Before our daughter came along, we did the majority of our traveling with our longtime friends, Mike and Tracy. The four of us, aside from being good friends and having a lot in common, traveled very well together for two main reasons:
1.) We all love food - as long as vacation included a few good meals, we were happy.
2.) We made a point of having each one of us browse through the AAA guide or look on-line to pick one attraction or activity that each individual really wanted to see, and add it to the itinerary.
As a family, we do that now. Each trip, of course, has to include child-friendly stops, but we also try to include something for Mom and something for Dad.
This was Dad's.
My husband, although never having served in any branch of the military, has a thing for military aircraft, so naturally we go to a lot of air shows (which in our neck of the woods, have been put on hold until 2012) and any type of air/space museum. After checking off the two in Washington, DC two years ago, the next one on our list was the National Air Force Museum just outside of Dayton, OH.
And, since we just happened to be in Ohio, we dedicated our last full day in Ohio to having Steve fulfill his dream....
The museum is a huge facility, basically a couple of hangars, jam-packed with planes. Now, I don't know a P-51 from a XB-70, so there's no way I can identify all of these planes for you, nor do I have enough space to post the 650 photos we took (we, meaning mostly hubby). Plus, the lighting in most of the museum is shadowy, at best, so many of my photos are dark. But as usual, even though my interest in aviation ends at "Oh, that looks cool", I found that if you open your mind and your eyes, chances are there's something to interest everyone.
The self-guided tour takes you chronologically through the history of military aviation. Actually, even earlier than that, for Wilbur and Orville Wright lived in Ohio, so the first exhibits are models of their aircraft. After that, it turns mostly military, starting with World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and all the way up through the Gulf Wars. All along the way are volunteers, 99% of whom are veterans (who I just love talking to), eager to give you directions through the sprawling museum, advise you of upcoming tours or events, or just plain tell you a little of their own story.
This is one of those museums that, even if you have no real interest in the subject matter, you have to appreciate the sheer number of exhibits. There was a "Women In Flight" exhibit, a Holocaust exhibit, a replica of the air traffic control tower at LAX, and naturally, a lot of educational exhibits based upon any war the U.S. was involved with that included aviation, including the Cold War years.
Did I mention there were a lot of planes?
One of the volunteer guides told us that they are slowing transitioning to making many of the plane exhibits a little more interesting...
There were several like this one, telling a story, and it really made it more interesting for us novices!
"Mommy? Why is the Daddy yelling at the boy?"
"Because he crashed the airplane, honey."
They are even in the process of restoring the Memphis Belle, however she's not available for viewing right now. If you happen to visit on a Friday, though, you can sign up for a tour to see the restoration in progress. We were there on a Tuesday. :(
There were some interesting little touches, too. - like this quilt commemorating the USAF. It was huge! And very beautiful.
Well into the WWII section, I happened across something that caught my interest.
During WWII, my Dad served in the Army, initially being sent to northern Africa in 1943, then transferring to the 988th Signal Corp and heading into in the China-Burma-India Theater. Growing up, I never really knew what that part of the war was all about - my high school history teacher talked about Pearl Harbor and Nazi Germany, and that was it. My Dad isn't the type of guy to talk about it, other than to share stories of the time a black panther ran across their path in the jungle, or that his friend had died there, not in combat, but rather when his truck lost its brakes and plummeted over the edge of a cliff. All I knew were those stories, and the fact that my Dad never ate rice again after coming home in 1945.
Oh! And that General Joseph Stilwell once yelled at my Dad. Cool, huh? :)
ANYWAY, I could - and should - dedicate a lengthy blog post to my Dad someday, but meanwhile, at the Air Force Museum I was happy to see this exhibit on CBI:
Now of course, this is an Air Force museum, not Army, but I thought these pictures were really neat! Look at the elephant helping out!
My Dad mentioned seeing, of course, the panther, a tiger, and they used a lot of mules, also, to traverse the area that was not yet suited for trucks. But no elephants. Although, in books I've read it does mention that they were used a lot to clear the jungle.
It was neat seeing pictures of the places he had been, and getting a little more insight into what it must have been like for him there.
Meanwhile, Steve was skipping through the museum like a kid at Disney, because he had managed to snag the last three seats on the bus ride to "The Presidential and Experimental Hanger". Well, ok, I thought to myself, it will be cool to see some of the Air Force One planes and experimental aircraft. We eventually boarded a bus - with no air conditioning and windows that wouldn't open, to make the short trip to the active part of the base where these exhibits were. I couldn't take any pictures outside because it is an active AFB, and photography is prohibited. I have to admit, it was pretty cool! You can - literally - reach out and touch these planes, while in the main museum they are safely tucked away behind barriers, surrounded by "Do Not Touch" signs.
This is the XB-70, one of the world's most exotic airplanes.
Aw heck, you read about it - I'll probably mess it up!
The only downside was it's crammed into such a small area, with so many other aircraft, that we couldn't get a good picture of it. But Steve was happy to finally see it in real life.
In the other hanger was the Presidential exhibit, including the "Air Force One" planes of JFK, FDR and a small one belonging to Eisenhower. You can actually walk through JFK's and FDR's but everything's encased in plexiglass leaving a 17" passageway at some points. Translation: If you tend to get claustrophobic, you might want to stay outside the plane!
We took the bus back to the main museum, shopped in the gift shop then headed back to Columbus. On the way out, we noticed a little memorial park, and ironically the thing that caught my eye was this.
Again, not Army, but still nice to see another acknowledgement of China Burma India. :)
Oh, and the other great thing about this museum - it's free!