with us and our visitors, please contact me so we can review the items together. In future issues I will be commenting on other Cold War home front items that would be helpful in future exhibits.

On another topic, you will be reading and seeing quite a bit of information in the months to come both in this Journal and on our Web site about the forthcoming 60th anniversary of the Korean War. As part of our three-year commemoration of this event, we are doing a total upgrade on our Korean War Gallery. This is a major undertaking and will be occupying most of our time in the months to come. While the major part of the gallery will be completed by next June, we expect additions to continue throughout the commemoration period until 2013.

One item, or commodity, that we have a special need for is pierced steel planking or PSP. In looking at so many photographs of the air bases in Korea during the 1950-1953 period PSP was in common usage. We would like to exhibit many of our Korean War aircraft on PSP but our holdings are very limited. I doubt if many of you will have this type of item in the closet, but if you might know of where we might find PSP in quantity, please let us know. It will significantly add to the historical accuracy of our new exhibits.

Finally, I would like to thank once again all of those you have generously offered and donated materials over the past months. It has been a pleasure to work with all of you in preserving both personal histories and that of the United States Air Force.

Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of Friends Journal. To receive the Journal and other benefits, become a member of the Air Force Museum Foundation.