As you walk into the halls of the US Air Force Museum at Wright Patterson AFB near Dayton, Ohio, the first thing you will see will be very familiar to pilots who served with the 4th Fighter Wing at Kimpo - the torii that led from the 336th Squadnon Operations hut to the flightline. It said "MiG Alley - 200 Miles". With that as a beginning, a recently opened display of memorabilia and photos will take the visitor back to the years between 1950 and 1953, when airmen of the 5th Air Force and far East Air Forces fought the first of many struggles against communism - the Korean War, an all but forgotten saga in the great military history of America.
A hallowed silence greets visitors as they enter the new exhibit. Soon, the quiet yields to a faint mental whir of wartime activity at places with names like Kimpo, Suwon, Taegu, Pusan, Itazuke, Yokota, Kadena, and too many others to list completely. Your eyes scan the images before you - uniformed maniquins, personal artifacts, films and sound bites, all set against a majestic mountainous backdrop, transport the viewer rapidly through a time portal back to those dark cold days.
The Air Force Museum's exhibit commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the Korean War. It was officially opened to the public in October 2000, and is slated to remain intact through the anniversary of the end of that almost forgotten conflict in July 2003. Entitled "Korea Remembered: The US Air Force Comes Of Age", the exhibit recalls The Forgotten War by spotlighting the emergence of the modem Air Force and its evolution into a lethal air arm, although the service itself was in its infancy.
The theme of the exhibit is to show the Air Force in transition from the Army Air Force in World War 2, to a modem Air Force ready to tackle the challenges of the new Cold War. Jeff Duford, USAFM Research Division: "We wanted to put the Korean War in a greater historical perspective than just to recall wartime events. After all, this was the first test for the new independent Air Force since its inception in 1947."
The exhibit uses striking visual effects like large color images of aircraft and crews, life-like habitats depicting what it was like for the troops in Korea. The exhibit tries to integrate the combat in Korea with the other elements to illuminate the role air power played in helping defend South Korea from its communist aggression in the north. And to honor the service of all those who wore the uniform in those difficult times. The exhibit is aimed for those Air Force veterans who served in Korea. It is their moment to stand back and be recognized. And especially a time to remember all those who did not come back. "We wanted to create something tha would grab the visitors attention and draw them in to read about those veterans and their mission of so long ago", Duford said.
About 75% of the 190 exhibit photos are in color, helping to lift the war from black and white pages of history and bring it to life. The exhibit features eight correctly uniformed mannequins, three videos, and more than 100 artifacts. It is divided into eight theme areas, matching the Air Force missions in Korea.
These include air superiority, strategic bombing, inerdiction, close air support, reconnaissance, airlift, air rescue and evacuation. The text is punctuated by relevant quotes from historically significant Korean War-era figures.
Through these theme areas, the exhibit seeks to impart a more intimate understanding of the Korean War as a watershed event for air power and its evolving doctrine, The exhibit designers did this by emphasizing how sustained air superiority, combined with a campaign of strategic bombing and interdiction, made the war very costly for the communists and helped force a ceasefire that endures to this day.
"Even though it was vital, fighter combat was numerically just a small portion of the total Air Force Mission", said Durford. "We also wanted to focus attention on other combat roles as well as critical support functions in which so many personnel served."
The first thought of most people regarding the Korean War is that of silver F-86s and MiG jet fighters mixing it up over the Yalu River. But the Museum exhibit seeks to reach beyond the aircraft and air campaigns that were waged, and show the many sides and missions of all those who served.
"While the aircraft are important, not everyone relates to the airplanes", said Connie Johnson Chapman, one of the exhibit designers. "I try to bring out the human element to which a broad audience can relate. We wanted to tell the story of veterans and communicate a realistic sense of the environment in which they served."
"The photos try to portray a variety of situations. "You can tell by looking at people in the exhibit photos, that there was a real camarderie among them. Plus we wanted to show the wide range of roles that people filled. Not everyone was a pilot."
But if you want to see the airplanes, they are there. You can take your grandkids and show them the type of airplane you flew or worked on. Almost every type is on display, from an F-86A to the T-6G Texan, B-29 to H-19A, F-82G Twin Mustang to C-54D flying ambulances. Some are displayed in the Korean 'bay' of the museum, some are displayed in other areas of the vast museum. For those who have never been there, make sure you have at least one full day available to view everything. The US Air Force Museum is open from 9am to 5pm, 7 days a week, and almost every day of the year. Make plans for a trip, it's worth the effort. And for those in the Sabre Pilots Association, the outdoor park has a memorial dedicated to and from our association.
No portion of this article may be used or reprinted without permission from the President of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association or the editor of Sabre Jet Classics magazine.
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