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Vietnam War Museum Planned for North Texas
from a desire to bring honor to the many veterans who served in Vietnam,
a group of former US Army helicopter pilots is planning to build a national
museum in Mineral Wells, Texas. The decision to create the first national
museum dedicated to the preservation of artifacts and information specific
to this crucial period in our nations history was not taken lightly.
completion, the museum will be the definitive cultural and historical
resource for the Vietnam era, featuring cutting-edge, inter-active exhibits
based on scholarship of the highest order. It will be a place to remember,
to understand, and to learn lessons from the past. Now, twenty-five
years after the peace accords between the United States and North Vietnam,
the time is right to integrate the Vietnam War into a larger historical
and cultural framework. The National Museum of the Vietnam War seeks
to serve as the common ground for reflection and resolution.
beginnings of the museum revolve around an event that was primarily
social in nature. In September of 1995, a group of former US Army Helicopter
pilots, all Vietnam veterans, met at the American Legion hall in Mineral
Wells. The purpose of the meeting was to determine whether there was
enough interest in forming a local chapter of the Vietnam Helicopter
Pilots Association (VHPA). This is a national veterans organization
of which they were all members.
on the turnout at this initial meeting, there was more than enough support
for the idea, and the Fort Wolters Chapter of the VHPA was formed. The
name was selected because the former Fort Wolters, located in Mineral
Wells, was the location of the Armys Primary Helicopter School.
As Such, it was the training ground for about 98% of the helicopter
pilots who flew in Vietnam.
attendance at this initial meeting were several members who wanted to
do more than just meet socially. They were looking for a way to acknowledge
what Fort Wolters, Mineral Wells, and Vietnam had meant to them. It
was here that the idea for a museum surrounding those three themes was
born, with the creation of the historical/museum committee.
original concept was for a modest museum incorporating the significance
of Fort Wolters in the history of the city, and its contribution in
training Vietnam era helicopter pilots. This idea was heartily embraced
by the local chapter members, and was presented to the executive committee
of the national organization at the 1996 reunion in Santa Clara, California.
Buoyed by the encouragement of the national executive committee, the
museum committee began work in earnest.
next year was spent in planning strategy, creating relationships with
the city, and investigating possible sites for the museum. At this point,
with still modest goals, the committee was looking at existing buildings
that might be donated for use as a museum facility. While there were
promising sites, the process was moving very slowly. At the same time,
possible fund raising concepts were being explored.
committee member Cleve Clark, of Mineral Wells, suggested engraved memorial
bricks, a concept used successfully by many organizations. Brick sales
were begun at the VHPA reunion in Orlando in 1997, and have provided
a steady, albeit low, source of funding. In addition to the memorial
bricks honoring individuals, the museum also began offering larger memorial
tablets for unit memorials. The initial purchasers of these tablets
have been Vietnam aviation company associations.
the museum concept was presented to the general membership in Orlando,
the museum committee felt that there was sufficient interest to continue
work on the project. This was supported by the interest of the general
population, shown during the groups participation in the 1997
Mineral Wells Crazy Water Festival.
the museum activity continued to build, the Chapter was engaged in another
project that was to be a watershed event for both. The Fort Wolters
Chapter was to host the 1998 VHPA reunion in Fort Worth. Not only would
this be an opportunity to demonstrate Texas hospitality to our national
membership, but it would bring many former helicopter pilots back to
the place of their birth, so to speak. The museum committee felt this
was our best opportunity to garner a national base of support for the
museum, building on the interest sparked in Orlando.
the committee was composed of volunteers, all of whom were also gainfully
employed, there was little time to take on any additional responsibilities.
This was particularly true since many of them were also working on the
reunion committees. So, a Fort Worth public relations firm, DGPR, was
engaged to assist in planning for a fund raising campaign to be introduced
at the 1998 reunion. Through working with DGPR, the committee realized
they were thinking on too small a scale when it was determined that
no national museum, dedicated to the study of the Vietnam War, existed.
was decided that a national venue, encompassing all aspects of the war,
and a much larger constituency was now an appropriate goal for the committee.
This feeling was echoed by the Chapter membership as well. The vision
for the museum is to create an atmosphere of learning that will engage
people of all ages, nationalities, and political points of view. A thematic
approach to the war will be used, with the following eight themes interwoven
throughout the museum:
Nation and Culture of Vietnam
Conduct of the War
and the War
End and Aftermath
the museum will have a specific point of view, a deliberate attempt
will be made to present a balanced view of the historical facts, perceptions,
and consequences of the War. The Museum will be relevant and meaningful
When the museum committee participated in the 1997 Crazy Water Festival,
it began a close relationship with the City of Mineral Wells. In an
effort to maintain and extend that relationship, the committee, through
the leadership of member Jim Messinger, worked for many months to bring
the Vietnam Moving Wall to the city for the Fourth of July. Messingers
motivation was simple. I had always wanted to experience the Wall,
Messinger said. It will be an emotional closure activity for everyone
including the community. The community of Mineral Wells is largely made
up of ex-military.
amount of interest generated in the community became evident during
the months that the Chapter members and the City worked together in
preparation for the Wall. Virtually every civic organization in Mineral
Wells provided support for the week-long visit, from June 28 through
July 5. This visit was scheduled to coincide with the VHPA 1998 reunion,
and was one of the scheduled events on July 3.
addition to the July 3 visit of the helicopter pilots, the Wall visit
was marked by opening ceremonies on June 28 that included remarks by
US Congressman Stenholm, and Air Force Major General Richard Brown,
a 1966 graduate of Mineral Wells High School. General Brown flew 140
combat missions in Vietnam in 1971-72. The ceremonies were also marked
by a Confederate Air Force flyover, an honor guard, and missing
man formation featuring F-16s, and a bugler sounding Taps.
of the intense community involvement, the visit of the Wall has cemented
the relationship between the Museum and the City, and given additional
impetus to locating the Museum in this small North Texas town. Currently,
the museum board is negotiating for a piece of property on the old Fort
Wolters reservation. A fund raising project called honorary landowners
is now underway. This project is directed specifically at the purchase
of the property, and will be open to only 200 individual participants.
Once the property is acquired, there will be a national design competition
announced for the museum building and grounds.
development and construction of this museum is important not only to
the committee, but to the country as well. For many Americans, Vietnamese,
and others, the war in Vietnam was the defining event of their lives.
It was a conflict that divided families and brought violence both to
Vietnam and the United States. Whether in uniform or not, each of us
had a Vietnam experience. Now a national museum is envisioned to help
us remember and understand. In the words of museum committee chairman
Jim Irwin: The memories of the veterans who took the call and
went to the war because the government asked them to, cant continue
to be tainted. Its time for us to get out in the sun. We did a
good job. The museum will give a comprehensive history of the Vietnam
War political as well as military activities.
desiring more information or wishing to make a contribution, may contact
the museum at the National Museum of the Vietnam War, P.O. Box 146,
Mineral Wells, TX 76068, or on line at www.nationalmuseumvnwar.org.
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