Press-Republican

March 6, 2013

Editorial: Base museum has potential

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Press-Republican

---- — For 40 years, Plattsburgh Air Force Base was a source of tremendous financial, social and military influence in this area.

Base personnel made purchases of cars, homes, clothing and other goods that supported our economy.

Lives intertwined, with some military members volunteering for community groups or finding love with local people.

Residents talked about whether having the base here made us safer or put us in foreign crosshairs. They debated whether the planes coming in and out of Plattsburgh were a nuisance or the “sound of freedom.”

Whether you appreciated its contributions or complained about the problems it created, PAFB had a monumental impact on Plattsburgh and the surrounding area.

Then in the summer of 1993 — in a shocking decision that many locals remember vividly — the Federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission brought it all to an end. By September 1995, PAFB had been shut down.

But it never wholly disappeared. You still meet people who live in the area because they came to Plattsburgh with the Air Force. Many of us still refer to locations as being on the “old base” and “new base.” Two planes from PAFB still sit along Route 9 at the Clyde Lewis Park. And visitors sometimes stop in at the Battle of Plattsburgh Museum and other sites out in that area asking where they can find the Plattsburgh Air Force Base museum.

There isn’t one — yet.

Local history expert and Plattsburgh City Clerk Keith Herkalo woke up at 3 a.m. one morning a few weeks ago with a beauty of an idea: to add a PAFB history site to the museum campus in the city’s South End.

He took the idea to the Battle of Plattsburgh Association Board of Directors, which has a vacant building in need of a purpose. The building is on Washington Stacross from the War of 1812 Museum. It actually used to house a museum for the Air Force, with displays by the 380th Bombardment Wing and other military groups.

It needs some electrical and plumbing work, but it isn’t far from being usable, Herkalo says.

He isn’t thinking much about the funding aspect of this yet, though he has mentioned the hope that the almost extinguished Plattsburgh Airbase Redevelopment Corp. might want to help with creation of a PAFB museum as a “legacy project.”

Herkalo just wants to gauge interest in a new Air Base museum so the Battle Association can figure out if it can bring in revenue while serving a community need.

If you have an opinion on the idea, we encourage you to show up at 7 p.m. this Thursday at the War of 1812 Museum’s Press-Republican Theater or email Herkalo at kherkalo@charter.net.

We think a PAFB museum fits the area’s aim to promote history tourism, a growing trend nationally. With public support, it’s an idea that can really take off.