February 15, 2017 Edition

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Kandy Hart (from left), Lloyd Clark, Wings of Honor Museum Board President Harold Johnson and Dina Rose discuss plans to mark the 75th anniversary of the Walnut Ridge Army Flying School.
TD Photo ~ Gretchen Hunt

Museum to mark 75th
anniversary of flying school

Gretchen Hunt

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Walnut Ridge Army Flying School in 1942. The annual Walnut Ridge Air Field Reunion and Wings of Honor Festival on the weekend of May 6 will kick off a yearlong celebration.

For Harold Johnson, museum board president, the main goal is to bring visitors to the airfield to see and learn so the stories will continue to be shared.

"Our main goal is to preserve the history and honor the folks who have served and those who still serve," Johnson said.

In addition to the traditional events held during the weekend, plans are underway to host an air show that Saturday afternoon.

"What we can do will be a direct reflection of how much money we can raise," Dina Rose, event committee member and past-chair of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce, said.

Fund-raising is underway, and individuals and businesses can serve as an event sponsor and even have the opportunity to sponsor a specific act in the air show.

A gofundme site, Wings of Honor - 75th Celebration, offers an easy opportunity to give online at www.gofundme.com/wingsofhonor. Those interested can also contact Johnson at 1-800-584-5575 or email Rose at dinarose3@outlook.com.

The museum has previously hosted three air shows, with this year's event set to be the first air show since 2001.

What the rest of the year holds will also depend on what funds are available, but special speakers, additional air show performances, fly-ins and a recreation of a USO show are all ideas being considered by the committee.

Museum preserves rich history

With more than 5,000 entering training, the flying school obviously impacted the community, as well as the country and world. According to Johnson, 4,641 completed their training in Walnut Ridge and went on to join the war effort.

During the three-year period that the school was training pilots, 110 marriages were performed at the base chapel, in addition to weddings that were held off the base. There were also 82 births in the base hospital, 40 girls and 42 boys.

"In an eerie coincidence, 42 young men were killed in training," Johnson said. "For every young man lost, a baby boy was born."

The Wings of Honor Museum, which was established in 1999, preserves the history of the the air base, which served as Army Air Forces Basic Flying School from 1942-1944, Marine Corps Air Facility from 1944-1945, Temporary POW Camp for German Prisoners in 1945, W.A.A. Warbird Storage and Sales Facility from 1944-1946, Warbird Salvage from 1946-1948, C.A.A./F.A.A. Flight Service Station from 1948-1969 and USAF 725th A/C Control and Warning Squadron from 1956-1963.

In 1999, the museum opened in a small building, now the Lawrence County Radio Club building, before moving to the existing building in 2006. Additions to the museum were added in 2014 and 2015, providing more meeting space and more room for exhibits.

The gofundme site, established by Rose, notes the importance of the museum board and other volunteers. In addition to Johnson, the board includes Frank Wilson, vice president; Carolyn Propst, secretary, treasurer; Judy Wilson, curator; Paul Shaffer, Billy Barber, Dr. Brett Cooper, Bill Obarts, Dr. Blake Perkins and Daniel Spillman.

"The museum was established in 1999 by a group of dedicated and passionate volunteers, several of which continue to maintain and operate the museum today," the site states.

"They give their time - seven days a week; their resources - including their own financial contributions; their labor - carefully staging, placing and preserving the valuable artifacts donated to the museum and doing time-consuming research and documentation; and, most importantly, their heart.

"Harold Johnson, museum volunteer/founder/board president, at the age of 82, continues his steadfast dedication, determination and perseverance to see that all is not forgotten."

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