Museum focuses on the Vietnam War

The fuselage of a B-52 arrives in the RAHS parking lot and assembly of the plane begins.
Photo Courtesy of: Issa Meboe

In affiliation with RAHS, the Museum of Flight (MoF) is constructing another aviation exhibit near the school. By 11 Nov. 2018, Project Welcome Home (PWH), a memorial to recognize Vietnam War veterans and display a newly-renovated Boeing B-52G Bomber, will be completed and parked on the grassy lot by the parking lot. This will pair with the recently added Vietnam Divided: War Above Southeast Asia exhibit in the Museum’s Great Gallery.

Trip Switzer, the MoF’s Vice President of Development, has been overseeing the fundraising side of the project.

“This was originally an effort to restore the B-52 the Museum has had on loan from the US Air Force since 1991,” said Swtizer. “As the project evolved, and the plane needed a new home, we developed plans to place the restored B-52 in a new ‘Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park.’ This will be a site dedicated to all Vietnam veterans.”

Mark Manzo has been a Major Gifts Officer in the Development Department at the MoF for three years and is a fundraiser for PWH. His and the project committee’s work will compile numerous artifacts from the Vietnam War.

“At the center of the park will be a retired Boeing B-52G ‘Stratofortress’ that served in Operation Linebacker II in December 1972 and contributed to the release of 591 U.S. POWs,” said Manzo. “The B-52 will be joined by a bronze statue of a returning aviator, which represents our Vietnam veterans.”

Along with the plane and the statue of the aviator, specific flags of the US military will be represented, as well one for prisoners of war (POW) and those missing in action (MIA).

“Seven flags will be flown as well – US, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and the POW/MIA flag,” said Switzer. “No list of veterans – deceased or living – will be installed, though donors to the project at a specific level have the opportunity to honor a Vietnam veteran on a tribute wall that will be part of the park.”

Freshman Max Welliver, a student liaison for the project, has contributed directly to the memorial’s efforts. Before the end of the school year, he and the Museum will be showcasing their hard work with the implementation of the renovated war plane on the memorial site.

“It’s exciting to finally have all the logistics come together and have the B-52 arrive,” said Welliver. “The B-52 arrives on Sunday, June 3rd at 7:30am and Raisbeck Aviation High School students are invited to attend!”

The B-52 arrived successfully on 3 Jun. 2018, with a large audience spectating. Switzer is looking forward to seeing how the memorial will give them an opportunity to learn about the Vietnam War as well as pay their respects. He believes PWH will serve as a belated “thank you” to the Vietnam soldiers.

“We believe this will be a truly unique place,” said Switzer. “There is no memorial we know of that focuses specifically on the air combat operations in Vietnam and the staggering losses suffered. Though aircraft and those who flew them will be highlighted, we intend it to be a site to thank and honor all Vietnam veterans, particularly so many who came home to a less-than-warm welcome.”

Students specifically can gain from the memorial by recognizing the similarities between the soldiers and themselves and reflecting on their experiences.

“A lot of these people weren’t much older than RAHS students when they found themselves in unimaginable situations in Vietnam,” said Manzo. “Then, when they returned home, many never received any kind of decent recognition and haven’t in all the years since. The memorial will acknowledge their service.”

Welliver has been an asset to PWH, not only getting a unique opportunity to learn about Vietnam veterans but also to work closely with the Museum as a student representative.

“I’ve learned a lot about the B-52 and its long history of service in the US Air Force,” said Welliver. “B-52’s have been serving for over 50 years and are expected to serve for another 30 with a re-engine. That will make it one of the longest serving airplanes in the United States Air Force.”

One of the Museum’s goals for the project was to have a model of the B-52 plane on display in the museum’s new exhibit, Vietnam Divided: War Above Southeast Asia. Their request for a builder was answered by Welliver, who already makes model airplanes in his spare time.

“Since I’m a member of the local scale modeling group and apart of the Project Welcome Home Committee, I thought it would be nice to build it,” said Welliver. “The kit I was given was challenging because it was older molding, but with a lot of putty, it finally came together.”

Inspiration for PWH comes from old colleagues of Linebacker II, a division of the US Air Force and Navy that flew B-52’s in 1972.

“Project Welcome Home was born out of a 2012 reunion of the crew that flew on the B-52 that will go in the park,” said Manzo. “When they visited the plane they saw that was in desperate need of restoration. From that gathering, a committee of Vietnam veterans realized a greater purpose beyond simply restoring the aircraft.”

As the name states, the new exhibit in the Great Gallery focuses on the war above Southeast Asia that lasted from 1955-1975. While PWH’s focal points are the renovated B-52 and honoring of soldiers from the war, the new Vietnam Divided exhibit will specifically feature the aircraft used in action and delve deeper into the technology and tactics of that war.

The Museum opened the exhibit for a preview event on Thursday 24 May, 2018, two days before it opened to all members. In attendance was the MoF President and CEO Matt Hayes, who thanks the members who not only receive but contribute in some way to new features of the Museum.

“We could say that we’re doing this for them and we build things to entertain and educate,” said Hayes, “but the reality [is] they’re giving as much or more back to us by who they were, their experiences, [and] how much they care.”

More than 30 people went to the preview of the Vietnam Divided exhibit on Thursday. One attendee, Morgan Girling, an employee at Blue Origin and another model plane enthusiast, enjoyed perusing the old paraphernalia of the war.

“It is an interesting time in history that the country has spent a lot of effort trying to forget,” said Girling. “I think it’s very worthwhile that it’s remembered. People are [being] honored. [I’m] delighted to see the oral history kiosks.”

Bill Wilson, a Vietnam War veteran from the Linebacker II Air Force and Navy aerial bombing campaign, was also at the preview event, answering questions and reminiscing his service.

“The big famous part of that [Linebacker II] was the B-52’s,” said Wilson. “[We] went into North Vietnam and then bombed the crap out of it.”

Manzo has learned a significant amount about the war just from working on Project Welcome Home, and appreciates the museum and school’s help in progressing with the exhibit’s commencement.

“I’d like to say thank you to the students of RAHS who are interested in getting involved with the project and learning more about the service of our Vietnam Veterans,” said Manzo. “I’m 42 and it was my parents’ generation that fought in Vietnam. I didn’t know much about their sacrifices but, by working on this project, I’ve been learning. We welcome the students of RAHS to learn with us and to say thank you to our veterans.”

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