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Aviation museum foundation a true ‘team effort’

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Juliana Halvorson Photo Many creative ideas have been implemented in crafting displays for the Walker Aviation Museum.

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During World War II, from 1942 to 1945, 14,000 pilots and bombardiers received their training at Roswell Army Air Field. When the war came to a close, 12 two-engine squadrons, plus one specialized B-29 squadron, remained. The 509th Composite Bomb Group that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan was assigned to what would become Walker Air Force Base, making it the premier atomic-bomb-capable strike force in Strategic Air Command to face off with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. After 26 years of meritorious service, the base closed.

In 2007, a group of veterans came forward and wanted a museum put in place that would honor those historic times, and the Walker Aviation Museum Foundation (WAMF) was born. The current board includes: Robert Sherman, president; Brigadier Gen. Douglas Murray, vice president; Kati Yates, treasurer; Sandy Correia, secretary; Bob Donnell and Bob Pottle, past presidents; and directors Judy Armstrong, Juliana Halvorson, Jerry Klopfer and Friar Jarek Nowacki.

All leaders in the Roswell community, they wanted to find a way to preserve the rich history of Walker AFB; hence, the steering committee — Armstrong, Donnell and others — researched and began fundraising to make the idea come to fruition. Obtaining 501(c)(3) status in 2009, a board was formed, and a website detailing the foundation’s mission and goals hit the internet: wafbmuseum.org.

Airport employee Jennifer Brady told the directors of a space at the Roswell Air Center Terminal in need of some repair that was sufficient to house the museum. The entire city pitched in, from companies — Home Depot supplied carpets; J&G Electric supplied lighting — to many citizens, there was much support. At the grand opening held on Sept. 18, 2010, the crowd overflowed.

Although first supplied by the veterans who brought their mementos — from silverware utilized in the base cafeteria, to uniforms, photos and more — the museum continues to get creative ideas from active board members. Halvorson has put together graphics, suggested arrangements, set up the website, taken event photos and made other contributions.

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It’s easy to see that this is truly a “team effort” by the entire board.

Finding the best permanent location for the museum has been an ongoing effort from the beginning. The board’s vision involves researching the pros and cons of three choices: remain at the Roswell Air Center terminal as an upgraded/redesigned stand-alone museum, including a gift shop; move within easy walking distance of the UFO Museum to better serve the 200,000-plus annual visitors; or, a larger museum that would honor Walker AFB history and include a large STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Exploratorium.

Evaluating the feasibility of remaining in the Roswell Air Center terminal and, upon renovation, becoming a stand-alone museum of Walker AFB’s history, this can be accomplished through both city and Air Center approval and would entail coordination with Alan Trevor, director of the Media Arts Department at ENMU-R. This upgrade would offer a gift shop, a coordinated display consisting of timeline graphics, and three large touchscreen computers providing verbal and visual history of the base and its missions that could be changed out.

The board wished to thank Jim Hill, director of the International UFO Museum who, along with assistance from Trevor, installed a new $90,000 display of Walker AFB history in the last several months that’s located at the start of the UFO Museum tour. The display consists of new timeline graphics, large touchscreen computers with history summaries, and several display cases of items from the Walker AFB museum.

Although having a new site is also an idea, Sherman states: “One of our key goals over the last five years is not only to provide a first class display of Walker AFB history, but to have space for numerous STEM displays from local industries so visiting and local youth can interact, learn and be motivated to pursue. We would have items representing the aerospace, oil, gas, solar, auto, motorcycle and dairy industries. Obviously, this would require a larger space, and we are working on the monetary issues.”

People can become a member of the WAMF; donate at the Walker Aviation Museum Foundation; as well as sign up and enjoy the Annual Walker Aviation Museum Golf Tournament at the NMMI Golf Course. (This specific event has been postponed because of the COVID-19 situation, but will be rescheduled and the new date will be announced on the website — along with other news and information).

Usually open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (closed Sunday and Tuesday), the museum has temporarily closed due to long-time staff members moving out of state and the current pandemic.

The board meets every second Monday of the month at the First Methodist Church, and as soon as new employees are found and the COVID-19 closures end, the museum will reopen.

During the dedication of the three monoliths (in front of the Roswell Air Terminal) recognizing Walker AFB, Murray summed up the museum’s purpose:

“The mission of the Walker Museum and Foundation is to tell the story not of the base or a place, but to celebrate the people who served this nation while serving at the base and the great people of Roswell who provided invaluable support throughout its history. But it is not only about their generations, it’s also about the present and future generations — the youth of Roswell and New Mexico. In this regard, the museum is also an EXPLORATORIUM in which, through a series of STEM projects and activities, our youth can explore, learn and be inspired to careers in space and aviation. Today, our nation’s preeminence in space is being challenged by other nations, such as China. It is our younger generations who will have to answer that challenge. Thus the museum is about the past and the future. Its legacy is how Walker and Roswell served the security needs of the nation. Its destiny is how well our youth keep that legacy alive by electing careers in aviation, space and related math and science fields.”

The WAMF board wants dedicated citizens to join and help their goals of providing Walker AFB history and STEM motivation to Roswell’s youth. Sherman states: “Help us make a difference!”