PLATTSBURGH — Plans to establish a Plattsburgh Air Force Base museum took a step forward after residents voiced enthusiastic support for the idea Thursday evening.
The Battle of Plattsburgh Association hosted the meeting, which was held to gauge the community’s interest in opening a PAFB museum. About two dozen residents filled the auditorium at the War of 1812 Museum to give their blessing to the idea.
“We’ve heard from so many people who come back to visit Plattsburgh (after being stationed at PAFB) and ask, where is the base museum?” said BOPA President Keith Herkalo.
“‘We can tell you what we have, but the (Air Force’s) base museum doesn’t exist anymore,’” Herkalo and museum staff will tell the visitors.
“Their general response is, ‘Oh, that’s too bad,’” he said Thursday.
Tourists passing through Plattsburgh regularly stop to examine the examine the B-47 and FB-111 aircraft on static display near the entrance to the former Old Base and invariably enter the War of 1812 Museum to inquire about a base museum, Herkalo added.
The Battle of Plattsburgh Association owns the building where PAFB once housed its historical museum. Located across the road from the current War of 1812 Museum, it was the main display area when the association first organized.
“We have a vacant building that we’re looking for a way to use,” Herkalo said. “Let’s look for a way to use it that is compatible with the community.”
Herkalo said he has received many positive emails from across the country since the idea of opening a base museum was first reported on a week ago.
Donald Fuller was a docent for the base museum in the 1990s and was there when it closed in 1995. He passed around a sketch of the building, done by an airman, and said he would donate the artwork if the museum concept is approved.
If the museum does move forward, it will be dedicated exclusively to the history of Plattsburgh Air Force Base, Herkalo said, noting that other museums, such as Clinton County Historical Association and the War of 1812 Museum, do look at other periods in history when the base was occupied.
The Rev. Clyde A. Lewis Jr., the son of Plattsburgh attorney and long-time Plattsburgh Air Force Base proponent Clyde Lewis, attended the meeting and expressed his keen interest in supporting a museum in the name of his father.
“Dad always wanted a museum,” he said. “The total contents of his office are somewhere on the Old Base, and he always wanted those artifacts to be displayed in a museum. I have a ton of stuff (related to the base) in the (St. Patrick’s Parish) rectory at Rouses Point that I don’t know what to do with.
“Dad would be extremely pleased (with the push for a base museum) if he were still alive.”
Joe McNichols, who was involved in base operations for 18 years, said he believes Lewis Sr.’s artifacts are stored in a back room of one of the buildings at the Transportation Museum, next door to the War of 1812 facility.
Since the Battle of Plattsburgh Association is already chartered as a museum, it has the capabilities of tracking and recording artifacts that may be collected for a base museum, Herkalo said.
If approved by the BOPA Board of Directors, the Plattsburgh Air Force Base Museum could begin accepting tax-deductible donations, he added.
“What we would need are volunteers, people to step up to the plate and identify what we do have, our memories and memorabilia.”
McNichols noted that people stationed at Plattsburgh have formed organized groups dedicated to their involvement with the FB-111 and KC-135 aircraft that flew out of the base.
“There are some awfully good alumni outfits out there,” he said of the support that could be generated for a base museum.
Robin Caudell, who was stationed at PAFB before becoming a staff writer for the Press-Republican, said many people are connected to a PAFB Facebook page. Online donations would be a beneficial tool for raising funds, she added.
Some of the discussion also focused on the static aircraft display, which several participants said was in need of improved maintenance.
Herkalo said there is always a stronger voice when a message comes from a group rather than an individual, suggesting that a chartered base museum could be influential in raising attention to the needs of those aircraft, which are owned by the U.S. Air Force but maintained by the City of Plattsburgh.
Bob Harrison, who was stationed at Plattsburgh from 1955 to 1958 and met his wife-to-be just a few weeks after coming here as a young airman, emphasized the importance of the static display along Route 9, noting that those planes are the biggest draw for people passing by.
Herkalo said the vacant building eyed for the museum is in good condition. The electricity and plumbing have been turned off, and it would have to be wired for electric heat, should it reopen.
He identified $25,000 as a round figure to get the museum up and running.
Herkalo also noted the success the Battle Association has had moving from near bankruptcy seven years ago to solvency today. He believes a base museum would enjoy the same success, with the current management and future support of people dedicated to that era of Plattsburgh history.
The first step in opening a base museum would be to move forward with a resolution asking the Battle of Plattsburgh Association Board of Directors to take the concept under its wing, Herkalo noted.
If the board agrees to accept the responsibility, then efforts could begin to start raising seed money to promote it locally and across the nation.
The next Board of Directors meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 20, at the War of 1812 Museum on Washington Road. McNichols said he would not be in town that day but would write a letter with a resolution for the board to consider.
Battle Museum Curator Tammy Brown said the meeting is open to the public and invited people to attend and show support for a base museum.
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